Encouraging Children to Grow
Recently, an article was brought to my attention on Twitter that was published by Psychology Today, which discusses how boys and girls are socialized differently, especially when it comes to school (source). In the post, they discuss the idea that people (including teachers and parents) have a tendency to praise girls based on ability, whereas boys are praised based on effort. This is certainly not the first time I have heard these claims, and they are important ones to consider.
The reason these differences in praise are important is because the mindset we help to create in youth can play a role in how well they are able to overcome challenges in the future. Many people have talked about this area to different extents, most commonly in terms of a "growth" vs. "fixed" mindset. In general, the idea is that kids with a growth mindset see their performance as able to change (i.e., improve), whereas those with a fixed mindset see their abilities as fixed (i.e., unable to change).
Beyond the idea of the growth vs. fixed mindset, there are also ideas about internal vs. external locus of control. Locus of control basically refers to the belief of whether the reason for something occurring is internal (i.e., done by the self), or external (i.e., due to an outside factor, such as chance/luck). When combined with the growth vs. fixed mindset component, we get Weiner's attribution theory that deals with motivation.
The diagram above shows Weiner's attribution theory. When a child has a fixed mindset, they view things as being due to ability or chance, neither of which encourages students to try very hard! In the "control" area, we see effort and task difficulty. Control, in this case, doesn't necessarily mean something that a child has control over, but instead something that somebody has control over.
When external, the student may see the task as being difficult because a teacher made it that way. When internal, that's when we see kids have a growth mindset. And when children have a growth mindset, they are more likely to make attempts to improve their skills when a task is difficult.
Promoting a growth mindset
Promoting a growth mindset involves the same thing that the Psychology Today article discussed: what we focus on when a child is doing or does something. Children respond strongly to attention from adults, especially caregivers, whether it's positive or negative (though we certainly encourage positive attention!). Because of that, we can encourage children to view things a certain way by giving them positive attention for doing so naturally.
Let's go through an example. A child is really struggling on a homework assignment, but he/she tries really hard and eventually gets the right answer. Great! Now, what should we say? Most parents would be tempted to say something like "Good job!" or "You're really good at math!" But these things are vague and can lead a child to think that their ability to do good on math is just something that they have, something fixed.
Instead, something better that can be said is "Wow, that was great of you to keep trying even when you couldn't think of the answer. Thank you for working so hard to figure it out!" In this case, we are praising them, with targeted and specific labels so they know what is being praised, for their effort and approach. When we praise kids in this way, they are more likely to do the same thing again in the future, making it more likely that they will continue to tackle difficult problems by improving their skills!
Have you had success with promoting a growth mindset in your child? What things worked (or didn't work) for you? Let me know in the comments!