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  • Writer's pictureAnika

Does your child shy away from challenges? Help them to reach their full potential in 3 simple ways

Why is it that some children welcome a challenge and thrive in the face of figuring out a complex issue, whereas others shy away from that and won’t even give it a try because they are afraid to fail? Why does it make such a huge difference to how we learn and develop?

The answer may be whether they have a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset.

Individuals with a growth mindset believe that your qualities are things that you can grow and change through effort and learning over time. They are not afraid of failure, set backs or mistakes, as they see them as opportunities to hone their skills, talents and passions and learn from them.

Those with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, believe that their qualities are set in stone. If they believe they only have a certain amount of intelligence or certain character traits any challenge where this trait may be called into question and be seen to be less than ‘perfect’ calls into question their whole self-esteem and being. Therefore, they are much more likely to defend their status quo as best they can – boast about their abilities and do their very best to hide any issues, challenges or mistakes. If they encounter setbacks, they see these as a sign of personal, deep-seated failure. This mindset robs them of the ability to welcome mistakes and learn from them.

So how do we as parents help our children achieve their potential without fear of failure, but through seeing mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow? What simple things can you do to help your child develop a Growth Mindset?

Instilling a growth mindset in your children is not about molly-coddling them or being soft on them. On the contrary – you can set incredibly high standards. But it is all about challenging them and giving them a nurturing environment of trust in which they feel able to make mistakes and learn. It is about giving them the space, tools and the steps to learn a skill rather than using judgement when they haven’t quite reached their goal. It is also about telling them the truth when they’ve failed – not to make them feel bad, but to help them realise that it is ok to fail – and to try and try again with determination and practice and effort to achieve what they have set their sights on.

There are three great ways to help instill a growth mind-set in our children that I want to cover in this blog today:

#1 Giving Praise in a Growth Mindset way

As a parent, one way to help encourage a growth mindset is to sense check how we give praise. Do we praise the outcome and the intelligence/ talent of our children (fixed mindset)? Or do we focus on their journey of effort and learning – high lighting how they didn’t give up and kept trying until they mastered their goal (growth mindset)?

Giving praise for a Growth Mindset is all about praising the effort and the journey rather than the outcome. The praise shouldn’t imply that we are proud of them because of their intelligence or talent, but rather for the work that they put in.

So when Isla colours in a lovely picture, I make sure I focus on saying something like: ‘Wow, you’ve used so many beautiful colours. Can you tell me about them? I love how you’ve stayed in the lines as well – how did you do that?’

And when there is something she is struggling with – like tricky words at school – I make sure we sit and practice them, showing her a way to learn them and get to her goal of knowing them by sight. And when she makes mistakes, I say things like: ‘I like the effort you’ve put in. Let’s work together some more and figure out what words are still really tricky, so we can focus on them.’ Or ‘It takes different people time to learn different things. Some words might take longer than others, but with practice, you will get there!’

But I know that I can sometimes struggle with praising them in ways that support a growth mindset. I know we are all learning, but one example is when any of my 3 children do or solve something really quickly, I will often say’ Wow you did that so quickly’. Having read the book on Mindset, I now realise that I have been praising speed and perfection over learning! (Ooops!) I will still often say 'Wow' – as it is habit – but I’ve been mixing it up with also saying things like; ‘Wow, looks like that was too easy for you. I’m sorry for wasting your time! Let’s do something you can really learn from instead’. This not only gives them a good chuckle (because it is not the reaction they expect from me) but I know it is helping them cherish the journey and not just the outcome! ;-)

#2 Helping children overcome disappointment in a Growth Mindset Way/ giving constructive criticism

The most important thing here is that the criticism is not about judgement, but that it helps the child do something better or fix something. It is crucial that we don’t attack their character or intelligence when we give them feedback. My son sometimes rushes through his homework and gives short, sharp answers that could be expanded on if he sat for a little longer. I can get frustrated, as it feels like he is rushing things and being sloppy. But what I have tried recently seems to be getting results:

a) I will either say something along the lines of, ‘Josh, it makes me upset when you don’t do a full job. When do you think you can finish this?’ Or ‘I think you are missing a great opportunity to learn how to write [a poem or whatever it is]. Can you think of a way to do this differently so that you can learn more?’

b) ‘Oh boy, this looks a bit boring. That’s a real challenge in itself! How can we make it more interesting? Let’s find a way and still do a good job. Have you got any ideas?’

Another scenario that I sometimes struggle with is when my children are completely in awe of their own achievement, even (or especially) when they’ve put in very little effort. Twice now Isla has won a gymnastics competition with very little preparation. I overheard her saying to another coach ‘I always win. I won last time too, I am just very good.’ It made me smile, but also made me wonder what on earth she is going to do when she doesn’t win – and how I can help he make the most of that experience when it happens. My instant (old fixed mindset) response would be to play down not winning – mainly to help her feel less sad and disappointed.

But through learning more about the Growth Mindset, I have realized that a far better response will be to say something along the lines of: ‘You are disappointed that you didn’t win. I can understand that. You weren’t quite good enough today. But that’s ok. Don’t worry – you can practice more and learn the routines you couldn’t quite do today, and then next time you will be better and can try again.’ Growth mindset is about telling them the truth when they aren’t up to scratch and then giving them the tools and the skills to close the gap – with unconditional love and encouragement and trust (and without judgement).

#3 Good questions to ask to help foster a Growth Mindset

What did you learn today?

What questions did you ask today?

What mistake did you make today that taught you something?

What did you try hard at today?

We’ve been trying this at the dinner table – each taking it in turns to tell the rest of the family what we’ve been up to. I’ve found it wonderfully insightful – not only in terms of what the kids have been up to and getting a glimpse of the world through their eyes. But also challenging myself to think through a Growth mindset lens about my day.

As a parent I’ve found it a great way to expand on the mistakes I’ve made to show how I got to the solution in the end – and what I learnt from the whole experience – rather than just focusing in on the achievement bit. And when the kids insist on saying ‘they are already the champions’ or ‘they didn’t learn anything today, because they knew the answers already’, both my husband and I have been able to remind them that if they are not learning anything, they are not asking questions that are hard enough!


If I am really honest with myself, I think I have a fixed mindset for some things and more of a growth mindset in others – and like all things parenting, I am finding that some days are easier than others for me to stay in the Growth Mindset space – for both me and my family. I have been using the above 3 ways to help foster a growth mindset in my children and have found it wonderful to see the effects this has had on my children and me.

Sometimes I still catch myself getting very excited about the outcome rather than the journey it took to get there, but I guess that’s ok too. Not only am I learning as well, but I can be proud of their successes when they have them – whether that is winning a gymnastics competition or getting full marks on a math’s exam.

The bit I need to make sure I communicate more though, is that when they don’t achieve a great outcome, that is equally fine – not because it doesn’t matter or because I am brushing it under the table, but because it is an opportunity to learn and grow and get better. And then to sit down with them and to work out how they can practice (with me or alone) to achieve a better outcome next time.

I will never forget how I came home as a child when I was little, with my first F (it was in Latin, a subject I just didn’t particularly enjoy for a long time). I remember my Dad giving me a big hug and saying. ‘Oh dear, we all need to get a bad mark at some point. It’s what you do with that mark that matters.’ That simple response never made me fear a bad mark again – but encouraged me to learn and see Latin (and later Maths) as a ‘puzzle’ to be solved and work out. It meant I was allowed to make mistakes and learn, no matter the outcome! And that is what I want for my children too – to love learning and be intrigued by life and all it has to offer :-)

This week’s blog insights are based on the book Mindset by Dr Carole Dweck. It is a great read and I highly recommend it. It covers not only parenting/ teaching for a growth mindset, but also what having a growth mindset in Business and in Relationships looks like.

Below is a diagram taken from the book, outlining the key differences of both mindsets for you to refer to.

Mindset, by Dr Carol S. Dweck, p. 245

Anyway, that’s all from me today. I hope have a great rest of your week.

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