How to Encourage a Growth Mindset

January 08, 2020

[Reading Time: 5 minutes]

If you've never read Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books, you're missing out. While these early readers are funny when you read them as a kid, they take on new meaning when you read them as an adult.

The story, "The Garden," demonstrates how we sometimes expect our kids to grow. Frog has a beautiful garden. Toad sees Frog's garden and wants one too. So, Toad plants some seeds, waters them, and then expects them to grow into a beautiful garden - immediately.

When the seeds don't start growing right away, he does all sorts of things to hurry the process - including singing to his seeds in the pouring rain. Like Toad, when our best efforts seem to yield no results, we get frustrated.

In the story, he starts yelling at his seeds, "Now seeds, start growing!" Nothing happens, so he yells louder.

(If you need a laugh, take a few minutes to watch the video clip.)

"The Garden" from "Frog and Toad Together" by Arnold Lobel

"The Garden" from "Frog and Toad Together" by Arnold Lobel

False Growth Mindset

When we have a false growth mindset and only praise our kids' efforts, it's like Toad yelling at his seeds.

The problem is, they need time and the right conditions for growth. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, suggests that for kids to develop a true growth mindset, we need to help them discover that with the right strategies, hard work, and resources, they can create success.

True Growth Mindset

When I was in middle school, we had to participate in the Canada Fitness Program. I could manage the sit-ups. No problem. I could get through the push-ups. But, long-distance running - no matter how much effort I put into that race, I was always dead last.

And by dead last, I mean that all the other kids were already relaxing in the gym and my teacher was still waiting for me outside.

The teacher could have told me to give up because I wasn't built to run. Instead, that teacher praised the fact that I finished the race.

Regardless of the time it took me to do it - I finished.

And because I was praised for finishing the race, every year when it came time for that race - I finished. Not because I loved running, but because I knew that finishing was important. And that finishing was an accomplishment in itself.

I was motivated to do better and knew that if I didn't change something, I'd get the same result the following year. So, I practiced running, I asked for help with running techniques (apparently all running is not the same!), and I made sure I had the best running shoes we could afford.

Each year, my time was a bit better. Each year, I was still dead last. And, each year, I was praised for my effort and for finishing the race.

Although I will never be a runner, I took that growth mindset and applied it to other areas of my life.

Nurturing a Growth Mindset

Just like my gym teacher praised me for finishing the race, rather than focusing on the amount of time it took me to run it, we need to help our kids focus on the hard work, strategies, and resources that lead to success.

What does hard work look like for your child? For a child that is skilled in many areas, hard work might involve expanding their thinking and not taking the easy answer - even if that answer works — pushing beyond the boundaries of their usual thinking. For a child that struggles academically - hard work might mean completing a small task independently.

When building a growth mindset, see the task and then look for the character skills, the critical thinking skills, the creativity that can be developed through completing the task. When you see beyond the task, you've hit on the praiseworthy things.

Sometimes the assignment isn't actually about the task, but about the character-building that comes from completing it. Sometimes it's about diligence, or having a good attitude while doing something you'd rather not be doing, or persevering through a difficultly. Perhaps it's about learning how to ask for help, or learning when to modify a task so that success is possible.

Develop the habit of correctly praising and it will nurture the seeds of growth mindset in your child. As their brain starts connecting hard work, strategies, and resources to success, you'll start to see them embrace a true growth mindset. And, like Toad's seeds, eventually, they'll grow and develop into something beautiful.

Growth Mindset Phrases

  • Wow! Because you've been diligent in studying your multiplication tables, you were able to figure out this more complex problem.
  • Hey! All that time you spent learning geography has paid off! When Mr. Smith was telling us about his travels, you were able to talk intelligently with him about where he had been.
  • That cover letter you wrote helped you get the job. All that writing practice paid off. You were able to communicate why you were the best person for that position.
  • Hey! Baking is just another science experiment. Let's make a hypothesis. We are out of baking soda, but you need to add something to the cake to make it rise. What else could you use?
  • You changed the way you studied for that last exam, and your grade improved. It seems like you're on to something.
  • Hmmm, that didn't work so well. What else could we try that would give us a different result?