5 strategies for talking with young children about growth mindsets

Researcher Carol Dweck has studied the attitudes people hold about their learning ability and has come up with a continuum, with a ‘fixed mindset’ at one end and a ‘growth mindset’ on the other. People with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and ability are innate and fixed, and there’s not much they can do to change that. In contrast people with a growth mindset believe their abilities and intelligence can be developed and improved through perseverance, good strategies and support from others. They do not deny differences in capability between people, but they believe people can increase their intelligence through the right learning strategies and effort. Growth mindsets are positively linked to the use of cognitive strategies, help-seeking behaviour and a belief in self-efficacy. 

Here are 5 strategies you could use when talking to young students about growth mindsets

  1. Talk about how challenges are to be welcomed as opportunities to grow their brains, and that tackling challenges provides opportunities for them to feel strong, happy and excited to learn new things.
  2. Talk about trying to “bounce like a ball” when they feel challenged, frustrated, or disappointed, instead of “flopping like a beanbag” (taken from Pawlina & Stanford, 2011). When they flop like a beanbag, that means they think they can’t help themselves, and their brains don’t grow. When they bounce like a ball, they try to think of some things to try to fix the problem, which grows their brains and gives them a good feeling.
  3. Create an environment in which everyone is on the look out for problems that are opportunities to grow their brains. Brainstorm ideas and create a ‘Challenge Board’ of things students might practise.
  4. Use a “ask three friends” strategy – encourage children to help each other before seeking a teacher’s assistance.
  5. Remind children of other learning successes they have had when they hit problems and had to think of ideas and try hard, and the feelings they get about that. Use language like “Remember when you couldn’t…, but now you can”.

Dr Vicki Hargraves

Vicki runs our ECE webinar series and also is responsible for the creation of many of our ECE research reviews. Vicki is a teacher, mother, writer, and researcher living in Marlborough. She recently completed her PhD using philosophy to explore creative approaches to understanding early childhood education. She is inspired by the wealth of educational research that is available and is passionate about making this available and useful for teachers.