According to Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, there are two ways that a child can look at a challenging task.

One way – the traditional one – is to think of their abilities as fixed, or set in stone. They cannot change their aptitudes and there is a lot of risk involved in trying new things. Failure is perceived to be devastating because it confirms a lack of abilities. Success endorses their abilities, and negates the need for further practice. The success of others causes jealousy because they identify the other person was given something that they were not – and they are threatened by it. This is a fixed mindset.

The other way is to look at a challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow. They perceive their talents as things that can improve over time through years of hard work and dedication. Failure is considered to be a learning opportunity and a promising springboard for growth. The success of others is a motivating factor that inspires them to appreciate and learn. This is a growth mindset.

A great example of a growth mindset is Michael Jordan. Though he was cut from his high school basketball team, he never stopped practicing and improving. And when he was at the pinnacle of his career, he left it all to try out baseball.

How can you recognize a fixed mindset and nurture a growth mindset within your child? Here are three interesting cues:

  • Is your child always trying to prove themselves? It can become very consuming. Instead, guide them to be comfortable within their own skin. Have them look at situations as ways to learn and grow. Teach them to enjoy silence and employ curiosity within their daily lives. Ask them, “Why try to prove yourself when you can use the opportunity to become even better?”
  • Does your child have difficulty embracing challenges? Remind them of all the times they have tried something new and learned a valuable skill or lesson. For example, bike riding, rock climbing, or skating. Ask them to think of the time they didn’t succeed at something. Was the failure a devastating end or the beginning of a journey? Have them seek out new experiences rather than safety.
  • Does your child become defensive when provided with constructive criticism? Encourage them to embrace criticism as a gift. Having taught children and graded tests in the past, I know that it takes much more work to write feedback than to simply jot down the grade. Teachers who go out of their way to provide comments do so because they care. Encourage your child to surround themselves with diverse and successful people that can challenge them to grow, rather than hanging around similar and accommodating friends.

These are important lessons for your developing learner so start working on them now. As Dweck says, “For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.”