Frequent displays of academic apathy. An unwillingness to challenge themselves. Being content with mediocrity when it comes to grades or achievements. If you have a pre-teen or teenage child like we do, you have probably struggled with some of the same issues. At certain moments over the past few years, the level of frustration in our household has been off-the-charts because some event has happened, whether it’s a poor attempt at a homework assignment, or minimal effort shown in soccer, or a low expectation of themselves on a test. We’ve often wondered how our parenting skills have seemingly failed our kids so miserably, assuming of course that we had fallen short and were the reason for our kids’ failings.
And then I heard about a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. Dweck is a psychologist at Stanford University, and she’s world-renowned in the fields of personality and development psychology. The book’s premise is that people have two mindsets or views of themselves: a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. People with a growth mindset believe that aptitude and ability can grow through experience and effort. The harder you work at something, the better you get it at it. Conversely, people with a fixed mindset believe that we are born with a fixed IQ or a fixed amount of aptitude. You either have it or you don’t. You’re either good at something or you’re not. And needing to work at it means you’re not good at it.
If you’re like me, you may have wondered why some kids are persistent and push themselves to achieve, while others (like our son) shy away from challenges and appear content with a B- or a 3rd place finish. Dweck’s research concludes that these differences are due to inherent differences in mindset. Kids who believe they can recover from a bad test grade by studying harder for the next test have a growth mindset. Kids with a fixed mindset are shaken by a poor grade and will question their intelligence, choosing not to study much for the next test because they would assume they’re going to fail anyway.
A fixed mindset can rear its ugly head in other ways also. We recently observed our son during a footrace at soccer practice. He jogged through the race, never pushing himself to run his fastest, and he ended up in 3rd place. I, on the other hand, am so competitive that I increase the level on the elliptical when I’m working out at the YMCA if someone gets on the one beside me. So you can imagine my frustration in watching my son jog through a race. But reading this book eased my angst. Our son’s behavior is typical for people with a fixed mindset. For them, “effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were you wouldn’t need effort”. Alternatively, a growth-mindset person believes that “effort is what makes you smart or talented”.
The great news is that mindset can be changed. Dweck has developed a program called Brainology that helps kids develop a growth mindset. But don’t fret, as there’s no need to purchase a program to achieve that outcome. Her book suggests ways to help your child develop a growth mindset, including
- Praising our children for effort and hard-work, not aptitude or a specific good grade.
- Rewarding persistence and our children’s ability to persevere through tough tasks
- Talking about the brain’s similarity to a muscle that needs to be exercised and challenged each day.
Although it is considered a personal growth or psychology book, Mindset has proven to be an invaluable parenting book for me. It changed the way I approach my son and my understanding of him and his motivations. That’s something I can’t say about many books, and I’ve read my fair share.