Mindset Matters: Positive Parenting

Growth mindset is a very hot topic in the educational realm today. A basic explanation for a not-so-basic, metacognitive concept is the fact that people can improve their achievement, motivation, and even their intellect by adopting a growth mindset and strategies that correspond to such a mindset.

In classrooms, growth mindset is used as a tool to deliberately activate and strengthen neural pathways by targeting areas of need using strategies that students already utilize in other areas. While that sounds like a mouthful, students as young as kindergarten are learning about metacognitive practices and the importance of grit and reflection.
Besides a strictly instructional focus, growth mindset can positively impact any endeavor, whether it be a cognitive or physical goal. That said, parents can implement basic growth mindset principles at home to boost self-confidence, motivation and effort, as well.

Parents can start with themselves
This means that, prior to encouraging your child to invest in adopting a growth mindset, parents must be ready and willing to look critically at their own mindset. As an educator, I initially felt that I fully understood growth mindset. However, it was not until I investigated my own mindset that I realized my tendency to lean more toward a fixed mindset—the polar opposite of what I was trying to teach my students.

As long as I can remember, I have considered myself to be an English-minded person—comfortable in my literary bubble where language as a means of expression was my primary academic strength. On the contrary, math is something that I have never grasped—ever. In my mind(set), I had absolutely no chance of improving my knowledge of mathematical concepts, so why even bother? Thus began my self-fulfilling prophecy instigated by my very fixed mindset.

The point here is that we adults cannot simply talk the talk; we must walk the walk and lead by example when it comes to growth mindset. Parents can model grit and determination by attempting something intentionally challenging. Golf not your strength? Consider a family outing in which you all take a golf lesson, or simply play a round of mini golf to infuse some fun into a personally difficult sport. Perhaps you are a notoriously disgraceful cook. Read a new cookbook or research a few fool-proof recipes to demonstrate to your children that planning, effort, and reflection can start the ball rolling on growth mindset and its ability to improve achievement.

Parents can model positive self-talk
Not only is this good for boosting self-esteem in adolescents, but optimistic affirmations help to strengthen one’s growth mindset. Much like my self-fulfilling prophecy involving poor math performance, negative internal dialogue lowers motivation and one’s expectations. When we put ourselves down, we are essentially self-sabotaging. Parents should be careful when discussing their own weaknesses as to not pass on these negative mindsets and behaviors. This is not to say that parents should claim that they are amazing at everything—acknowledging areas of need is a huge part of developing a growth mindset. However, we should be teaching children that our weaknesses are not destined or written in stone—we can and should always be working towards improvement and personal growth.

Parents can celebrate failures
To clarify, parents should not praise failure that results from laziness or lack of effort. Instead, explain that a job well done will sometimes still result in disappointment, but this does not mean that strides weren’t made toward success. When we try and don’t succeed, we learn a little bit more about the task or goal and how we might readjust and attempt again after some reflection and strategizing. The key here is for parents to stress that to try and fail is not shameful—it’s the lack of the attempt at all that cripples our growth.