What is Mindset? And How Can It Transform Your Child’s Life?

what is mindset

Takeaway: ‘Mindset’ refers to a way of thinking about life. It’s a mixture of the feelings, thoughts, and beliefs we use when solving problems and reacting to challenges. Based on our mindset, we’re either excited about growing and succeeding, or afraid of failing and making a fool of ourselves. And these two very different approaches can transform the way your child lives her life.

Have you ever wondered why some children seem to relish challenges and others don’t?

You can take two children with roughly the same abilities and give them a challenge to overcome. And you’ll notice that they’ll likely approach it differently. For example, let’s give them the challenge of learning how to play football. Both of them might initially feel overwhelmed with a series of thoughts. Perhaps they think their skills are nowhere near as good as their friends’? Or that they’ll make a fool of themselves on the pitch? But where one child throws herself into practice sessions and slowly gets better, the other might withdraw and give up playing. But why is this? What made one step forward while the other stepped back?

It all comes down to mindset. I.e., their way of thinking and of approaching life.

‘Mindset’ is a way of making sense of the world around us. It’s a mixture of the feelings, thoughts, and beliefs we take into any situation, and it colours the way we respond to life events. So, in our example above, the different mindsets of the two footballers changed the way they responded to the same fears and uncertainties. Where one of them dismissed her inexperience, the other fixated on it and couldn’t get past her self doubt.

There are two types of mindset: the ‘fixed’ mindset and the ‘growth’ mindset. And they radically change how we live our lives.

American psychologist Carol Dweck explored this concept of mindset and developed a theory around it. She described two fundamental types of mindset — the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you believe that you’ve been born with a hardwired set of traits and skills that can’t be changed, nurtured, or developed. So, you’ll say things like, ‘I’m not good at Maths,’ or ‘I always lose my temper. That’s just how I am.’ With this mindset, you’re a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’ depending on the skills you’ve been gifted with. Contrast this with a growth mindset. Here, you believe that although you might be pre-programmed with some traits and skills, you have the ability to change and improve. And so you put a lot of value into hard work and discipline because they can help you become a new you.

Let’s revisit our football example, using the concept of mindset to try and understand the two children.

The child who quits football likely has a fixed mindset. So she believes that she’s either talented or not. And there’s nothing she can do to change that. So, when she plays for a few days and sees how poorly she performs compared to her friends, she assumes she’s not a footballer and gives up. In contrast, the child who perseveres likely thinks, ‘I’m not good at football right now, but if I keep practising, I’ll get better. This is going to be so much fun!’ You can see how these mindsets reinforce each child’s view of the world, right? When the first child misses a goal, she thinks, ‘See, I knew it! I’m not good at this.’ Meanwhile, the second child thinks, ‘Oooh, that was close. If I practise every day, I’ll make that goal in a few weeks!

You’ll notice signs of your child’s mindset pop up regularly.

Mindset changes how your child approaches each task she’ll face. If she does poorly in class, she can choose to assume she’s a ‘bad’ student, or that she just needs more help studying. If she doesn’t have many friends, she can assume she’s bad at making friends, or that she doesn’t yet know how. And it’s just a matter of learning and getting better.

Mindset also changes how your child reacts to feedback and criticism.

With a fixed mindset, criticism feels like a personal attack. For example, if your child gets a poor grade on an essay, then there’s nothing she can do about it because it means she’s a bad writer. Contrast that with how she’d interpret the grade from a growth mindset perspective. Here, she believes that with more practice, she’ll become a better writer and get better grades. She’s not connecting the grade to an unchangeable core part of her identity. And so she’s much more open to accepting the feedback she gets.

Your child’s mindset will trigger a chain of behaviours that dramatically affect how happy and secure she is.

Children with a fixed mindset believe that their first attempt at solving a problem is how all following attempts will be. So, challenges scare them because they’ve either ‘got it’ or they don’t. And so they’re not willing to expose themselves to uncertainty. A new project isn’t exciting because there’s a chance it’ll reveal that they’re a failure. And if their friends succeed, it makes them feel even worse. In contrast, children with a growth mindset see that same project as a chance to learn new skills and become better. So, they’ll throw themselves into it with glee. And they’re happy for friends who succeed because they can learn from those experiences too. Think of the close community of well-wishers they’ll build with this attitude!

So, how does a child develop her mindset? It’s largely to do with how you praise her achievements.

Carol Dweck’s research teaches us that parents play a key role in developing a child’s mindset. For example, if your child does well in a test and you praise her for being smart, you’re (perhaps unintentionally) implying that it’s the smartness that helped her succeed. But what happens if she does badly in the next test? It would mean her smartness had let her down, and she’s helplessly at the mercy of this unchangeable character trait. Instead, imagine you respond to the good test score by praising how hard she worked. This is focusing her attention on the effort she put in — which is something she can control and change. And so, if the next test goes badly, she’ll be annoyed that she didn’t prepare enough, instead of doubting her intelligence. As parents, how we praise and label our children’s successes creates and reinforces their mindset.

You can teach your child to embrace a growth mindset with a bit of consistent training. And a specialist can guide you through this.

We’ve covered how you can change your child’s approach to life in an earlier post on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). But if you’d like a specialist to help guide and support your child on this journey, consider contacting us for a consultation. The Ed Psych Practice offers face-to-face and online assessment, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:

Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.

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