Teaching an Appreciation for Failure and Encouraging a Growth Mindset

From the viewpoint of an educator, I have witnessed how a child’s fixed mindset and fear of failure can hinder his desire to fully immerse himself in learning experiences. When a child has a fixed mindset, he believes that his intelligence is limited; he does not respond well to failure and associates failure with being unintelligent and unsuccessful; and he will seek out activities that are not challenging to validate his intelligence rather than work through an activity that he struggles with because of his fear of failure. This fixed mindset will negatively impact this child throughout his entire life if it is not changed. So how can we help change this mindset in children that already have a fixed mindset? Furthermore, how can we help prevent this mindset from developing at all? The two following approaches will help to change and prevent a fixed mindset; and instead promote a growth mindset.

Praise Effort, Not Intelligence: Research has demonstrated that praising intelligence (i.e. “I knew that you could do it because you’re so smart.”) places children at high risk for developing a fixed mindset. While the intentions of praising intelligence are to enhance confidence, motivation, and determination; children instead experience a short lived positive reaction to this praise followed by an immense fear of becoming or appearing unintelligent, thus causing them to avoid challenging tasks, resist learning, and negatively respond to failure. Children who are praised for their efforts (i.e. “You put so much effort into that task by trying new strategies and through trial and error you’ve succeeded!”) understand exactly what steps they took to succeed as well as learn that through hard work, much effort, and determination; their skills and knowledge will change and develop, allowing them to achieve a task that was once new, challenging and confusing. This perseverance, resilience, determination, and motivation along with the understanding that skills and knowledge are acquired are the qualities found in children who have a growth-mindset. Praising effort rather than intelligence encourages children to develop these qualities.

Teach An Appreciation for and the Importance of Struggling and Failure: Children with a fixed mindset and a growth mindset approach struggling and failure very differently. Research has shown that children with a fixed mindset experience poor self concept, negative thoughts, and helplessness in response to struggle, setbacks and failure. Teaching that struggling and failure are essential to learning, gaining knowledge and developing new skills will encourage children to take risks when presented with new learning opportunities. Children will learn to appreciate struggling and failure when they no longer associate struggling and failure with being unintelligent or unsuccessful. Those who understand the importance of failure will become even more determined to problem solve to overcome a challenging task because they know that they will acquire new knowledge and skills; thus boosting long term confidence. Understanding the importance of struggling and failure is a characteristic of children with a growth mindset.

Praising effort and teaching the importance of failing helps children develop the qualities essential for achieving a growth mindset. Developing these qualities are crucial because a child with a fixed mindset will become an adult with a fixed mindset if it remains unaddressed. A fixed mindset can prevent people of all ages from reaching their full potential and achieving consistent happiness because of their strong fear of failure. Adapting a growth mindset equips people with the qualities that allow them to become resilient, determined, and positive.

What You Could Do Immediately:

The next time an opportunity arises to encourage a child’s growth mindset, keep these questions in mind before providing a response:

  • Will my response praise effort, determination, perseverance, resilience, motivation and confidence?
  • Will my response encourage working through failure so that new knowledge and skills are gained?
  • Will my response support the importance of problem solving to overcome challenging tasks?

My Recommendation:

Achieving a growth mindset is an ongoing process that requires daily reflection. With daily reflection, one will be able to determine if one’s responses, qualities, and outlook are contingent with a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. A parent is a child’s role model, so adapting a lifestyle that reflects a growth mindset will teach a child to adapt a growth mindset himself. Modeling the qualities of a growth mindset every day is the best way to teach and encourage it.

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