In the 1980s, Stanford psychologist Dr Carol Dweck noticed that some children gave up faster than others. When faced with difficulty, some stopped trying after a failed attempt, while others pushed through several more attempts before succeeding. Eventually, she separated the children into two groups. The first contained those who displayed a growth mindset, believing that success was a result of hard work and trying; the second contained those who showed a fixed mindset, believing success was a result of innate skills and aptitudes.
She also found that a child’s predisposition to either mindset had much to do with the type of praise they received growing up. Those who received praise directed at the individual started assuming talent was innate and became increasingly discouraged to act outside of that perceived persona for fear of failing and looking bad. Those who were accrued praise for trying eventually came to enjoy dealing with challenging situations, believing the reward was more in the process of trying regardless of the outcome. That simple difference eventually translated to children who either gave up easily when faced with difficult situations, or those who persevered despite difficulty.
We’ve collated five phrases that focus on process praise rather than innate praise for your child. Use them to instill this growth mindset in your little ones.
1) “You’re almost there” vs “why can’t you do that?”
Accord praise and encouragement before any goal is attained. That allows your child to see that there is value with the process itself. Over time, even if they don’t necessarily meet the goal, they would have felt a sense of achievement just having swung the bat.
2) “Good work, I see you tried hard” vs “You still can’t solve that?”
Again, this emphasizes the attempt, the sweat, and the toil. Nothing is spoken as to how well the result turned out. Only the attempt. And yet the message to your little one becomes clearer and clearer.
3) “That’s a great attempt, let’s try this once more” vs “you don’t seem that good at this”
You’re telling your child that it’s ok to fail; it’s a normal thing to experience. But more than that, you’re also encouraging them that there’s always the possibility of trying again and improving upon the previous attempt.
4) “What else can you try here?” vs “this is too hard for you”
It helps your child realize there could be another way around the issue. Rather than give up, they’ll turn their attention to how else they could potentially solve the problem.
5) “That was a really good effort” vs “you are really good at this”
When your child accomplishes something noteworthy, use this phrase to place the focus on their effort rather than innate ability. That way, they’ll see that hard work rather than aptitude is crucial to succeeding.
A growth mindset is not predetermined at birth. Thankfully for us parents, how we behave and relate to them has much influence on the mindset they grow to adhere to when they grow up. If you want them to grow up resilient; undeterred by failure and resolute despite challenges, focus on the process today. With the right vernacular, they’ll slowly see that processes are laudable, failures are normal, and hard work is the key to anything.
This article is written by Geraldine Lee from yodaa for Singapore’s Child.