Carol Dweck

Psychologist and researcher

"Rather than focusing on effort, we should consider the process involved in how children make progress"

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Even in young children between three and four years old, their mentality has not fully formed, but we do see fixed mindset or growth traits. Many of these children are already beginning to develop a growth mentality at that age, but others, when they are scolding or criticized or they have a bit failure, think: "I am not a good person." And this is somewhat of a fixed mindset; they don't want to carry on with what they were doing. A parent can see if their child is scared of difficulty, if they give up easily and get frustrated quickly, if they say: "I cannot do this" without really trying to do it. In that case, we need to focus on finding out what is going on. That's the big theme for parents and teachers — let's figure this out. We observe, try different things and see how they turn out. The biggest gift you can give a child is to teach them that it doesn't matter if they can't do something straight away, but that with time, effort, instruction and collaboration, they can figure it out.

First off, we talked a lot about effort. Then we realized that people took it too far. They thought that growth mentality was just about making an effort, that the important thing was that the child should try as hard as they could, whether successful or not, and that they could not tell their child that they had done well. Once, a parent came and told me: "I would love to be able to praise my daughter's accomplishments." I said: "What are you talking about? Of course you can praise her accomplishments, but then talk about how she got there." It is the process that matters, not just the effort. If you tell a child: "Wow, you've worked very hard," but they really haven't made any progress, why do you say it? You can tell them: "I appreciate the effort you have made, but let's figure out how we can learn this better." You don't have to just focus in effort, but on the child's process when it comes to making progress; at the end of that process, the child needs to commit to improving even more.

It's never too late to learn. For many people it is not easy to learn to change. If you have always lived in fear of challenges or believing that mistakes make you less smart, it can be very difficult to learn to change, but it is never too late. A former student of mine has a research program with the elderly; he has discovered that memory can improve when you teach people the growth mentality, as well as their ability to learn. So it's never too late; many people have little islands of fixed mindset in their head. "I can't do art, I can't do math, I can't play an instrument, I will never learn another language." They can work on that... Or perhaps they only have one experience. Not long ago, I met several elementary school teachers who said that they hated math as a child, learned the growth mentality, took math courses and discovered that they loved it and could do really well in it. It is never too late to discover something new. And perhaps when you were young you had a bad experience, or you didn't know how to draw well and you didn't understand why. You hadn't learned, but that doesn't mean you can't learn now.

"Teach your child that it doesn't matter if they don't get something now but that, with time, effort and learning, they can do it."

Having good grades is good, I think we all agree, but giving so much importance to grades means telling your children: "Getting good grades notes is more important than learning. Getting good grades is more important than understanding something deeply and delving into it. Getting good grades is better than having new ideas." If you manage to get good grades without trying, that parent would be very happy, but that doesn't get you ready you for life — it gets you ready to have good grades in school. But if you don't understand something in depth, if you get stuck on the difficult things, you don't know how to have new ideas, you don't know how to take a problem and turn it around to solve it... If you don't know what you're interested in, all these things don't prepare children for life.

Finding your passion can scare you or box you in: scare you if you think you haven't found it or box you in if you think you've found it. That's why I never say that you should seek your passion, but rather: "Think about being the nicest version of yourself, and think about what that person would want to do." And then I encourage you to develop your interests. That's not about finding a passion, sometimes people find it — it might be love at first sight — but even that has to be grown. And, in the face of the first hurdle, you cannot think: "Okay, it wasn't my passion, I'm going to try this other one." You have to understand that you have to develop your interests and that sometimes you will encounter difficulties or adversities and, even so, it may be your greatest interest.

The first time I wrote about the growth mentality and started developing the idea, I thought it was very obvious — a very easy idea to understand: the idea that skills can be improved. I also believed that teachers could easily put it into practice. I was wrong. If you ask people to define the growth mentality, they don't think it is about improving skills, but praising effort. Sometimes they gave a speech at the beginning of the year and they expected students to suddenly stop hating challenges, of they put children into categories. We realized that it was not an easy concept to implement in the classroom. What did we do? The first thing was to go over everything, to classify the ideas that are false and those that are not, to explain to people how to change their own mentality. Some colleagues are now developing a roadmap for teachers that details step by step how to implement the growth mindset in the classroom. First, the teacher must change his or her own mentality. We realized that many teachers were certain they had a growth mentality when that wasn't the case. The first step is to recognize your own fixed mindset; the next step is to make your own mistakes in the classroom and discover, in front of students, how to put them right. Many of the most well-known math professors make mistakes and the class love it, because they all get to find the answer. Grades should be given importance when a child faces a challenge and keeps going, so no one, not the smartest students would get an A if they do not work for it. Grades are important when they show some progress, you have to focus on learning and improving, you have to show children that being stuck is a natural part of learning and how to overcome it and focus on the process, not only in terms of effort but also with the strategies to know how to ask for help when they need it, use resources within their reach, and rely on the people around them who help them learn. Teachers have to value, reward and recognize these things.

Carol Dweck is a psychology professor at Stanford University, and the creator of concepts such as a fixed mindset or growth mindset, where people believe that their skills can improve through training and effort. Her research concludes that parents, teachers and educators can help to foster the growth mentality. If we as parents or educators focus on the process rather than the outcome, children will deal with challenges better, rather than giving up when things get tough.