Kids with "growth mindsets" are more likely embrace challenges and enjoy their activities.

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One Message to Get Through

Kelly Corrigan: To kick off this series, give me something really high impact. If I'm only gonna get one thing really right this year, what should that one thing be?

Christine Carter, Ph.D.: ONE thing? If only. But I do think there is a major message to send your kids over and over again this year.

KC: Got my pen ready.

CC: Write GROWTH MINDSET. I've just reviewed Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's research on the psychology of success, and fostering a growth mindset is hugely important. Her research shows that your mindset about how people learn can profoundly influence how kids feel about school, and also how successful they are academically, athletically—even socially and artistically.

KC: My mindset, or my kids' mindset? tools-icon-fridge.gif

CC: Your kids,' which comes from yours. There are two basic mindsets. People with fixed-mindsets believe that their talents personalities are inborn, carved in stone. People with growth-mindset believe that that success is a result of effort as much as or more than aptitude.

KC: Like nature or nurture, right? I gotta say, when I became a parent, especially the second time, I became a believer in nature. Math comes easily to Georgia, Claire is good with language, my husband is naturally musical.

CC: That's all fixed mindset thinking, which seems harmless enough but is actually sending a powerful message about learning and especially about effort. Nearly three decades of research has shown profound consequences when kids believe that their intelligence (or athletic ability or, for that matter, anything else) is innate rather than believing that talents are something they can develop.

KC: Oh brother, I'm in trouble. I'm always commenting on their "natural" talents… saying things like "You're so creative…you can really sing…you're a whiz at math." And on the flip side, when I see them get frustrated, I often try to take the pressure off them by saying, "You're not going to be good at everything. Some people just aren't built for soccer…." tools-icon-tv.gif

CC: Well here's the rub: fixed-mindset thinking undervalues the role of effort and learning. To fixed-mindset kids, effort is an indication that they aren't naturally gifted. If a kid that's been told he's "so smart" can't figure something out easily, does that mean everyone was wrong? If you tell your kids that their talents are inborn, research has shown that this creates urgency in them to prove their "gifts" over and over. That means they start to choose activities based on whether or not they will succeed or fail, look smart or dumb, be accepted or rejected.

KC: I see this sometimes. My daughter draws this incredible, detailed, elaborate flower. When a new babysitter comes over, she draws her flower, the sitter comments on how talented Georgia is, and I see my daughter beam. But I know if the sitter asked her to draw a tree or an apple, she wouldn't even try because she doesn't want to look bad.

CC: I was very much a fixed-mindset-student in grade school, and I gotta tell you, it is very uncomfortable to go through life worrying about whether or not people think you're good at whatever it is you're trying to be good at. I want my kids to evaluate situations differently than I did—in terms of whether they are going to have fun, learn something, become a better person. Not whether they are going to win, succeed, be the best.

KC: So how do we create the growth-mindset in our kids? How do we help them enjoy things they have not mastered?

CC: The good news is that researchers create growth-mindsets in people pretty easily. Simply send the message that effort is the name of the game rather than achievement. Define their success as how hard they try rather than what kind of grades they get or whether they win the game. That's the

KC: Interestingly, this is why I like choir. No points and no individual contributors. Just a big mass of sound that gets better, as a whole, with each rehearsal. But effort in most other realms does not count more than achievement. And trying to sell that is downright counter-culture. Every football game we watch on TV has a scoreboard in the corner. Every movie has a star.

CC: No kidding – and think about the mindset that the Princess craze is modeling. Princesses are born princesses; they wait to be saved. Cinderella isn't exactly a model of gumption.

KC: Hey, at least she got out of bed. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty just lay there snoring until prince charming turns up. Definitely not growth-oriented. And people love the narrative about the athlete who rolls out of bed and hits a 300-yard drive or the CEO who keeps coming up with the next big thing in his sleep.

CC: We need to counter those messages, pointing out that Tiger Woods has been practicing golf every day since he was three, and Albert Einstein was a mediocre student who found his passion and stuck to it. And the girl in Spanish class who is doing so well? She asks tons of questions, practices every chance she gets, and spends a lot of time doing homework.

KC: The magic formula isn't magic. It's time on task.

CC: That's it. You now have your high impact message. As Coach John Wooden, who led the UCLA basketball to the NCAA Championship 10 times once said: "You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better." To create growth-mindset kids, we need to repeatedly communicate: "I expect effort; I do NOT expect achievement."

KC: I'm there. But I gotta say, valuing effort over achievement is easier for the parent of an elementary school kid than a high school sophomore, whose grades or athletic performance might matter more.

CC: That's an inner battle we'll take on next week!

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My grandmother, who definitely was of the “growth mindset”, used to tell us: “Just do your best. If you do your best, angels can do no better.”  I still think of that when I am starting something new.

Julia Emerson | 9:50 am, October 26, 2007 | Link


I have been forwarding this information to parents and teachers of our Gifted students and have gotten the most feedback ever!  I can see how students learn to “protect” their IQs by avoiding risks… but then also miss the joy and advantages of taking on real challenges.  It also rings true when I think of my own journey through school.  I thought failure was a disaster!  But if we’re only succeeding… what are we learning?

I really like these blogversations – look forward to more!

Pamela Beeman | 12:24 pm, October 31, 2007 | Link


Great site and powerful stuff. When I first started to read the dialogue on the home page I started to panic thinking, “man, being a parent is so tough.  What do you do, say to your kids?”  After a few more minutes I calmed down and started to process the dialogue and the blog you wrote. 
I am definitely in the growth mindset camp.  I do believe a kid is probably inclined to be successful at certain things based on genes.  I don’t think every kid is born a blank slate but to me its 10-15% born with and 85-90% nurture, work, practice, focus etc.  The idea that your born with it or your not can be so limiting.  It certainly can help you truly excel at one or several things but why do you really excel at it?  Is it because you were really born with these incredible gifts/talents or did you just really focus, practice, at them to get very good at this one thing(s)?  My other question was it at the exclusion of other things?  Other things you could have been very good at.
Along the same lines I don’t put a whole lot of stock in fate.  I think people who say it was just fate that this happened to me or it was fate that I or the situation turned out this way is a bad way at looking at things.  Initially it negates the role you may have played in the situation and accountability you may have for the outcome. More importantly it almost renders you helpless.  It undercuts the role your attitude can play in changing the situation for the better.  As you might imagine I am a big fan of attitude.  I think attitude is so powerful and that if you apply (along with hard work) it against anything you can truly overcome any challenge, adversity etc.  Fate can take that off the table and that is a bad thing in my eyes.
Ok I may have gotten a little carried away here and even a little dramatic.  The site, the content and topic got me going this morning.

Bill | 4:58 pm, November 19, 2007 | Link


Can you help me to find the best way to tell to my son, who is not as talented as other kids in soccer ,  that the most important thing in a game is related to effort and process isntead on oucome and achievement when other kids during a game are, pressing him mostly for results in order to win the game?

How can I foster him to play if other kids taht are naturally good players don´t want him in the team because he is not a good player ?

Eduardo | 10:08 am, January 2, 2008 | Link


Time on task = success. ALL major educational research in the last 40 years come back to this axiom. It is bar none the most important contributor to good grades and more importantly competency and legitimate self-esteem.

Keith | 7:27 pm, January 13, 2010 | Link


I love the “growth mindset”!  As a teacher and parent, I find it a valuable philosophy.

Kara | 10:29 pm, February 3, 2010 | Link

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