Growing up, I was always told how smart I was. Not how hard I worked, but how smart I was. Indeed, I rarely worked hard. I procrastinated on every project, waiting until the last minute to get anything done. Why should I have to work hard? I’m smart.
While I was student teaching, my older two kids began their own schooling years. Dominick, my middle child, started asking me about negative numbers. We had been counting down from 10 and he asked, “What comes after 0?” Excited to talk about “advanced” math with my 4-year-old, I greatly encouraged him by telling him how smart he was. Except, Laura was in 1st grade and had no clue what we were talking about. She started to feel ashamed because she didn’t get it, and since Mommy was learning to be a math teacher, it hit her extra hard. I didn’t love her any less, but she sure felt like it. She also started to feel as though since she wasn’t a “math person” like her brother, she wouldn’t ever be good at it, and didn’t want to try.
You might think this only negatively affected Laura, but it has actually affected Dominick, too. He’s always easily made sense of math, but in 4th grade he struggled with adding and subtracting fractions. The moment he started to struggle, he burst into tears and said that he must not really be good in math. Hitting this point of struggle, after fixing his mind on the idea that he easily grasped math, was a challenging blow to his success.
As a teacher, I’ve learned about the difference between a Fixed Mindset, and a Growth Mindset, based on the studies of Dr. Carol Dweck. People with a Fixed Mindset believe they are either smart or they’re not, math people or not math people, good at art or not, etc. However, the research of Dr. Dweck shows there’s no such thing. Anyone can learn whatever they want, but it may take some people longer than others. This is called a Growth Mindset, and shows that being open to learning something and improving can make the difference, instead of relying on natural ability alone.
Since I’ve learned this, I’ve done my best to let my kids know that I’m proud of them, not just for being smart, but for doing their best. For trying repeatedly even when it’s challenging. It’s taken quite a lot of effort on all of our parts. I don’t think we’re all at a Growth Mindset yet, but more Mixed, and that’s okay. We’re learning, and we’re growing, and that’s what really matters.
A note of encouragement from the Growing Up Maury team: Visit the site linked in this article to learn about your own mindset and start looking for how to encourage a healthy growth mindset in your kids. We have included an amazon ad at the bottom with a great book that will help your child learn more about this concept. Leave us a comment below about whether this idea is new to you, old hat or something you’ve already started developing in your family. Many schools, including our local ones, are constantly encouraging teachers to exhibit growth mindsets. We’d love to hear how you’re growing!