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When a parent first finds out they are expecting, they research everything they can about what to expect during pregnancy and the first few years of life. Parents learn what to feed their child, when to take them to the doctor, and how to prevent hazards from befalling their new baby.

While those things are vital, there are very few resources toting another piece of advice that can affect their child’s long-term success.

Dr. Carol Dweck is pioneering research in motivation in humans. She is one of the few people sharing how to instill a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset in children. She gave a talk that was turned into an RSA Animate video that helps explain her research.

A fixed mindset praises product over process.

Fixed Mindset: You read that sentence in the book – you are so smart!

Growth Mindset: You read that sentence in the book – you worked so hard to learn how to do that, and now you can! Congratulations!

The shift in how parents praise their child’s achievements is so subtle, but it can have a monumental impact. When this change happens, the mark of success changes from a child being inherently smart to a child working and learning. This means that the child’s self-worth doesn’t come from being good at things the first time because they know they have the chance to prove and improve themselves.

In the video, Dweck follows a group of students entering the 7th grade for two years. The students entered with nearly identical achievement scores; her research shows that the children who had a growth mindset continued to grow and improve, and those with a fixed mindset began to decline.

Why such a dramatic difference?

Dweck posits that this is because the students had entirely different goals in school. The children who had a fixed mindset had a goal of ‘looking smart at all times’. This oriented their whole school experience towards avoiding tasks that may show a deficiency. Whereas children with a growth mindset had a goal of ‘learning at all times’.

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When should you start instilling a growth mindset? Can you start too late?

The short answer is that it is never too early or too late. Ideally, you would instill a growth mindset from the beginning – or as soon children can understand language. Children (Babies) naturally have a growth mindset, but very early on parents and school systems place emphasis on performance. “Look, she’s so smart. She did that.” May seem like a positive reinforcement, but the child may become addicted to that type of feedback and become afraid of doing anything that won’t illicit a similar response. Kids don’t want to disappoint their parents.

Parents can introduce this growth mindset in later years –  it’s a little harder, but it can be done. Growth mindsets are present in everyone in some areas, and a fixed mindset in other areas. For example, a child may have a growth mindset in math or science because they have experienced the struggle and the pay-off of effort. However, in sports, they may have a fixed mindset. If they start playing a sport later than other kids, they may feel that they will never be ‘as good’.

Dweck’s video does an excellent job explaining the differences between growth and fixed mindsets. She exposes the myth that to be good at something you don’t have to try. This video can inspire parents and teachers to shift the way they talk to the children in their lives. It can also shift the way you talk to yourself! Don’t feel limited by your current abilities; with hard work and a growth mindset you can learn anything!