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EveryDay Learners: Adopting a new mindset for the new year

By Brooke Thomson - Special to the Daily Herald | Jan 6, 2024

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Learn the right ways to praise your child so they can develop a positive, productive mindset.

As we ring in the new year, many of us write down new goals for the upcoming year. One goal may be to shift our mindsets.

Have you ever heard the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset”? Do you know the difference? A fixed mindset is believing you can’t learn more or do better. It limits learning to how things are now. The growth mindset is accepting the challenge.

Did you know that how you praise a child can be linked to the mindset they develop?

A growth mindset is believing you can learn and improve. For example, when presented with a challenge like a difficult math problem, a child with a growth mindset recognizes that even though it is difficult, they can do the math with practice and effort.

The growth mindset allows the child to approach any challenge with excitement and determination, whereas a child with a fixed mindset in math might say something like, “I can’t get better at this.” The fixed mindset intrudes on the child’s ability to approach new challenges or new information.

Another term that is important to know when talking about mindsets is “learned helplessness.” Learned helplessness is what comes from having a fixed mindset. One example of this is when someone experiences failure once, then doesn’t think they can ever overcome that failure, so they stop trying.

Learned helplessness is usually evident when a child is accustomed to having things done for them. Consider the difference in a child who is being encouraged to put in the work that will help their learning.

One of the simplest things we can do to shift children’s thinking from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is to be aware of how we are speaking to them. For example, a phrase likely to encourage the fixed mindset would be, “Wow, you are so smart in math.” This elicits the fixed mindset because you praise the now or the talent rather than the process of how they got there.

A phrase that would likely encourage a growth mindset would be, “You have worked so hard in math this year. Look at how much you have improved with multiplication facts.”

Sometimes, when you praise children with things like telling them they are smart, gifted, talented, etc., you unintentionally tell the child their worth is dependent on being that specific thing. They might start to fear failure.

When you praise their efforts, it encourages them to keep working hard. They also learn that things don’t just come easily or naturally all the time. In the words of Carol Dweck, “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, seek new strategies and keep on learning.”

May 2024 be a year of learning and growth for you and your child.

United Way of Utah County is on a mission to help increase early childhood education and help parents to better connect with their children. You can learn more about its programs like Welcome Baby and Help Me Grow Utah at unitedwayuc.org.


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