We enter this world knowing next to nothing about the world we live in—but we’re born with an innate desire and unlimited capacity to learn. Every day we form ideas, discover interests, and develop skills in response to our environment, processing new data.
As children start school, they become increasingly aware of themselves, their own abilities, and what it means to learn. With encouragement to take chances in the classroom and find what interests them, they also begin to glimpse the world through their friends and fellow students and open their eyes to new viewpoints. This is when most students become motivated to learn, grow, and achieve.
Stanford Psychology professor Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, describes how people with a growth mindset thrive on challenge, and consider failure a “springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.” Those without a growth mindset view failure as a reflection of ability, and ability as static, with limited potential for improvement; failure validates their inadequacies. Dweck explains how a growth mindset enables us to build on knowledge, develop skills, and hone talent.
Can we help our children develop a growth mindset, one that recognizes that the unknown lying ahead is full of opportunities, not obstacles? How can we teach them to seek out challenges and work hard? How can we show them they can accomplish great things that they have not even attempted yet?
Train the brain.
Like the muscles in our body, the brain must work out regularly. Growth, strength, and flexibility of the mind also require daily exercise. Encourage frequent brain workouts. Let the brain break a sweat.
Paint the big picture.
Help kids understand why they should want to reach certain goals. Help them to see what can be accomplished just a few steps ahead. Highlight the greater purpose of the task at hand.
Expect great things.
Expectations tell us what someone thinks we should be able to accomplish. While it’s important to be realistic in setting goals, research shows us time and again how greater expectations lead to greater accomplishments. When we believe our kids can do more, they rise to the challenge.
Fail with pride.
Help children see that failure provides new opportunity to improve. Taking chances means failing regularly, but it’s the only path to success.
Praise effort—but celebrate growth.
Hard work is a key to achievement, but it is not the goal itself. Encouraging kids to put forth their greatest effort means recognizing hard work even when they don’t meet a goal. But then help them readjust their eyes toward the prize. And celebrate their hard-earned successes.
Stay in the zone.
We’re all comfortable doing things we do well. But to grow, sometimes we need to bite off a little more than we can chew. An enriching environment drives kids to reach beyond their comfort zone, by setting goals that may be just outside their reach, without some direction. This “zone of proximal development” includes skills and abilities that can be tapped with just the right amount of guidance, and it is the key to progress.
Set the next goal.
The best time to set a new goal is when the last one is met. Praise their accomplishments, and encourage them to see how it moves them forward to the next step.
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