Redesign a growth mindset

Remember from Redesign Your Brain that the brain physically alters with every challenge you encounter?

Understanding that your brain grows and develops can make all the difference in an education setting. It allows you to develop a ‘growth’ mindset as opposed to a ‘fixed’ one.


Stanford University Psychologist Carol Dweck studied what spurs people on, despite setbacks, to become successful. She discovered what she calls a growth mindset. People with this attitude believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are just the starting point. Her book Mindset goes into this in more detail.

The problem is that we often internalise a fixed mindset at an early age. These beliefs become particularly potent around the middle of primary school. 

Picture this: In early primary school you’re not really aware of marks or report cards, you’re just excited about going up to the next level in your reader or discovering new things. You make strides in your learning that are noticeable and exciting. However, around middle to late primary or early high school, the work starts getting harder. You understand IQ by this stage and the adults around you are talking a lot about NAPLAN results! You compare yourself to your classmates. You’re one of the average ones, you decide, and your middle of the road marks reflect that (alternatively, you could be ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’ according to Kidspeak). You fall into patterns of learning, knowing when to stop before it gets too hard or challenging. There’s no point expending energy just to run into a brick wall! You certainly don’t want to be seen not getting it — that would attract way too much of the wrong kind of attention.

Developing a fixed mindset is not a student’s fault. It comes from years of discourse about intelligence and the way our education system works, including the regular standardised testing that schools are obliged to carry out.

Most people internalise this mindset to some extent, which is why it’s important to get some fresh perspective on the topic.


The good news is that teachers and parents can turn around how children see themselves in relation to their learning.

Remember how, when you were a youngster, you picked up cues about yourself from things your parents, peers and teachers said? Most messages we send to children gives them some insight into what they should think about themselves. Yet rather than sending the message that we are interested in their growth and how they are developing as a person, we sometimes inadvertently imply that they have permanent, unchangeable traits.

See if you can work out the ‘fixed’ messages in these kinds of statements: 

You did that so fast. You’re so smart! 

You’re a natural! 

Look at that artwork! You’re going to be the next Michelangelo!

Did you recognise these subliminal messages?

If I’m slow, I’m not smart.

If I’m a natural, I shouldn’t have to try. If I try, I’m not a natural.

If I stuff up, it means that I’m not talented.

No parent, teacher or school ever intentionally plots the downfall of a child, undermines their efforts or turns them off learning. We’re actually trying to encourage them and facilitate their efforts to improve! Yet we’ve all said such things.

Like adults, children are prone to doubting their abilities when times get tough. However, 'school’ can either be seen as a series of tests confirming their self-beliefs or a process of experimentation, discovery, problem solving and practice that inevitably includes moments of frustration as well as victory. Being conscious of the subliminal messages we send can make all the difference to whether they are prepared to expend the required effort. 


Watch this YouTube clip to see the remarkable impact of the right kind of praise on children's learning: 


Acknowledging effort and the process of learning encourages a growth mindset.

Can you recognise the growth messages here? (These are in response to the same situations we encountered earlier.)

You were very efficient with your study just then. That's great concentrating! 

You've been working hard and look how well you've done! Have you thought about studying to become a writer/architect/lawyer/scientist..?

I love this art piece. I can see that you’re developing some great talents. 


Children who are challenged by challenge, who would rather give up than persevere, are not rare or alone. Yet developing a growth mindset benefits all areas of life and allows children to reach the potential that is so clearly within them.

Talk to your child about their learning, acknowledge the challenge, discuss ways of tackling a problem, ask the question ‘What can you do when you’re feeling stuck?’, talk about your own process of learning, give them thinking space and the freedom not to know the correct answer straight away…. Help them take the wheel in this vehicle of learning. 


5 Parenting Strategies to Develop a Growth Mindset
Redesign Your Brain (check out the resources at the bottom of the article)

AUTHOR: Debbie Cosier is a teacher, parent and education blogger. She has worked at BAC in the past and maintains strong relationships with the school. (