This year, I became aware of an inspiring concept called, Growth and Fixed Mindset. Since gaining an understanding of the mindset work through the work of Carol Dweck, I can truly say that it is helping to transform me, my therapy and my kiddo’s confidence and their emotional/cognitive flexibility.


What is a fixed mindset?

The belief that intelligence, abilities and talents are fixed traits and cannot be changed, and that you are born with inherent strengths or skills. For example: “I’m either good at it or I’m not.” “When I’m frustrated, I give up.” All too frequently, we hear children (and adults too!) say, “I’m not good at this,” “I can’t do this” or “this is too hard.” This narrative can affect how they value effort and react to failure as it can manifest in refusal to try and learn new things or to practice things that are challenging. It appears there are two driving forces behind these statements is how failure makes them look as a person (e.g., the fear of failing and the fear of looking silly). Fixed mindsets can be developed or influenced as a result of a blend of family attitudes, cultural beliefs or frustration from repeated challenges.


What is a growth mindset?

The belief that intelligence, abilities and talents can be developed with effort, learning and dedication. For example: “I can learn anything I want to or when I fail, I learn.” The difference with a growth mindset is that their internal monologue or ‘inner coach’ is not about judging themselves, instead they are aware of the constructive information for learning by focusing on “How can I improve? How can I learn from this?” This can be such a powerful skill that can provide the foundational readiness and flexibility to participate in new activities and activities perceived as difficult.


How do you empower a growth mindset?

Avoid generally labeling a child as having a fixed or growth mindset as this can be perceived as labelling and hurtful. Instead, identify fixed mindset triggers!

  • Name them! Usually they are activities that are hard or things a child does not like or may even have a sensory sensitivity to. They may have had a previous negative experience that causes them to avoid with fixed mindset thoughts.
  • Recognize your own fixed mindset triggers and make them little lessons. I find it children find it helpful to understand this is something everyone needs to work on, not just them!
  • Identifying fixed mindset triggers, can help a child anticipate and defend against them.

Try starting with the language you use everyday! Model ways to oppose a fixed mindset thought, when it arises.

  • Instead of saying: “This is too hard.” Try saying, “this may take some time.”
  • Instead of saying: “I’m not good at this.” Try saying, “what am I missing.”
  • Instead of saying: “I don’t want to make a mistake.” Try saying, “mistakes help me grow.”

Be mindful of the feedback you’re giving. Rather than providing feedback on intelligence or talents, try praising what you saw in regards to effort, and the strategies tried! Reinforce how they persevered when things were tricky or frustrating! This will hopefully empower a sense of mental toughness and lasting confidence. Try saying:

  • “I can see how much effort you put into your work.”
  • “I like how you tried this strategy and asked for help when you needed it.”

Try using a quick growth mindset add on such as, ”I am not good at it… YET!”

  • Check out the TedTalk in the references below to hear Carol Dweck’s insight on the “Power of Yet.” She shares about how adding a simple “yet” to the end of the above fixed mindset thought that it provides power in the future self rather than focusing on the ‘now.’

Create a “safe space” for mistakes and failing.

  • Try underreacting by saying, “no big deal” to promote appropriate size reactions to failure.
  • Use playful humor as appropriate.
  • Share about your own mistakes!
  • As my college teacher used to say, “Fail forward!”

Use perspective! Reference all the things they have learned since they were a baby! For example: walking, talking, reading and writing! Just imagine, “what if you gave up then because they were too hard?”


Try reading books, watching movies or songs with the reinforcing theme!

Books for Kids:
  • The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein
  • Giraffe’s Can’t Dance – Giles Andreae
  • Beautiful Oops – Barney Saltzberg
Books for adults:
  • Mindset – Carol Dweck
  • Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – Angela Duckworth
YouTube Videos:
  • Bruno Mars – Don’t give up
  • Janelle Monae – Power of Yet
Movies
  • Zootopia, particularly the song at the end, Shakira – “Try Everything”

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the positive response of children when they feel the value of his/her own effort and positive attitude. Take it from my friend, who uses it to help him explore new foods, tie his shoes and most recently, learn to ride his bike. For my friend, riding his bike was a fixed mindset trigger, in that he would say: ”I’m just not good at balancing, it’s too hard, too dark or too wet.” We battled these fixed mindset thoughts throughout the winter months, as we practiced riding around the hallways with support.

Before his first day taking his bike back outside my friend and I took the time to address any fixed mindset thoughts and empower a growth mindset. With this new found confidence in himself, my friend was seen flying across the parking lot without help by the end of the day! We rejoiced in his efforts and strategies he tried. We made falling and failing feel like “no big deal.” It was more of a challenge to figure out what he was missing and what he could learn for the next time. Watch out world, there’s no telling what he will conquer next!

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I highly encourage you to check out mindsetkit.org for more information, evidenced-based resources, professional development and activity ideas for parents, teachers and therapists alike!

Get out there and have fun ‘failing forward!’

Written By:
Christy Moses, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist


References: