By Mindprint Staff

If you work with children or have children, you are probably aware of Carol Dweck‘s seminal work on the importance of growth mindset. In a nutshell, it’s a belief that your capabilities are not something you are simply born with but which you can develop with effort and commitment. Adults can have a big impact by focusing on a child’s effort not outcomes, and help kids understand that hard work and practice  – not pure innate talent – will enable them to succeed.

Unfortunately, as can often happen when solid research hits the mainstream media, Dweck’s excellent work has been grossly over-simplified. It’s not as easy as replacing, “Look how smart you are!” with, “I’m so proud of how hard you worked!” and…. Voila, the next Albert Einstein. Or at least the next engineer.

In fact, at Mindprint we maintain that all those growth mindset rubrics that offer the right words and strategies to encourage students will be useless if you don’t start with the foundation of a strong adult-child relationship.

The child must believe in you. Only then will a child believe your words, so that your words can make a difference. In fact, once you have the right foundation, we believe those “right words” will come without needing to reference charts or rubrics.

Here are Mindprint‘s 5 essential elements to develop the trusting relationship you need:

build trust1. Kids need to know that you aren’t simply trying to manipulate them to do better, but that you want what is in their best interest. Trust with a child is a delicate bond that needs to be continuously nurtured.

Keep in mind that kids are excellent judges of honesty. So, if you don’t believe they can do it (really, we can’t all be professional athletes) or they haven’t tried their hardest, don’t say it. Instead, provide balanced feedback that acknowledges what they did well and where they can improve.


safe place

2. Most growth happens when kids have opportunities to stretch out of their comfort zones. But those stretches often require some failures to reach the ultimate goal. Parents and teachers need to take great care to create an environment where kids feel comfortable taking risks and not fear making mistakes. Even if you tell kids it’s ok to fail, they quickly realize if they are being judged when they are unsuccessful. They will listen to every word and watch every facial expression to see if you truly value their effort or care more about the outcome.


Use Strengths

3. It’s important to emphasize that having a growth mindset doesn’t imply that you act as if weaknesses don’t exist. Rather, it requires acknowledging weaker skills. The magic is discussing these weaker skills in the context of developing alternative strategies that use a child’s strengths. “You can meet the goal, but you just might need to try a different approach than some of your classmates.” And then help them find new approaches that work.



objective data

4. The reality is that many students have already been made to feel by adults, their peers, or life circumstances, that they aren’t capable. Your telling them they are capable might not be enough. Show them the evidence so they can regain their self-confidence. This “proof” can come in different forms. It might be a specific project in which they excelled. It might be teacher comments on a report card. A Mindprint can show strengths (and weaknesses) that no one has ever discussed with your child before.


5. You don’t need to be an neuroscientist to understand the basics of neuroplasticity. The science tells us that our capacity to learn grows with each new thing we learn. All children are capable of learning, even if it’s not exactly in the same way or at the same pace. Neuroscience also shows us that everyone is born with different strengths and weaknesses, and that some skills and learning will come easier than others. For the tougher stuff, we will need to work harder and find strategies. But the important takeaway is that everyone has the capacity to learn and improve.


Read the best of the web on growth mindset, effort and motivation.

Share your thoughts in our comments. We’d love to hear what you do to foster a growth mindset.

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