Developing a Growth Mindset | St Aloysius College, Victoria

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You see your child study hard for their exams- staying up late, tears when they don’t understand the topic, joy when they have that “lightbulb moment” and even the fear and anxiety that they will fail. As a parent you often go through the rollercoaster ride with your children as you see them work hard, achieve and at times fail. It’s joyous when your child comes home pleased and delighted with their exam results, but when they return from school disappointed and deflated after a lower than anticipated grade, this can be disheartening for any parent.

So how do you deal with these disappointing moments?

Firstly, it’s important to help your child (and yourself) put these results into perspective. Does this one exam result mean my child will not succeed in life? Of course not, in fact failure is more likely to help your child succeed so long as they focus on what they have learnt in the process- what they did well and what they can improve on. In the words of Bill Gates, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

Developing a “Growth Mindset”

Developing and maintaining a growth mindset is crucial for dealing with disappointment. Psychologist Carol Dweck coined the terms “Growth Mindset” and “Fixed Mindset” to depict how some individuals face challenges. To have a fixed mindset is to believe that our skills are predetermined and cannot be changed. To have a growth mindset is to believe that one’s abilities and qualities can be improved through effort and persistence. A child who has a fixed mindset will have the belief that a poor grade on an exam or assessment suggests that they cannot do well in the respective subject and is more likely to give up and see failure as something irreversible and inevitable for them. A child with a growth mindset will see this same exam result as a means to improving and challenging themselves further, whilst building their resilience to deal with future setbacks as they arise.
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As parents you can encourage your child to develop a growth mindset using the simple word “yet”. When your child says, “I can’t do it” or “I don’t understand it”, follow this with the word “yet”. Praising the effort is just as, if not more important as praising the result. Recognising the effort rather than ability is more likely to motivate, encourage and inspire your child to continue to try new things and face challenges. Praising the result may instead lead to fear of failure, which can often lead to avoiding putting in the effort all together. As a school psychologist I have heard many students say “I’d prefer to fail through not trying than fail through trying”. This fear of failure can result in a perpetuating cycle of task avoidance.

However, effort alone is not enough. Students need the right type of effort- strategies, focus and concentration, perseverance and persistence, and information- and help-seeking. So, don’t only praise your child for spending time on their studies, provide them with encouragement for seeking help from their teachers and wellbeing staff, for persisting even when the task gets difficult, for focusing and putting away the distractions, and for learning from past mistakes.

I often use the analogy of washing the dishes when explaining effort to students. Using water and a sponge alone, despite how much effort is given won’t necessarily clean the dishes effectively. Technique and strategy (i.e. dishwashing liquid) is needed along with effort and persistence. To find out the right technique and strategy one may need to seek help and information on what works best. Learning and studying require the same combination to achieve success.

At St Aloysius we focus on building and maintaining a young person’s growth mindset. We offer additional wellbeing supports through our College Psychologist to guide students and parents through this process and help them deal with setbacks and thrive through the challenges.

Failure and mistakes are inevitable and should be a part of life, for without them do we truly succeed.

Written by Eden Foster, College Psychologist at St Aloysius College, Victoria.

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