Beware of Creating Fixed Mindset in your Kids. Mistakes are our friends.

Prof Carol Dweck is a psychology professor at Standford University whose book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success published in 2007 became a New York Times bestseller and started a revolution in education.

It is a must read for parents.  You will learn something about the workings of your own minds, and will learn to change your way of thiking, not just to help your children, but to also help you succeed!  The results of her research are startling.  It will help you understand the right kind of stimulus to provide to your children that will encourage them to have a “growth mindset”.  And this alone can make a world of difference for them…

What is Fixed mindset and Growth mindset?


Fixed mindset – These people believe (or condition their kids to believe) that intelligence is static.  E.g. “People are born with math ability”, “You are smart!”  This sets them up for failure, because such kids typically:

1. Avoid challenges

2. Give up easily

3. Do not see virtue in effort

4. Do not take constructive criticism

5. Feel threatened to see other succeed.

Growth mindset – They belive that intelligence is a muscle that can be excercised and developed.  People can understand difficult concepts, do math, and “become intelligent” by putting in effort.  Kids are encouraged to challenge themselves and enjoy the learning experience creating favourable outcomes.  These kids:

1. Like challenges

2. Are not discouraged by setbacks

3. Are hard working and know that it bears fruit

4. Listen to and learn from constructive feedback.

5. Are inspired by others’ success.  They are also empathetic.

So which one are you?  Does your kid have a fixed mindset?  Does (s)he

– Fish for complements… does something in order to get praise, previliges, high-5s

– Like to “win”; hates coming “second”

– Is jealous when the other kid/sibling wins

– If its too challenging, gives up easily

– Chooses an app or plays games that are easy to win

You might not know it but you are setting up your kids to have a fixed mindset.  Here is how to inculcate the growth mindset in yourself and your children.

1. Understand the nature of the brain – It is a working muscle.  Research shows that it grows when excercized, and new neural pathways are always beiing formed… every minute.  See references for articles.

2. Be mindful of saying things that encourage the fixed mindset:

– “You are really smart”

– “Girls are not generally good at math”

– “This is tough, but if you are smart you can do it easily”

These quickly become embedded and alter their brain and behavior.  Parents are susceptible to make these errors because many of us were brought up with these messages.

3. Encourage kids to make mistakes – Mistakes trigger new connections in the brain as it learns and expands… BUT only if they have the Growth mindset rather than the Fixed mindset.  In other words depending on what they are the mind reacts and grows differently!    Teach kids to make and learn from mistakes, not to avoid them.  They should not be penalized for making mistakes. They shoud be encouraged to think.  Mistakes should trigger introspection and a line of inquiry to acquire new knowledge.  Discuss and explore mistakes, not a direct solution.  Mistakes create synapses –

4. Give them challenging work, not something they can easily accomplish.

5. But in order to prevent discouragement show them the progress they have made in terms of what they have learnt. “You are not there yet…” is a hopeful message telling them they are on the growth curve and will soon understand.

6. Give them specific feedback that helps them improve.  Teach them to use the feedback to problem solve, and find a new technique to solve the problem.

7. Work with the kids to create the problem – you can have a problem in your mind and give them a general idea…problems should be vague and real.  They can then define it.  This way they own the problem and it trains them to take any set of inputs and define the problem set themselves.  E.g. I have 10 x 4 lego blocks.  What is the biggest shape I can make?

8. Work with the kids to collaboratively solve a problem.  In fact this type of crowdsourced problem solving has yielded spectacular results.  A professor posted a tough unsolved theorem to see how far his blog readers could help in advancing towards  a solution.  Lo and behold... in 6 weeks the theorem was solved!

9. Teach them to not be proud of easy victory, since they are not excercizing their brain.  Trying to solve a problem even if it is not solved is time well spent, not breezing through a page full of problems in 2 minutes.  Explore different approaches to solve the problem, not a single solution. Reward them for persistence, not completion.

10. It is OK to leave something unsolved as long as kids understand the complications involved.
a. This provides a true perspective of knowledge as something that is evolving with unknown frontiers
b. Peeks their curiosity.

Here is an interesting article about it –

And here is the book itself –

References: – How to Learn Math online course at Standford.  If you find this subject interesting and important then take this course! – A great description of fixed and growth mindset.

Secret to Raising Smart Kids (Scientific American) –

Peter Sims on Daring to Stumble on the Road to Discovery –


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