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How to Encourage a Growth Mindset in Preschoolers

January is a month dedicated to hitting the reset and refresh button. For many adults, it means setting new goals and resolving to do some things differently. Both these January practices are great for refocusing and remembering to be mindful to learn and grow.

While your preschooler may still be too young to understand goal setting and resolutions, they are not too young to learn about the importance of practicing a growth mindset to help nurture healthy thoughts.

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset can mean the difference between a frustrated kid who gives up and one that takes a break and tries again. Those who have a growth mindset understand that our knowledge and skills can be developed through practice and hard work. Whereas those with a fixed mindset believe their knowledge and skills are fixed and can’t really be cultivated.

Someone with a fixed mindset might say to themselves, “I’m just not good at math.” Those with a growth mindset would say, “I’m still learning math and improving my skills.”

The good news about mindset is that it can change. How we view ourselves and our abilities can differ over time and across different tasks. We might relish the challenge of a good puzzle but dread reading, telling ourselves we’re good at one and not the other. The key is to practice cultivating a growth mindset in all situations to reach your maximum potential.

Carol Dweck, the primary growth mindset researcher explains how simple changes in your thinking can transform your life. “A belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.” The sooner and more often kids practice a growth mindset, the better.

Here are five ways to encourage a growth mindset in your preschooler.

Encourage them to take risks and make mistakes.

Making mistakes can make many preschoolers anxious and uncomfortable. After all, they’re constantly trying to learn what’s expected and how to do the right thing. Children may think they will get in trouble if they make a mistake.

It’s important not to equate mistakes with doing something wrong but rather with an opportunity to learn. Mistakes can be one of the best learning tools. Encourage them to try again, differently.

When they become more comfortable with failing, they’ll also grow more confident. This will encourage them to take risks and step out of their comfort zones. Knowing they will learn something valuable in the process will help them build skills and achieve their goals.

Don’t swoop in to help.

When you encourage your kids to make mistakes and take risks, you must also be prepared to see them struggle. It can be difficult – especially when watching your little ones – to see them struggle and not step in to help. Resist the urge! They’ll learn much more from these challenges than anything you could teach by doing it for them.

Instead of swooping in with “let me help,” acknowledge their frustration but remind them to see challenges an opportunity. Try something like, “I can see this is frustrating, but I love that you keep trying. I know you are going to get it if you keep practicing!”

Even if their frustration is bordering on a meltdown, don’t offer to do it for them. Instead, have them take a break do something different. Once they’ve had a chance to calm down, they can try again.

Praise effort and perseverance.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to encourage a growth mindset in your preschooler is to praise effort and perseverance over outcome. If a child tries and tries and still fails, it only teaches them to feel inadequate and unworthy.

Instead, focus on the effort and perseverance they showed. Preschoolers will become motivated by the challenge, not the final product. This will be invaluable as they grow and encounter more obstacles on their path to achieving goals.

Teaching a growth mindset is all about showing kids that if they keep trying, they’ll eventually get it. Whether in school or with extracurricular activities, they’ll be motivated and inspired by challenges instead of intimidated and discouraged.

Watch your language.

Because preschoolers are constantly taking in new information about language, how you speak to them is vital to cultivating a growth mindset.

One of the most powerful words you can use (and use frequently) is “yet.” When they get frustrated that they can’t build that Lego tower or color in the lines or jump on one foot, instead of saying something like, “don’t worry, it’s ok.” Assure them that these are skills they simply haven’t learned YET.

Those three little letters have a big impact on how preschoolers view themselves and their abilities. It gives them an alternative to, “I’ll never get it!” Reminding them they haven’t mastered that skill yet, shows them you have every confidence they will.

In addition to the magic word yet, avoid labels when speaking with your preschooler. Labels, even those meant to be positive, can discourage kids from seeing their limitless potential. Labels can limit children and run the risk of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.

Labels can keep children in a fixed mindset by reinforcing who they are and how they behave. Just because a child might be stubborn one day doesn’t mean it should become part of how they identify themselves. They should have the freedom to be many different things at any given time.

Model the mindset.

Just as you do with nearly every other aspect of your parenting, model the behavior you are trying to teach. Listen to how you speak to yourself and acknowledge your own instances of frustration or struggle. Point out instances when you want to quit but then keep going.

Don’t label yourself, your partner, or other family members. Show optimism when faced with challenging tasks. And remember to celebrate your own efforts and perseverance.

Kids learn so much simply by watching what you say and how you carry yourself. If you want to raise a child with a growth mindset, model a growth mindset. You’ll both be glad you did!


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