Teaching Growth Mindset Principles to Your Child

In my last post I discussed the powerful impact that having a Growth Mindset can have on motivation and academic achievement . With a Growth Mindset you believe that through effort and the use of solid strategies you can become smarter and better at just about anything you put your mind to. And in fact, there’s a great deal of neuroscience research supporting the notion that we can in fact “grow our brains” and become smarter!

Unfortunately kids with ADHD may be more likely to have a Fixed Mindset. Their struggles with motivation and academics may have lead them down the path of believing that their hard work doesn’t really pay off, and there is nothing they can do to become smarter or better at the things that are challenging for them. And with this set of beliefs, mustering up the motivation to work hard at school or tackle challenging homework problems is extremely difficult. Fortunately, research has shown that mindsets can be changed – and that includes your child with ADHD. Parents and teachers can foster Growth Mindsets in their children and have a big impact on their motivation and achievement.

So, how do you go about encouraging a Growth Mindset? It takes two phases. First, teach your child a few core Growth Mindset principles. Then on a daily basis, emphasize Growth Mindset thoughts and actions to cement the new Growth Mindset lessons and encourage increased motivation over time.

So let’s start with Phase I: teaching three core Growth Mindset principles.

  1. We can grow our brains. Explain to your child that the brain is like a muscle. When we lift weights our muscles get stronger and they grow. The same thing happens when we “exercise our brain.” The more we challenge our brain the more it grows, and the more we grow our brain the better we become at things like math, reading, writing, and even fun things like videogames and sports. (Videogames may make the most sense to some kids: ‘Remember when you got that new game and didn’t know how to get past Level I, but they you kept playing and learning and you were able to not only get past Level I but get all the way to Level 4. And now you’re still playing and learning and soon you’ll be at Level 5?  That’s because you were exercising your brain and challenging it to grow.”) There are some excellent videos online that teach kids about how they can grow their brain. For younger kids I recommend the Class Dojo Growth Mindset series https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zrtHt3bBmQ and for older kids I recommend the Khan Academy “Growing your Mind” video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtKJrB5rOKs.
  2. How our brains grow. In order to straighten our muscles, we challenge them through exercise. If we keep lifting the same light weight over and over again, then our muscles won’t really get stronger. We need to challenge them by gradually adding heavier weights. With our brains, we exercise them by doing challenging work. By trying things that may seem hard, and by making and correcting mistakes. Mistakes can actually be good things, because when we correct our mistakes our brain gets stronger! (Let’s go back to our videogame example: “When you first started Level 2, you struggled to defeat the monster. He won a lot of the time.  But you kept hitting the reset button and challenging yourself to find a way to get around the monster.  Each time you failed to beat him, you learned a little bit more about what might work next time.”)
  3. We need good tools and strategies. Your child has certainly tried to do challenging work in the past. But if they have ADHD, there’s a good chance that there have been quite a few times when they were not able to succeed at the level that was expected of them. These failures may have made your child hesitant to take on new challenges, even if they know that challenging work is good for them. So, make sure to let your child know that in addition to challenging work, they need strategies that will help them succeed. Tell your child that you recognize that they may not have had the tools and strategies that they have needed in the past. But you’re going to do everything you can to help them learn different strategies and tools so that they can succeed now. And with their hard work, combined with new strategies and tools, the sky is the limit! (And one last time we’ll revisit the videogame example: “And then when you reached Level 4, you really struggled with the dragon. But it was your babysitter Mark who have you a great idea for a strategy to try – and it worked!  Sometimes we need some coaching and help just to give us a little help in what direction to go in or what we might want to try.  Mark didn’t give you the answers, but he gave you a strategy.  And having that strategy helped you beat that Level.  Sometimes life is like the videogame where we just need someone to give us a new strategy or a tool to help us do our work and then we can see the way forward.”)

In addition to teaching your child these key Growth Mindset principles, get started on figuring out ways to help your child learn new strategies for the things that are hard for them. Talk to your child’s teacher about subjects that are difficult. Find out which learning tools are currently working for your child and which tools are not. Kids with ADHD may need different learning strategies, so ask about alternate tools and strategies that they can try. Consider getting extra help for your child through their school or through a learning center or tutoring program (see my previous post on choosing a good tutoring center for your child) . Remember that your child’s hard work will only lead to improvement when they are putting their effort into using the tools and strategies that work for them.

My next post, the last in this Growth Mindset series, I’ll talk about Phase II — the things you can do every day to encourage a Growth Mindset in your child. You’re well on your way to instilling a Growth Mindset, and soon you’ll start to think about all of the ways that your child – and you – can rethink challenges and have a Growth Mindset approach to life.

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