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Through decades of research, Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford University Psychologist, found that people’s beliefs about their intelligence differ. Some people believe that their intelligence and abilities are unchangeable. In other words, you have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can’t do much to change it. This is called a “fixed mindset.” Think about the phrase, “I’m not a math person.” This statement indicates a fixed mindset about math, because it attributes math ability to an unchangeable quality.

Others have different ideas about their intelligence and abilities. Some people believe that it is possible to grow your intelligence through effort. This is called a “growth mindset.” Think about the phrase, “Math was really confusing at first, but I’ve studied hard all year and I understand it a lot better now.” This indicates a growth mindset, because it shows a willingness to dig in deep.

Why is it important?

Holding a fixed or a growth mindset has huge implications when it comes to motivation. If children have a fixed notion of intelligence, they probably believe that success has a lot to do with talent. They may think that some are born with the ability to succeed, and others just aren’t. They might view successful people as possessing some unattainable, innate gift. The side effect of the fixed mindset is a helpless or apathetic attitude toward effort — especially when it comes to challenging tasks.

The simple belief that intelligence is malleable can better equip children for challenging tasks and difficult subject matter. If they know that they can develop their abilities, that effort and dedication make a difference in the formula for success, and then children won’t become paralyzed by challenge. The growth mindset creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for achieving goals.

How will it help my child?

Research has shown that children with a growth mindset do better in school. In a study with middle school students, Dr. Lisa Blackwell found that students with a growth mindset earned higher math grades when compared to students with a fixed mindset. Students in Washington, D.C. who were taught a growth mindset outperformed all of their peers on standardized tests in the district. Many studies show that children who have a growth mindset behave differently when confronted with a challenge, and end up learning from their mistakes instead of being paralyzed by them.

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