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A Must-Read for APIS Parents: ‘Mindset’ by Carol S. Dweck

No parent wishes for their child to fail. All of us want our children to succeed in school and life. A recent book I read taught a valuable lesson about children. Written by world-renowned Standford University Psychologist, Professor Carol Dweck, the book 'Mindset,' has many important lessons. It informs us how to nurture success in our children. One of the most relevant lessons for us as parents, is to praise the efforts of our children. Not the intelligence of our children.


Praising our children is an essential aspect of parenting.  When you receive your child's report card, how many of you were compelled to comment on your child's intelligence? 'I am so proud of your great marks! You are so smart!' Or 'You can do better next time because I know how smart you are!' We make these comments about our children's intelligence because we believe that:

1. Praising our children's intelligence builds their confidence and motivation to learn.

2. Children's inherent intelligence is the primary cause of their achievement in school.


However, according to Professor Dweck, the first belief is false, and the latter can even be harmful.


Professor Dweck says that there are two beliefs about intelligence. Intelligence is either a fixed trait (fixed mindset) or, it can be improved (growth mindset).


Which of the two do you believe in? How often do you thank your ancestors for providing intelligent and successful genes? Or do you think your brainpower is something that can be developed just like arm muscles? 


Professor Dweck points out that growing evidence in psychology and neuroscience research supports the latter. Intelligence is not fixed.


Through advances in brain research, we now know that the brain can grow and develop over time. The fundamental aspects of intelligence can be enhanced through learning, and that dedication and persistence in the face of obstacles are vital ingredients in outstanding achievement.


importantly, Professor Dweck's research indicates that the belief in the fixed mindset is wrong. In fact, it is also harmful to our children's ability to succeed. Children with a fixed mindset become excessively concerned with how smart they are. They therefore seek tasks that will prove their intelligence and avoid ones that might not. Thus, their desire to learn takes a back seat. Children who think this way tend to:


- Care a lot about whether people think they are smart or not smart;

- Avoid learning and taking challenges where they might make mistakes;

- Try to hide mistakes rather than trying to correct them;

- Believe that if they have the ability, they shouldn’t have to work hard;

- Believe that needing to apply a lot of effort means they’re dumb;

- Not dealing well with frustration and setbacks, sometimes giving up or cheating.


Meanwhile, children with the growth mindset believe they can develop their intelligence. They focus on doing just that and do not worry about how smart they appear. They are brave enough to take on challenges and stick to them. Children with the growth belief system tend to:

- Care about and invest in learning;
- Believe that effort is a positive thing, causing their intelligence to grow;
- Try hard in the face of frustration and failure;
- Look for new learning strategies.

How can we help foster the growth mindset in our children? According to Professor Dweck's research, adults' ways of praising children's successes and failures have a direct impact on the development of their mindset. Her research states that parents should never praise children for their intelligence but for their effort.

Many parents believe that commending children for being smart will increase their self-confidence and help them enjoy learning. This is not true! Praising children’s intelligence only gives them a short burst of pride and leads to a long string of negative consequences. 

Such praises push the child into the innate-intelligence mindset. They end up fearing the thought of messing up. Thus they are less willing to work hard to learn new skills. This group of children is also less adventurous and will not take up difficult challenges. They are more likely to cheat or give up. They are also less confident in their ability to succeed. Praising children for their intelligence gives them, not motivation and resilience, but a fixed mindset with all its vulnerability. 

Meanwhile, commending students for their efforts fosters motivation, increases enthusiasm, willingness to take on new challenges, greater self-confidence, and a higher level of success. Thus students do not focus on whether their ability may or may not magically create success. Instead, they are more engaged and interested in learning.

Here are Professor Dweck’s tips (examples) on how to praise effort and not intelligence:

•  When the outcome is good and your child has worked hard:
"I can tell you've worked hard for your English test. You read the material several times, outlined it, and tested yourself. Your results show you've improved. Good job!"
I’m proud that you did not give up on the challenging assignment. You stayed at your desk, kept up your concentration, and kept working. That’s great!”

•  When the outcome is poor despite the hard work: 
“I liked the effort you’ve put in but let’s work together some more and figure out what you don’t understand.” 

•  When the outcome is good despite inadequate efforts:
"I think this was too easy for you. Let's do something more challenging next time so that you're able to learn something new."
Ultimately, we do not want our children to see school as a place where they perform to be judged. The growth mindset allows our children to see school as a place where they can passionately engage in learning for their own benefit.

Professor Dweck’s work shows that educators and parents cannot hand out our children’s confidence on a silver platter by praising their intelligence. Instead, we can help our children gain the tools they need to maintain their learning confidence and have them focus on the process of achievement.

As a parent, the growth mindset theory made me realize that none of us are born with good parenting skills. We must continuously work to develop them. These days I am prioritizing practicing the kind of praise for my children. 

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.