Learning is growth, and nurturing growth is a balancing act. Both failure and emotional support are the keys to teaching grit and a growth mindset. There are right and wrong ways to give emotional support to children. Recognizing and using a combination of constructive criticism and encouragement is crucial in developing a growth mindset in children. Children greatly benefit when they learn how to accept constructive feedback, learn from it, and grow.
Give Praise More Wisely
Don’t praise talent! Instead, praise hard work and effort. More and more research has shown that encouraging kids to put in the work and rewarding them for their efforts reinforces characteristics such as determination and grit. However, if you praise a student’s natural talent, other students may develop a fixed mindset where they don’t believe they have the power to change. Interestingly enough, telling people they are smart actually lowers their IQ (Dweck). Praising their effort instead encourages them to keep working to get better. The belief that you can get better, change, and grow is all part of a growth mindset.
In the DrawnToDiscover approach, we encourage comments like “Look how much better you are getting”. We find there is an over hovering approach in classrooms. We need to give the children OWNERSHIP of their work. Additionally, giving children the space to monitor themselves proves helpful in developing their ownership. We’ve found that constant “suggestions” is disruptive to their concentration, and it’s best to lead by example, not demand. We encourage a teacher to draw along with the children and share the joy in improving themselves. When a child sees themselves improve at drawing, it leads them to self-awareness and confidence that they can improve at anything.
A Successful Mindset
In order to adapt and grow, kids must believe they have the ability to get better. A growth mindset demonstrates the power of believing you can improve. When kids believe that putting in effort and adjusting strategies can help them get better at things, they feel empowered and in turn try harder. As Rebecca Louick, author of How to Teach Growth Mindset to Kids (a 4-Week Guide), wrote, “When they know their brains are capable of growing, they are more confident, resilient, and are not afraid to fail!” (para. 1). In order to teach a growth mindset, we must first differentiate between the two types of mindsets.
As the research of Dr. Carol Dweck has shown, your mindset determines your perspective. When you look at a problem, you either see it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and improve or a chance to fail. Those who see obstacles as a chance to fail more than likely adhere to a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is characterized by the following:
- Avoiding challenges
- Giving up easily
- Seeing effort as fruitless
- Ignoring useful negative feedback
- Feeling threatened by the success of others
To avoid students feeling discouraged by the success of other classmates, they need to stop comparing their work. In DrawnToDiscover, we are constantly telling children to not compare themselves to Miss Wendy (she has been drawing for 40 or more years, she has drawn probably 1.000 pencils). Also, we reinforce that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others! This is very important. Compare yourself to yourself and you will get better every day!
In addition, if you show children you believe in them, they will start to believe in themselves. The difference between a fixed mindset and growth mindset is a belief that you have the power to improve your work. Fostering growth requires the inspiration of belief.
Intellectual skills can be developed through effort. Children that embrace challenges as a tool to get smarter and not as a way to fail are the children that will succeed. A growth mindset is characterized by the following qualities:
- Embracing challenges
- Seeing efforts as path to mastery
- Persisting in the face of challenges
- Learning from criticism
- Finding lessons and inspiration in the success of others
- Knowing you can develop your skills through hard work
When we teach pencil grip, the thumb is the driver. For children to improve their pencil grip they need to take control of their thumb. We tell children your mom is not in charge of your thumb. Neither is your dad, your uncle, your teacher or the principal – YOU are the only person in charge of your thumb! This mindset reinforces that everyone has the power to make improvements.
The Balance Between Failure and Support
Interestingly, despite often having access to more opportunities, more affluent children who do not go through a lot of failure in childhood grow up lacking grit. As Paul Tough has explained, they will often make it to college, but they won’t make it through. Those who haven’t experienced failures don’t have the skills to cope with hardships. Unfortunately, they’re quicker to give up when they fail. It is important to fail, but in order to overcome failure, emotional support is key.
We run up against children that say “I can’t do this” which is why we have a drawing lesson about the book “The Little Engine that Could” so we draw a train and learn the story. In this lesson, we say “I think I can!” and repeat it as often as needed “I think I can”. We need to retrain the perspective. YES we CAN !
Those given more emotional support and nurturing grow up to handle stress better. When kids feel supported emotionally, they do not fear failure. In order to learn, kids need constructive feedback. Therefore, for kids to accept criticism as an opportunity to learn, they need to be reminded that you have high expectations for them. If they know you have high expectations for them, they also know you believe in them. A teacher’s or a parent’s belief in a child can make all the difference. It gives them confidence that with hard work they can succeed the next time. This is the beauty of this program because EVERYONE can improve. Even Miss Wendy after many many years of studying and drawing is STILL improving. This sense of improving is the magic ingredient in why this program is so successful from all levels of ability to all levels of cultural diversity.
The combination of emotional support and criticism is what teaches kids how to learn from their mistakes and embrace failures as a chance to get better. As a result, failures teach both perseverance and grit. Given a growth mindset and the ability to manage failure, success is inevitable. Being warm, supportive and encouraging, yet honest, critical, and demanding all at the same time is what will help teach children to cope with failures and grow.
~Caleigh Cramer and Miss WEndy
Duckworth, Angela, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
Dweck, Carol S., Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Louick, Rebecca, How to Teach Growth Mindset to Kids (a 4-Week Guide). https://biglifejournal.com/blogs/blog/teach-growth-mindset-kids-activities
Tough, Paul, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, The Secret to Happiness. TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?language=en