Professor Carol Dweck has become known for her work on mindsets and their role in developing resilience in people of all ages. Its potential to improve our boys’ outlook on life, and their willingness to take risks in their learning, is significant.
Our aim should be to develop boys who are strong and resilient; willing to have a go, even when success is not guaranteed; and who value the joy of learning as its own reward. The language we use with our boys, and the nature of the expectations we place on them, can either help or hinder the pursuit of a growth mindset.
1. Value and praise effort, hard work and persistence leading to achievement
Boys who have a growth mindset understand that these behaviours lead to achieving the goals we set. It is not enough to just work hard and apply effort, there must be a goal to strive for, small steps to follow along the way, leading to the satisfaction of goals achieved. As parents, we can model this by talking about our own stories of times we, too, exerted effort and achieved a goal we had strived for. Never underestimate the power of your stories, and others your son looks up to, that he can seek to emulate.
2. The power of ‘yet’
When your fails to achieve something that means a lot to him, emphasise that he hasn’t achieved it ‘yet’, but with effort and hard work, it could be possible. The key to setting achievable goals is to make the goal just out of reach; something that is eminently achievable but not so far out of reach that it is more an aspiration than a goal. Aspirations are great, but boys need to set small incremental goals that lead towards the aspiration, and each of these small achievements can be cause for celebration!
3. Praise actions rather than traits
When we praise our boys’ character traits, we tell them that is what we value. If we tell them they’re clever, they will, over time, take less risks in their learning to avoid feeling ‘less clever’. This can be debilitating and can limit not only their willingness to take risks but, in turn, their achievements. Praise your son’s willingness to stick at a task until it is completed; the steps he takes to achieve a goal; his willingness to revise and edit his work to ensure it is of a high quality.
4. Talk about times you’ve fallen short
Failure is a confronting word! It brings back memories of times we’ve fallen short and, as parents, we want to protect our boys from those feelings. However, we all fall short regularly, and our achievements come from our ability to pick ourselves up, adjust our course, and continue on until we succeed. Failure in and of itself is not the most important thing. It’s acknowledging what we have learnt and how we then plan to remediate that, that is important. This connection to learning is where the power is.
5. Celebrate the achievements of others
It sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s not! Young boys feel deeply, they are competitive and it can be hard for them to acknowledge others’ successes. There’s nothing wrong with being competitive, but when it takes the focus off our own goals and our efforts to achieve them, that’s when it becomes a problem. Our boys need to learn to focus on what they can do to be the best they can be, and to acknowledge that focusing on the achievements of others takes their focus away from their own efforts, therefore reducing their likelihood of success. It’s easy to acknowledge the success of others when they are people we look up to… it’s harder when it is our peers.
None of the above tips are a quick fix. They take time to develop, through modelling and discussion both at home and at school. At Knox Prep, we will be running a Parent Book Club during Term 3, using Dweck’s Mindset
book as a basis for our discussions. Keep an eye out for more information in the coming weeks.
Mrs Sue Floro, Head of Knox Grammar Preparatory School