When we teach growth mindset to our kids, we help them develop resilience. These are five easy ways to promote this strong positive thinking in your family.

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An illustration of a boy being nurtured by his mother.
Credit: Illustration: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong.

One of the glaring lessons we all learned this past year is that life is unpredictable. No matter how much of a planner you are, you can suddenly find yourself trying to navigate a situation you were completely unprepared to face. And when that time comes, you have to dig deep to find the confidence and courage to push forward instead of letting a disheartening circumstance hold you back from taking action.

Having a growth mindset will make that easier. If you’re wondering what that is, it’s a term coined by psychologist Carol Dweck which describes a belief that you can develop your abilities through hard work and perseverance. When children are taught this way of thinking, it impacts their attitude toward learning and it helps them reframe how they approach challenges.

As a mindset coach, young widow, and mom to a 9-year-old son, I strongly believe that when we develop a growth mindset, we build unwavering resilience that helps us overcome all of life's disruptions—no matter how big or small—with a positive and productive perspective.

Here are some simple ways to help your child develop a growth mindset when they encounter challenges, negative emotions, and uncertainty.

Visualize Their Successes

A new sport, a new subject, a new anything can sometimes feel overwhelming for kids. My son avoided learning how to ride a bike for almost two years, because in his mind it was just too hard. That's when I created a kid-friendly version of a confidence boosting exercise I use with my clients.

I grabbed a piece of paper and drew an X on the left side. Under the X we wrote down a short list of things he used to be unable to do, including tying his shoes, writing his name, and reading a book. Then I asked him if he could do those things now. When he answered "yes" for each skill, I drew a smiley face on the right side of the paper opposite that skill.

Then I pointed to the space between the X and the smiley face and asked him, "What did you do in between here and here?"

He answered timidly, "I don't know, I guess I just kept trying."

I rephrased it: "OK, so you mean you practiced?"

"Yes," he answered.

For each skill he learned, I drew a dotted line connecting the X and the smiley face to illustrate the journey of working towards a goal.

A visual exercise like this helps children (and adults) see how effort, practice, and repetition can lead to positive results. But more importantly, it gives them a moment to reflect on their hard work and accomplishments, which, in turn, builds their confidence to try again.

Make Room for Mistakes

In spite of the fact that making mistakes is so very human, it has long been viewed in a negative light. It's time to normalize the reality that accidents, mistakes, and failures can play a significant role in learning. Instead of allowing pessimism to linger, there's an effective way to teach kids how to bounce back and learn from what's happened.

It begins with two simple words: "It's OK."

These two gentle words can help diffuse any negative emotions that might arise so you can find a positive next step—together. We want to help our children shake off any shame so they can think clearly and learn from all their experiences, good and bad. Whether they drop a glass while trying to help with dishes or they miss some directions on their homework and need to redo the assignment—or any number of stumbles that could happen in their daily lives—we should use those mishaps as growth opportunities to reassure our littles that everyone makes mistakes.

After reassuring them that it isn't the end of the world, work together to find a solution or identify a lesson learned. Be careful not to project your solution onto them. Instead, give them time to discover a positive path on their own; this will help them sharpen their problem-solving skills.

Have a Three-Step Brain Break

During an afternoon of virtual learning, my son was watching a new math lesson video and I was hammering away at a proposal that needed to be sent to a client. A few minutes into watching the video, I saw him fiercely erasing and then scribbling his answers, his frustration clearly mounting. His face flushed red with anger, and eventually he couldn't hold it in any longer.

I told my little guy it was time for a three-step brain break. I explained to him that stress blocks our ability to think clearly and taking a few minutes to reset would help him feel better and work better. Here's how to do that:

  • Step one: relocate. Physically moving gives us a change of scenery which is good for the brain. Stepping away from the task at hand helps our minds start to shift in a different direction so we don't feel stuck.
  • Step two: release. Finding ways to release negative energy and frustration is important. Healthy actions like jogging or walking, journaling, crying it out, or talking to someone are a few ways to let off some steam.
  • Step three: rest. I told my son to lay on his bed for 15 minutes; he could just chill or, if closing his eyes and taking a quick nap felt right, he should feel free to go with the flow. He later came downstairs in a totally different mood! He was bright-eyed, upbeat, and ready to try again.

Encourage Them When Learning Feels Scary

Whether your child is learning how to tie their shoes, solve a tricky math problem, or fold their laundry, if it doesn't come easily, or they're completely uninterested, we shouldn't be surprised when they want to quickly exit stage left.

How can you sprinkle a little fun into learning something new? Find ways to connect what they're learning to their unique personality and interests. For example, if your child is into sports and they feel overwhelmed by a math problem, incorporate their love for their favorite game into the equation. You can say, "The Tigers scored three goals in each of the four games they played, so how many goals did they score all together?" For hands-on learners, consider using items they love, like flowers, toy cars, or Goldfish crackers, to help make the learning experience more enjoyable.

And when it's not distracting, you can also turn on some fun, uplifting music so they can feed off the energy of their favorite jams while learning. When you're smiling and dancing with them, it will shift the energy in the room and help them enjoy the experience more.

It doesn't hurt to also celebrate after an achievement with a fun activity of their choice. You don't have to attach a reward to their success and effort every single time but celebrating their perseverance will help them feel better about what they've accomplished.

Lead by Example

The best way to teach your kiddos how to develop a growth mindset is to lead by example. Share your experiences and tell stories of when you overcame challenges, learned from mistakes, and pushed through discomfort.

And if this is a new concept for you, don't worry. I'm not suggesting you wait until you have enough life experiences to share before you can start helping your kids. Learn together and grow together.

A growth mindset helps us, and our kiddos, build our resilience, develop a positive belief system, and persevere when the unexpected happens. It's not about being perfect or having a problem-free life. It's about being mindful of how you respond to life and choosing a positive, productive path forward.