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The benefits of a growth mindset: learning from failure

13 June 2019

Team Girls is dedicated to fostering and promoting girls’ participation in sport. It’s about girls supporting girls, building up their confidence, and knowing they’re stronger when they stand together – on and off the court.

Tips for encouraging your child to adopt a growth mindset and make peace with failure

It feels great to do well at school, win your netball game or get picked for a team. We all love succeeding, especially at the things we enjoy. And this can make it hard for us when things don’t go our way and we end up failing at something. The truth is that failure is just a part of life, it happens to everyone and, luckily, is often a great way to learn and grow. Since the teenage years are a time when young people may be struggling with their self-confidence, failure can seem like an even bigger deal than it really is. As parents, it’s important that you help your kids develop a healthy relationship with failure.

ReachOut, the online mental health resource for parents and young people, suggests changing the way you talk about failure to help your teen change the way they think about it. Instead of framing failure as a negative experience to be avoided, it can be seen as an opportunity. Helping your kids to remain open-minded and ready to learn is an important life skill.

Sport is a great way to teach kids about making peace with failure and to welcome the chance for growth that it presents. Whether its a loss on the court or field, injuries or other setbacks, sport is a safe and supportive environment to change their relationship with failure and adopt a positive mindset that will serve them well into adulthood.

A growth mindset versus a fixed mindset

When talking about failure with your child, it’s helpful to start by talking about the two kinds of mindsets that people can have: a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

Growth mindset

This is where a person’s self-esteem is centred on the belief of abilities being developed through dedication and hard work. This mindset typically understands success is about 35% due to ability, and 65% to effort. A growth mindset is about working out how to fail well and knowing that each setback is a chance to learn. People with a growth mindset understand that hard work, practice and a good attitude are what lead to ultimate success. People with a growth mindset don’t approach a new or challenging situation by talking themselves down, they simply say ‘I can’t do that … YET’.

So, what are the signs your child has a growth mindset?

Here are a few:

  • They’re keen to learn from people around them
  • They understand getting what they want, or learning new skills, requires putting in the effort
  • They’re aware of their weaknesses, but are focused on improving them
  • They welcome challenges and are open to new things

Fixed mindset

A fixed mindset is when people believe traits such as ability or talent are fixed, set at birth and not able to be changed. They let failure or success define who they are. Research shows they believe that success is about 65% due to ability and only about 35% to effort. People with a fixed mindset approach new or challenging situations by thinking ‘I can’t do that … and never will be able to’. They often stop themselves from trying or learning new things because they believe they will not be able to succeed.

Signs your child has a fixed mindset include:

  • They avoid challenges when they think they might make a mistake
  • They don't deal well with setbacks
  • They try to hide their mistakes
  • They’re very negative about themselves, often saying things like, ‘I can’t do it.’

Learning to adopt a growth mindset is a really positive life skill for all young people to develop. Showing your child how to learn through failure, how to take it well and see the positive, means helping them to adopt a growth mindset. You can do this by praising their efforts and not just the final result. This is especially key when it comes to sport. The effort, training and commitment involved in sports is a great way to become accustomed to failing and learning to fail well.

How you can help your child develop a growth mindset

Some top tips for supporting a growth mindset in your child:

  • Start by talking about the difference between fixed and growth mindsets. Explain what they both are, and chat about how failing is an essential part of learning.
  • Try explaining how our brains are something that can be changed. The more we practise and work at a skill or ability, the stronger the connections in our brain associated with the skill become, and, over time, it becomes easier and more natural for our brain to perform these skills. It’s like using a muscle: great athletes weren’t just born being able to perform the way they do; it took hours and hours of practice and effort.
  • Praise effort, struggle and persistence. Congratulate your child on choosing difficult tasks; mention you are impressed and proud when they put time into learning. Compliment them on all improvements.
  • Encourage your child to practise skills. Praise them for embracing new ones, and support them in continuing to work at them.
  • Celebrate successes. Particularly small ones, which are often forgotten (such as solving a difficult problem, or even just trying to do something).
  • Encourage them to participate in sports where they can learn resilience and the benefits of losing.

As with all things, having a growth mindset is something we should endeavour to practise ourselves. Your child will understand how to learn from failure by watching your attitudes and behaviours when doing the same.

For more parenting hacks from ReachOut read more:

If your child, or anyone you know is having issues with self-esteem, confidence or mental or physical health, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

This content includes the views and opinions of a third-party, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Suncorp. Information is intended to be of a general nature only and any advice has been prepared without taking into account any person's particular objectives, personal situation or needs.

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