Ready, Set, Grow: Encouraging Adaptability at All Ages

A growth mindset encourages resilience, happiness and success
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Image courtesy of Lorelyn Medina/

Let’s face it: Raising kids is hard work. But what if there was a simple way to make parenting easier, your kids happier and your household more harmonious? Turns out, there is. When children develop traits like resilience and adaptability, they’re more peaceful, more open to new ideas and less likely to melt down when they don’t get their way, says Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., authors of The New York Times bestseller “The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child” (2018). Here’s how to make it happen, age-by-age.



Shift the Focus

The term “growth mindset” was coined by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck and refers to the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort. Building a growth mindset — as opposed to a fixed mindset, or the belief that ability is predetermined and can’t be
changed through hard work — is linked to better grades, more resilience and higher levels of achievement. 

Caregivers can begin encouraging a growth mindset in toddlerhood simply by ditching the “good job” habit. This type of reflexive, automatic parental praise seems harmless, but the unintended lesson for children is that a good outcome is the only acceptable one, and that their effort matters less than the results of those efforts. When children focus on outcomes instead of effort, they’ll be less likely to accept failure and less open to the idea that consistent effort creates success.

To shift your focus to a child’s effort, swap phrases that focus on outcomes like “good job” for ones that emphasize effort, like “You worked really hard on that!” and “I can tell you really focused — way to go!”



Breaking Free

Some children seem to easily slip into a growth mindset, while others seem set in the fixed mindset camp — or may fall somewhere in between.

“Signs that a child is using a fixed mindset include only doing things that they’re good at, using the same tools and relying on skills that they know well. A child with a fixed-mindset may be unwilling to try new things or to explore other ways of thinking,” says Nedra Glover Tawwab, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Kaleidoscope Counseling in Charlotte. 

When a child seems stuck in a fixed mindset, it’s worthwhile to nudge him or her toward a more expansive, growth-oriented perspective, because a fixed mindset can contribute to issues with self-esteem, anxiety and depression, Tawwab says. Encouraging creativity and self-expression, characteristics of a growth mindset, can help a child break out of the “fixed” zone.  

“When a child struggles with a fixed mindset, caregivers can encourage them by celebrating moments where they try something new,” says Kamini Wood, a certified life and resilience coach for girls, teens and young women in Cary. “Reveal the growth to the child. Allow the child to embrace the moment where they tried something outside of the comfort zone.”



Fear Factor

Even if kids reach high school with a fixed mindset, it’s not too late to work toward a more positive, flexible attitude. Help teens learn to recognize and counteract ANTs (automatic negative thinking), Woods says. 

“These types of thoughts occur routinely with a fixed mindset, because the general idea is that you’re either born able to do something, or not,” she says. “So the idea of trying something new and challenging will trigger a ‘no.’”

Often, automatic “no” responses are rooted in a fear of failure, Wood says. “To help uncover the underlying fear, caregivers can ask questions like, ‘Is it true that you could get better at this?’ or ‘Let’s assume that you are able to do this, how would that feel?’ The point is not to convince or force your teen into action, but to allow them to feel their fear while considering a new viewpoint.”

Guiding teens to look past their fear of failure to see the value in trying something challenging — even if they don’t succeed — helps to build resilience that leads to lifelong success. (Learn more about building resiliency in “Letting Your Child Fail” on page 18.)


Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health journalist and author of “Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep So You Can Sleep Too.”