Having the right mindset is the key to encouraging personal growth in others.
For children with SEN, life can all too often be about limitations and possibilities. Parents, carers and teachers of these youngsters want them to be able to achieve their dreams, just like any other child. The key to thinking past the limitations and developing resilience is encouraging a child to develop a growth mindset. To do that, adults must develop the same mindset.
Research involving US school pupils carried out by Dr Carol Dweck of Stanford University found that there are two mindsets: fixed and growth. People with fixed mindsets believe that talent and skills are fixed, and that the scope of their achievements is limited. People with growth mindsets believe that intelligence and talents can be grown through effort and practise.
A key belief of someone with a growth mindset is that there is no “failure”; there is only success or an opportunity for learning. Dr Dweck’s team found that children with a fixed mindset feared the risk of looking “dumb”. They avoided academic challenges and thought they were not intelligent at particular subjects if they had to work at them.
Those with a growth mindset were not afraid to work hard and understood that this was necessary to acquire learning and skills. They looked for opportunities to learn from their mistakes and saw them as part of the process. The children with growth mindsets developed a resilience which will help them achieve their goals.
We develop our mindsets because of the praise we receive. Those who receive praise for results, and who are told they have failed at tasks, tend to develop a fixed mindset. Those who receive praise for the effort they put into learning something, and who are encouraged to continue trying at things which they might find more difficult, tend to develop a growth mindset. Giving effective praise is a powerful tool in helping a child develop resilience, but we should praise the process. Instead of saying “you should be proud of that result; you’re very clever”, try saying “you should be so proud of the effort you put into that”.
You can also teach children that intelligence isn’t fixed; the brain is like a muscle which can get stronger as they use it. You can tell stories of achievements which came from hard work and teach them to recognise fixed mindset thoughts like “I’m so stupid” or “this is too hard”. Show them how to replace them with “I’m missing something; what is it?” and “this is going to take some hard work”.
To encourage a growth mindset in a child, we have to encourage one in ourselves. We have to lead by example. We need to take on new challenges, even if they scare us. So I have decided to swim the English Channel next August. I see it as a huge challenge which will teach me many things.
I know that I will have to complete many hours of training and acclimatisation but my training sessions are already building my confidence. The longer I swim in open water, or the colder the temperature I can swim in, the more I feel I can succeed.
Despite all the training, though, there are things which may occur on the swim for which I can’t prepare physically. I know I will have to be truly resilient.
Now I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and swim the Channel, but I am suggesting that you find a challenge which will stretch you mentally or physically. Seeing you push through your boundaries to take on a 10k run or give a speech in public will help the children around you see past their own limitations. Don’t forget, you’ll succeed or you’ll learn and develop.
Nicola S. Morgan runs NSM Training and Consultancy, providing help on behavioural issues for families, teachers and school staff: