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As a parent you can’t guarantee your kids’ future success and happiness, but you can equip them with the capacity to keep growing and learning! So even if your child struggles with something now, you can give them the tools they’re going to need to eventually work through that struggle. In other words, we can encourage kids to have a growth mindset.
Having a growth mindset means that you believe that your basic traits — like how good you are at reading, sports, or making friends — can be changed, both through your own efforts and by getting the help and support you need. In contrast, a fixed mindset means that you believe that you either have a certain trait for life, or you don’t.
Research shows that when kids embrace a growth mindset, they’re more likely to take on challenges and keep trying, they become more motivated, and they end up performing better academically.
Parents can benefit from this line of thinking too — so rather than beating yourself up about mistakes you’ve made in the realms of parenting, relationships, finances or career, you’ll be more motivated to learn from those mistakes and try out some solutions.
You and your family will naturally enter into both mindsets at different times of the day or week, but we could all use practice getting into a growth mindset more of the time. Here are 31 creative, family-friendly ways to encourage mental resilience and an enthusiasm for learning from mistakes!
Assess your understanding of growth mindset by taking a quick quiz. Try this worksheet or this online quiz, then compare your answers and results with each other. Use it as fodder for a family discussion.
To get in the “growth mindset” frame of mind, learn about the science of how taking on challenges makes your brain stronger. Start by watching this 2-minute video for younger kids, Brain Jump with Ned the Neuron; for older kids, you can supplement knowledge with this clip from The Human Body.
When parents swoop in to help too often, or look over kids’ shoulders all the time, they’re less likely to build that confidence and independence they need to try hard things and learn from their mistakes. You can even ask kids if there are times when they’ve noticed you’re not letting them figure things out on their own. Choose one specific area where you’ll stop intervening — whether it’s when your partner is packing lunches, or when your kids are emailing their teachers. Then write it on a post-it to remind yourself daily!
Celebrate a failure
Choose something that a family member has recently considered a major mistake or failure (such as losing a game or competition, falling off a bike, or receiving a rejection or negative feedback), and decide to turn it into a positive thing to celebrate. Have a fun meal or treat, and discuss what can be learned from that setback. Point out that real growth can only happen if you let yourself fail sometimes, so failure is actually a necessary and helpful thing.
Watch the inspiring video of Austin’s butterfly, which shows how a first grader went from a basic cartoonish drawing of a butterfly to a scientifically accurate illustration. How did he do it? By listening to specific feedback, and making six drafts of the drawing! Try it by choosing a photo of an animal or plant, and trying to draw it. Give yourself or others specific feedback after each draft, and see what improves with each subsequent draft.
Choose a game that everyone in the family can participate in, and that has a measurable score for each individual player — for example, bowling, mini golf, or Boggle. Next time you play, instead of competing against each other, compete against your own personal best score. This approach teaches kids to focus on improvement rather than comparing themselves to others.
Ask for help
Having a growth mindset doesn’t mean each individual needs to figure everything out all by themselves. An important part of the growth mindset is knowing when to ask for help! Encourage each family member to think of an aspect of life, big or small, where they could use help or support from another person (such as a friend or family member, therapist, coach, teacher, boss, or coworker), and write it down on a chart. Then help them plan and practice how to ask for this support.
Everyone fails, especially “successful” people! It can be so inspiring to learn about famous athletes, authors, artists, scientists, and more who worked through lots of failures and rejections leading up to their big success. Look up some of your kids’ favorite celebrities or heroes, and see if you can find stories of their struggles. To get you started, here are a couple of videos that show a range of leaders in different fields: Famous Failures and How Many Times Should You Try Before Success?
Open mic night
Many kids (and adults!) are afraid of putting themselves out there because they don’t want others to see them fail. One way to get used to making mistakes in front of people is to perform more often. Host a spontaneous family karaoke session or open mic night where you don’t have much time to prepare. Lay down some ground rules, like being supportive of each performer. Then repeat the performances after a week or two of practice, and observe if anything improves.
Learn why being wrong and making mistakes can actually be good for science, engineering, and invention by watching these videos about the “former planet” Pluto, some innovative shoes, and bridges falling down.
Have each family member think of something they’re not currently good at. Have them fill in this statement: “I haven’t learned how to _____ … YET!” Then have them come up with a plan for learning this new skill. List what some of the obstacles might be, as well as some of the rewards. Watch Sesame Street’s Power of Yet video for inspiration.
Watch characters try and fail and try again on the big screen during your next family movie night. Start with this movie list from Common Sense Media.
Have you ever told kids they are “talented” at something? Or have you ever thought you’re not naturally talented enough to succeed at something? It’s time to reframe that fixed way of thinking about talent. Watch this video on the myth of natural talent to consider all of the ways that talent can be developed.
Domino fail fun
One really illustrative example of a fun but difficult task that gives kids plenty of chances to fail dramatically and then try again? Setting up dominoes to knock down. One of the leading domino artists in the world, Hevesh5, knows all about failures. Check out these two videos on her 32,000-domino setup, and how she dealt with the multiple fails.
Great stories can always help when you’re trying to teach abstract concepts — so it’s time for a book haul! Here are some recommended picture books and books for all ages that illustrate the power of a growth mindset.
Effort, not grades
Explain to kids that this school year, you won’t be commenting on their grades and scores — instead you’ll focus on their effort and improvement. This will help stave off harmful perfectionism and encourage a family culture of working hard for the right reasons.
Work in more time for unstructured play, without any adults trying to direct, suggest, or correct what kids are doing. Kids are often overscheduled with structured activities, but unstructured play is one of the best ways to encourage learning! For the youngest kids, start by having a designated room or space in the house that you know is relatively safe to leave kids for a few minutes at a time, then work on lengthening the time.
This improvisation game celebrates big fails and makes them fun! Each person has to make up and perform a story about a silly, disastrous failure. Then the “audience” (the rest of the family) cheers and claps!
Play games that are not about the outcome of winning or losing, but rather about enjoying the process of playing together. Examples of nontraditional board games like this include: Hoot Owl Hoot!, Race to the Treasure, and The Ungame.
A mindfulness practice like yoga can be wonderful for fostering a growth mindset because it’s all about “practice,” not some grand performance or competition. You can even throw in some growth mindset affirmations with simple yoga poses to create a meaningful routine that you can do with kids.
Do you — or your kids — tend to overreact when food gets spilled or craft supplies get all over the floor? Invent a new, positive approach to dealing with messes. For example, have the whole family pause everything and sing a silly song while cleaning up together as a team. It demonstrates that you won’t let mistakes and messes hold you back, and that working through them is a totally normal and expected part of life, so you might as well enjoy the process!
Report daily learning
An enthusiasm for lifelong learning goes hand in hand with having a growth mindset. One way to encourage lifelong learning as an important family value is to talk about it on a daily basis. Each night at dinner, have each family member mention one thing they learned that day, or one thing they want to learn.
Try a new food
Find a new dish, or an interesting fruit or vegetable or ingredient in the grocery store, that no one in your family has ever prepared or eaten. Then work together as a family to figure out how to cook and eat it. No one will be afraid of messing up, or have super high expectations for the outcome. You’ll all take on a challenge and learn something new together!
As a family, brainstorm some goals that you would like to achieve together but that may be too challenging to accomplish on the first try. For example, completing an entire bike trail from start to finish, getting your electricity bill down to a certain amount per month, or shaving 15 minutes off of your morning routine. Pick one, and start attempting it on a regular basis, with the understanding that there will be challenges and setbacks. Have family check-ins where you all brainstorm solutions together, instead of blaming any one person for mistakes.
“To learn” list
Start a shared list on a family bulletin board, or on the fridge, where anyone can add things they would like to learn — anything from new languages to cooking techniques to video games. This will help you encourage each other to be curious, to keep learning, and to check in with each other about any challenges and possible solutions.
Often on social media or even in family photo albums, the final smiling outcome is the only thing you decide is worth keeping. Change up your goal when taking (and deleting) photos, to show others what the chaotic process was, rather than the shiny final product. For example, post photos of your messy counter while baking, rather than the finished cake — or post your lowest video game scores, rather than just your proudest winning moment.
Teenagers and young adults often move out of their family’s house without knowing how to do basic tasks like sew on a button or pay a bill. No matter their age, you can have your child start practicing these kinds of life skills: for example, letting a toddler lead a walk to the mailbox and put a letter in, or letting an older kid pick out some dinner ingredients and bring money to the checkout line. If you give them the chance to try some adult tasks and even make mistakes, they’ll gain confidence and be more prepared for independence.
Process art and ephemeral art are both about enjoying the actual work of a creative project, rather than worrying about the outcome. Often, the creations are meant to be temporary anyway! Pick a project to do alongside kids, and let go of that fear of not having “talent.”
The positive messages we repeatedly send our kids (“You’re so smart” or “You’re a great listener”) actually encourage a fixed mindset. They can also set kids up for confidence issues; once they’ve internalized the label that they just are smart (or athletic or good at music or whatever), the moment they make a mistake or don’t get a good grade it causes them to question their identity. We don’t want our kids to define themselves with labels!
We can make praise more empowering by changing it to a specific, active format. So make a list of common praise you give to yourself or others, and rewrite them: instead of affixing yourself/others with a label, declare what you/they actually did or felt, and the impact. For example: “You listened really carefully and took notes during the meeting, which helped you get your group started on the project.”
Make or print a cootie catcher (aka paper fortune teller) with growth mindset themed messages on it. Then fold it (a task that may include some setbacks and frustration in itself), and play!
Read some growth mindset themed quotes, and choose one (or write your own!) that inspires you that you’d like to remind yourself of regularly. Then design and color a bookmark or poster featuring the quote.
If you enjoyed this, check out our other 30-Day Challenges for families!
- 31-Day “Summer Bucket List” Family Challenge
- 30 Day Love Challenge
- 30-Day Challenge for Raising Feminist Kids
- 30-Day Challenge to Raise an Eco-Conscious Child
- 30-Day Family Self-Care Challenge
- 30 Day Family “Say Something Nice” Challenge
- 30 Day “Get Outdoors” Family Challenge