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How to teach success through challenge and determination

Mother and son in conversation.
In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. What is a growth mindset?
2. How do I shift my child's outlook?
3. How do I help my child turn failure into success?

From an early age, children are taught that intelligence and stellar grades are positives. However, the desire to be perceived as smart may limit them from being curious, courageous lifelong learners.

Parents and teachers can work together, though, to help students develop a growth mindset, in which the process of learning – including failing occasionally – is more important than a high mark.


People who believe their character, intelligence and creative abilities are innate have a fixed mindset, according to Stanford University professor and researcher Carol Dweck. People like this define themselves with rigid characteristics, such as “I am smart,” “I am fast,” or “I am funny.”

However, people who have growth mindsets believe they can develop themselves through hard work, strategy and input. They think they can learn, understand and grow through effort and think in terms of “I will master this subject,” “I can get faster,” or “I can become a comedian.”

These kind of people, including children, tend to achieve more because they don’t worry as much about their image and truly enjoy the process of learning more than being perceived as smart.


Adults can influence children by the behavior they model and the way they interact with children. For example, parents sometimes say things like, “This is my smart one, and this is my funny one” when introducing their children. This promotes a fixed mindset in the first child and can harm the second one.

Parents also should avoid negative thinking like, “I was never good at math either.” This can discourage the child’s motivation because the effort seems pointless.

Children whose parents and teachers share this philosophy have an advantage. Parents can let teachers know they model growth mindset thinking and language at home, says Rose Backhus, manager of professional development for the Palm Beach County School District.

“Children believe they can learn when they experience success,” she says. “It is the responsibility of both parents and teachers to make the child successful, even if the success is in small steps. Praising small steps and relating success to effort is key.”

“Parents can also talk to teachers about second chances. Growth mindset dictates that when we are not successful, we try a new strategy. Perseverance is a hallmark of growth mindset,” Backhus says. “Parents and teachers need to provide children with multiple opportunities to grasp concept and demonstrate mastery.”


Imagine a person who never tries to learn something new for fear of failure and embarrassment. Now imagine a person who is confident enough to say, “I don’t know how to do it yet, but I can learn.”

“Dweck’s research is very clear about the influence of mindset on our approach to challenges. Children in a fixed mindset avoid challenges. When they are not successful, they often give up,” Backhus says. “Children in a growth mindset persevere in the face of failure and become motivated by challenge. Children need to understand that tenacity, effort and practice are the keys to success.”


• Rose Backhus, manager of professional development, Palm Beach County School District
“What having a ‘growth mindset’ actually means,” by Carol Dweck, Jan. 13, 2016, Harvard Business Review
“25 simple ways to develop a growth mindset,” Dec. 2, 2019, TeachThought     

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