3 Ways Dweck's Mindset Changed My Parenting Vocabulary

I am honored today to have Lindsay Call here with a guest post.

I asked Lindsay if she would write about one of her favorite books, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. I know Mindset is one of her favorites because she has mentioned it on her excellent blog time and time again. I wanted to hear more about it.
After reading the ways that Lindsay's parenting vocabulary has changed (and the reasons why) I'm itching to get my hands on it. You'll find affiliate links scattered throughout the post. This book sounds like just what I need to help Levi right now.

Here's Lindsay to discuss three ways Dr. Carol Dweck's Mindset has changed the way she talks with her daughter:

  • Long before I read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, I was intrigued by an article I came across online. The basic punchline: It’s a really bad idea to tell your kids they’re smart. (What’s worse? Telling them they’re dumb, obviously.) It sounds counterintuitive in a world saturated by self-esteem talk, but we now have years of compelling research pointing to the fact that telling youth they’re smart is counterproductive for some simple reasons. First, it tells them that intelligence is a fixed trait, and second, that you’re judging theirs. In several experimental studies, Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues found that kids who were praised as “smart” were less likely to take on challenges and were more risk-averse; they quit trying sooner when obstacles arose; and they were even more likely to lie about their actual performance in an effort to look “smart.”

  • So if “smart” creates a “fixed mindset,” what language will instead foster a belief that intelligence and talent can be developed through effort, a “growth mindset”? Dr. Dweck has no shortage of ideas after 30+ years of study. Here are just three that have profoundly shifted my vocabulary, as a parent and an educator:

  • 1. "You worked really hard at that!"

  • This is among the most oft-repeated phrases around our house, followed closely by “Please stop whining,” of course. If “person praise” like telling a child they’re smart or cute reinforces the fixed mindset, replacing it with “process praise” -- praise for effort, choices, and strategies -- is key to strengthening the growth mindset. A good question to ask ourselves in various settings is Am I praising something that is directly within this person’s control? (One study found that only 10% of the praise young girls received was process praise, compared to 24% for boys, so this may be an even more critical focus when dealing with young girls.)

  • Now that I can see through the growth-mindset lens, I am astounded by just how saturated our society is with fixed-mindset messages. My five-year-old is regularly praised for her appearance, artistic talent, and intelligence, which may undercut the effort she’s put into mastering the skills she’s acquired. Many of the princess stories and fairytales my daughter loves so dearly emphasize fixed traits and virtually effortless “happy endings,” which is why I geekily scatter little written affirmations around the house like “Happy endings take hard work!” and I actively seek out growth-mindset media (The Princess and the Frog with its emphasis on hard work is a personal favorite).

  • 2. "There’s no such thing as perfect."

  • We probably all remember getting a grade-school assignment back with a big star and “Perfect!” scrawled across the top. It seemed harmless at the time, but the more I’ve studied the more clearly I see the way it feeds a fixed-mindset obsession with perfection. Students given that type of praise were less likely to take on more difficult tasks for fear of not performing perfectly and thus no longer appearing “smart.” It’s been hard to completely expunge “perfect” from my vocabulary, but I always try to follow it up with a reminder that there’s really no such thing as perfect. Mistakes and even failure are integral to progress (a message that is wonderfully expressed in the very growth-mindset children’s book Rosie Revere, Engineer), and trying to correct them is the path to becoming a “problem solver,” a label that my daughter has gleefully taken on as a core part of her identity.

  • Of course, there are downsides to raising a "problem solver," like the sheer number of repairs you stumble upon unexpectedly. "Oh yeah, I broke that but don't worry, because I did good problem solving and fixed it!" (Usually with mounds and mounds of scotch tape.) Hopefully, her personal empowerment is worth all the property damage in the long run.

  • 3. "You’re literally growing your brain!"

    Underlying the growth mindset is a basic physiological reality: Neuroplasticity. The brain is not a static organ, as was once believed, but a malleable one, constantly changing in response to environment, circumstance, and behavior. While process praise and growth-mindset messages implicitly send the message that effort and persistence lead to mastery, studies show that people of all ages (toddlers to college students) respond to explicit teaching about the brain’s capacity for growth. In one significant study, just 50 minutes of teaching about neuroplasticity dramatically improved low-performing students’ beliefs about their capabilities, not to mention their test scores.

  • With my five-year-old, the children’s book Your Fantastic Elastic Brain has been a fun and entertaining way to teach her about her brain’s inherent capacity, coupled with frequent reminders when she’s getting frustrated with a task she has yet to master. Trying to sound out a word? You’re literally growing your brain! Trying to tie your shoes? You’re literally growing your brain! Trying furiously to remove the marker from the wall before your parents notice? You’re literally growing your brain! (But we prefer the other methods . . . )

  • Are you a parent, a spouse, a teacher, a manager, a worker, an athlete, a perfectionist? Read Mindset. It’s a game changer.

Thanks, Linsday. Questions and comments are welcomed, below. 


  1. Just wanted to say, Alysa, that I'm reading Mindset right now, and really enjoying it. Thanks for sharing Lindsay's thoughts on this book - I'm so glad that this post nudged me to read it.


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