Growth mindset: Our children’s potential and abilities.

I first learnt about “growth mindset” during an intense professional development course.

“Growth mindset” believes in the brain malleability.


Most of us grow up hearing some kids are just born smart and some kids are born not that smart. Some kids have a natural talent in a particular skill and some kids are hopeless. You know, if the kid doesn’t get it, it means that he/she just doesn’t.

But growth mindset believes that we can develop our own intelligence and abilities.

You may think, what on earth am I on about, the brain is not a muscle that I can grow my own intelligence by exercising it. Okay, it is not muscle. But if we learn and read up about what neurons are and what they do, we realise that it does work like a muscle. The brain, when not used, or challenged doesn’t make any progress. However, when we constantly exercise it through effort and hard work, it improves our performance.


I’ve met children who believe that hard work means that they aren’t smart.
They are proud to say, “I scored high marks for this test even though I didn’t study.” Even if they did study , they will pretend that it’s all easy for them. If they find that hard work is embarrassing for them, they would go out of their way to avoid anything challenging for fear of failure.

The growth mindset encourages an individual to keep on learning to ensure the brain’s growth. And hard work does not equate to stupidity.

I’ve also met children who believe that they will never be able to study a certain subject and so why bother trying.

If you meet such children keep encouraging them that something that is hard at first, it will get easier after you have master it.
So look forward to that!

So how does growth mindset help us as parents.

1)Let’s not label our children.

“My first one is very smart. My second one is not good in his studies.. but he is good in SPORTS! He has other strengths.”

The optimism is great. But is it really necessary to label your children in that way at such a young age. Especially since we know of so many examples of children who didn’t do well in their studies in primary school but excel in their tertiary education. And we also know of examples of really smart children who did not continue their impressive academic performance in their later years. Such labels does not only affect slow learners into thinking they’re doomed but affect the fast learners into thinking they don’t need effort because they are born smart. Instead why don’t we remember one of the key messages in “growth mindset,


The power of yet tells our children the endless possibilities of their capabilities. They might not master this problem sum now but they would eventually. There are extreme cases where a child have special learning needs in which I have not much experience or expertise to talk about. But for other children, let’s teach them the power of yet.

I can’t do this problem sum… yet.
I’m not good in English … yet.
My voice does not sound like Beyonce… yet.

2) It’s okay to make mistakes

When we learn something new, it’s always a challenge at first. Let’s create an environment where they are not afraid to be challenged. When our brains are challenged new connections are made. Again, back to the neurons. We are always so ashamed of making mistakes but mistakes are how we learn.

So it’d be good to remind our children that when they make a mistake, good stuff are happening in their brains.

It’s okay to not know. But it’s not okay to not try.

3) Praise efforts and not abilities

I’m not saying that you cannot praise abilities at all. If you find that your child has the natural talent to find the perfect spot while playing hide and seek or dance Michael Jackson upon request, by all means, give them some credit. But let’s not forget about effort. Talent without effort is pretty much useless in the long run.

4) Don’t join the rat race

This last one is a bit difficult. Even though my son is just 4 years old , I can feel the stress of Singapore parenting creeping into my life. I listen and watch in half horror and half amazement at what my son’s peers can already do. It does get me worried sometimes but I have to remind myself that my son and I should have the control over his learning, not other people. Learning is lifelong. What’s important is to keep on learning , growing and to continuously put in effort. Every child has an unexplored potential with different needs and strength so observe, cater, encourage and motivate.

I must say when the growth mindset was introduced to the course, I could feel that not everyone was convinced. However, after applying it to my classroom and also talking to parents I find it most useful to encourage and motivate my students. I feel that it’s even applicable to myself as an adult learner.

If you want to know more.
Here are some resources for growth mindset.

Mindset works

The Fantastic Elastic Brain -JoAnn Deak
(You can watch a reading of the book on youtube)

Neurons and what they do

The learning brain

The Fantastic Elastic Brain -JoAnn Deak
(You can watch a reading of the book on youtube)


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