5 Ways to Help Kids Turn Failure into Growth Mindset

5 Ways to Help Kids Turn Failure into Growth Mindset

Effort not talent; process not product; learning not “bad at; practice not repetition; responsibility not blame.

The only way to keep from failing is to not try. But it’s so much easier to stay safe in your bubble of known activities, experiences, and routines! Trying new things, trying HARD things, and truly attempting to do your best exposes you to the possibility of failure. But as parents and professionals working with kids, we see that it also exposes kids to the possibility of success. Here are ways to encourage a growth mindset when it comes to the possibility of failure!

1. Effort, not Talent

A child who is naturally athletic may win competitions and a child who is naturally smart may do well on tests, but these natural talents will only take a child so far, and when this child finally, inevitably fails, it can be easy for them to take that failure as evidence that he or she isn’t as athletic or as smart as they thought. Think about it: If you’ve always been told that you get good grades because you’re smart, then when you get a C on a paper or test, it could imply that you’re not smart. Also, there’s not much a child can do about being naturally smart or athletic. Instead, by praising a child’s effort you keep the focus on things a child can change. A comment like “Wow, you’re a really dedicated worker,” can help kids take pride in their decisions to try hard, while helping naturally talented kids add that layer of grit that could make them not only good, but great.

2. Process, not Product

Because results are often so visible, it’s easy to make standing on the podium or making the honor roll or wearing the god medal into the ultimate goal. But there’s often an element of luck to results that takes the achievement out of a child’s control. Likewise, sometimes luck means that poor performance just happens to lead to good results. However, over time, a strong process that includes good decision-making and a committed effort is the best path to good results. With that in mind, help your child focus on HOW they go about things. If they try hard and try well, even if they fail, chances are better that the result will be there next time.

3. Learning, not “Bad At”

It’s easy to write off the things you’re bad at. An athlete might say, “I’m just not flexible,” and a student might say, “I’m bad at math.” This image of being “bad at” something allows it to stay fixed. Instead, when a child says they’re “bad at” something, help them reframe the language as an opportunity to learn, as in, “I’m learning to be more flexible,” or, “I’m learning to be better at math.” This small change in language helps a child engage with these perceived weaknesses in a way that can lead to improvement.

4. Practice, not Repetition

The psychologist K. Anders Ericcson defined a method of improvement called “deliberate practice,” which includes not only doing something over and over (traditional practice), but evaluating what went well and what didn’t go well so that you can avoid or reinforce these things next time. We can apply the same idea to failing at any kind of performance — why did you do poorly on a paper or test, or what led to a bad game or slow time? On the other hand, what did a child do well? Importantly, when you’re helping a child look back at an experience, try to decide which of these god and bad aspects of the process were within their control and which were not. Now you can look forward to the future, consciously bringing forward the positive, while choosing to practice and improve the negative.

5. Responsibility, not Blame

Did the referee make bad calls? Did the teacher not teach the material well? At the same time it’s important to help a child focus on things within their control while letting go of the things that aren’t, it’s equally important to hep them take responsibility for their actions. Even if a teacher didn’t do the best job explaining a topic, if a student knows a test is coming up, it might be his or her responsibility to teach themselves or find other resources that help them understand the material.

Helping a child succeed is more about teaching them how try than it is about how to win. It’s a process that doesn’t happen over night. But equipping a child with the ability to reach for the stars, come up short, and keep reaching, not only results in eventually catching a star, but also results in a positive experience along the way.