Sunday, September 25, 2016

What your beliefs about failure are teaching your child.

A self-fulfilling prophecy describes when a person believes something will happen so they engage in behaviors that increase the likelihood of the expected outcome. There are few more important examples of this than children's learning. Children can either have a fixed or a growth mindset about intelligence. Kids with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is, well, fixed. Kids with a growth mindset believe that intelligence is something malleable. Whether a child has a fixed or growth mindset predicts how hard that child will try when given a hard problem. Children with a fixed mindset get frustrated easily and give up. Kids with a growth mindset spend longer working on problems and demonstrate more effort while trying to solve it. As you can imagine, this phenomenon snowballs over the years, and indeed, children with fixed mindsets go on to under-perform children with growth mindsets in almost every domain compared to their growth mindset peers. But where do kids get these fixed and growth mindsets? If we know where these mindsets originate, we can begin to cultivate growth mindsets in more and more kids.

Now, the obvious answer is usually the right one. Parents. However, whether or not a child has a fixed or growth mindset is NOT related to whether their parent has a fixed or growth mindset. So,
Kyla Haimovitz and Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford University, conducted four studies to understanding exactly how parents influence their children's beliefs about intelligence.

To do this, they first conducted a study to answer the question: Do parents' beliefs about failure relate to their child's beliefs about intelligence? They recruited 73 parents and their 4th and 5th grade students. Parents completed surveys measuring their intelligence mindset, failure mindset, and perceptions of their child's competence in math, science, social studies, and English. Failure mindsets were assessed with questions like "Experiencing failure facilitates learning and growth" and participants indicated how much they agreed. Children completed surveys measuring their intelligence mindset and their parents orientation to learning and performance using questions such as "My parents want me to understand homework problems, not just memorize how to do them". 

Parents fixed vs growth mindsets were unrelated to their child's fixed vs. growth mindset, whereas the degree to which the parent believed that failure was a hindrance rather than an opportunity for learning predicted a child's fixed intelligence mindset. They also found that children's perceptions of their parents' orientation to learning and performance  explained how parents beliefs about failure led to children's intelligence mindsets. 

Next, Haimovitz and Dweck conducted a study to answer the question: Do parents who believe failure is debilitating parent their children differently? They recruited 160 parents for an online study who completed questions about their intelligence mindset, failure mindset, and their reactions to a scenario in which their child came home with a failing grade on a quiz. Questions in reaction to the scenario were "I might worry (at least for a moment) that my child isn't good at this subject" or "I'd encourage my child to tell me what she learned from doing poorly on the quiz."

Parents who held a failure-is-debilitating mindset were more likely to endorse reactions to the scenario consistent with worry about their child's abilities, instead of opportunities for growth and learning. 

In a 3rd study, the researchers sought to understand whether a parent's failure mindset is more visible or obvious to their child than their intelligence mindset. To answer this question, 102 parents completed surveys about their intelligence and failure mindsets, while their children completed surveys about their perceptions of their parents intelligence and failure mindsets. Lo and behold, kids were more accurate about their parents' failure mindsets than their intelligence mindsets. 

Finally, they tackled the ultimate question: Do parents beliefs about failure cause their reactions to their child's failures? To do this, they recruited 132 parents for an online study where parents reported their perceptions of their child's competence and then were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 conditions. In one condition, parents were induced into thinking that "failure is debilitating", while the other condition induced a "failure is enhancing" mindset.  Then parents were asked to explain what they would think, feel, and do if their child came home with a failing grade on their math quiz. 

Indeed, parents randomized to the "failure is debilitating" condition were more likely to see the failure as a hindrance to learning and express worry about their child's abilities. Most importantly, this was true regardless of how competent the parent thought the child was at the outset of the study. 

To review, this is how kids develop a fixed or growth intelligence mindset. Parents either view failure as debilitating or an opportunity for learning. A failure is debilitating mindset is apparent to children because the parent rewards them for performance instead of learning. Parents react to their child's failures by questioning the child's abilities and competence. Then the child develops a sense that their abilities are either fixed or can be cultivated through learning and hard work. 

With all of this laid out, the fix is pretty simple. Do you see failure as an opportunity for learning or as a sign of incompetence? If it's the latter, changing that mindset will help your child learn that their intelligence can be cultivated and the self-fulfilling prophecy will snowball in their favor. 

If you think this is interesting work, you will love watching Carol Dweck's TED Talk!

Thanks to unsplash for the lovely images!

Haimovitz, K., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). What predicts children’s fixed and growth intelligence mind-sets? Not their parents’ views of intelligence but their parents’ views of failure. Psychological science, 0956797616639727.


  1. Your video is very nice thank you for share this information this is really superb I like it very much there are many things provided for good and quality process.

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  2. Parent are the first and the real teachers of ours and what we learn is their effect but if they are more hardworking so the children are also the same and they always try to do some thing more difficult as compared to them but they need Physiotherapy North Ryde as well to be able to maintain their health so that they can continue taking new risks.


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