Increase Effort: Talk About It

Understanding Intelligence

Father talking at a picnic with son and daughterSome young people believe that while it is possible to learn new things, it is not possible to change your basic level of intelligence. However, Carol Dweck and other researchers have shown that when young people have a growth mindset they are more likely to work harder, to embrace challenges and to see mistakes and failures as opportunities to learn rather than confirmation of their limited abilities.

The Discussion Starters with Your Kids help you talk with your children encourage a growth mindset. The Discussion Starters with Other Parenting Adults help you think and talk about the ways you currently encourage young people to work hard and how they want to encourage effort in the future.

Discussion Starters with Your Kids

  1. What is something you used to do poorly but now do well? What did you do to improve? Why did you keep working to get better? Did anyone help you? What does the fact that you got better at this activity tell you about your ability to achieve other goals?
  2. Think about the following sentence: “Smart is not what you are, but what you work to become.” What does that statement mean to you? Do you agree that people have to work hard to become smart or do you think they are born smart?
  3. Can you think of a mistake you made that taught you something valuable or improved your life in some way? If so, what was it? At the time that you made the mistake, how did you feel? Do you think this mistake was unusual, or can you learn something from most mistakes?
  4. The writer Samuel Beckett once wrote this line in a poem: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” What do you think it means to “fail better?” Have you ever failed better?

Discussion Starters with Other Parenting Adults*

  1. As an adult do you think you have more of a fixed or a growth mindset? What kind of mindset did you have as a young person? Has your mindset had an influence on your life? If so, how?
  2. Do we see evidence of a fixed or a growth mindset in your child or children? What signs of either mindset do you see?
  3. Do you use language with your child that encourages a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? For example, do you praise your child for working hard and challenging himself or herself or do you offer praise for completing tasks correctly and quickly?
  4. How often has your child had the experience of working hard at something and eventually succeeding? How can we assure that the young person has that experience in the future?
  5. What do you say and do when your child makes a mistake? Are there things you could do to encourage your child to see mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow?
  6. When you criticize your child, do you focus on the person (“I’m very disappointed in you”) or on what the child did (“What you did is not OK and you need to do it another way next time”)?
  7. Do you see any evidence that your child practices self-handicapping? Self-handicapping occurs when a young person makes a conscious or unconscious decision to undermine his or her chances of academic success by doing things like not studying for a test or not turning in an assignment. Doing so enables the young person to explain the poor performance to himself or herself and others. Self-handicapping is common among some young people who have fixed mindsets and who struggle in school.

* These parenting adults may include your spouse or partner, extended family members, friends who are parents, or a parent group or class.

Next Steps

  • Learn about what a growth mindset is and why it matters.
  • Try activities designed to help your family operate from a growth mindset.