Changing Children’s Ability to Learn: Going from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset

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By Anne Mead

Carol Dweck, a world-renowned researcher and psychologist from Stanford University, argues that the one single quality that separates successful people from unsuccessful people is whether they think their intelligence and abilities are fixed. She naturally refers to people who think their abilities are fixed as having a “fixed mindset,” and those who think they can grow as having a “growth mindset.” For those who have a fixed mindset not having your morning coffee routine (no grinds to make coffee) as usual would throw off your day and lead you to say, “I can’t cope with today; I have not had coffee.” Instead, with a growth mindset, you would say to yourself, “I must make a list to remind myself to buy coffee and tomorrow will be better.” You then continue with your day having learned from the experience.

As adults, we often realize our shortcomings and can alter our thinking to change those shortcomings. As parents, our role is to help our children acquire a growth mindset. This helps your child be productive in his or her daily activities and enables the child to approach challenges with confidence and have an open mind towards change. When a child is challenged academically, negative self-talk can undermine what the child is trying to do.

Our role as parents is to build positive relationships with our children that foster the development of a growth mindset. These relationships don’t have to focus specifically on explaining a growth mindset philosophy to your child but rather encouraging your child to try new things. First, the child must have a good, healthy living style. Second, the child must be able to think critically and creatively, such as when a preschooler spills a cup of water and is able to get a paper towel and clean it up, starting from the outside of the spill to the inside. A young child who uses problem-solving skills is fostering the capacity to be able to solve larger problems.

Children who learn to be good listeners and talkers are helping to build the synapse connections in their brain and are working to be able to talk through problems. Children develop their ability to be social learners by spending time watching their parents and caregivers model appropriate behaviors with each other. As children get older, they learn right from wrong and are able to make good decisions about themselves. Lastly, children develop self-awareness and self-esteem, which leads to having a strong, positive sense of self and the ability to handle their emotions and problems. These are your child’s brain pathways that need to develop to have a growth mindset.

In the next issue, I will present practical ideas on developing your child’s pathways, so keep this article nearby and feel free to contact me at with any questions you would like me to address. Meghan Martins, Associate Principal for Instruction of the Danbury Public Schools contributed to this article.

Anne E. Mead, M. Ed. is the administrator for the Early Childhood Education and Extended Learning Programs of the Danbury Public Schools. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact her at 203-830-6508 or

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