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Author: Chitra Iyer
Published on:
May 1, 2022

11 Growth Mindset Myths, Misconceptions & Mistakes Parents Should Avoid

Growth mindset is a proven learning mindset, but suffers from a bunch of misconceptions and myths that limit how parents can understand and use it to help children be more effective learners. Take this reality check to help your child reach their full potential!
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If you’ve read my super-exhaustive Ultimate Parents Guide to Building Your Child's Growth Mindset, you already know what it is and how you can help your child develop a more open-to-learn mindset. 

But there is always room for improvement, right!? And since the spirit of learning is making mistakes, let me get 11 of the most common myths, mistakes and misconceptions about growth mindset out of the way right now, so you can make brand new ones! 

Myth # 1: Growth Mindset is About Becoming a Perfect Genius

For really successful people, having a growth mindset means they are not focused on becoming the best or beating others. The goal of geniuses is never to become a genius or be labeled on. Instead, their goal is to constantly get better and learn smarter. 

Building a growth mindset will not make you a genius, and it’s not a learning hack. It is a learning philosophy. It focuses on growth by improving one’s own performance, by using effective learning techniques such as practice and application, for steady performance improvements. 

In an interview Barbara Oakley, who runs the highly popular Learning How to learn MOOC indicates that genius may itself be overrated.

The problem with geniuses is they’re so used to learning quickly, always being right, that they jump to conclusions, don’t look carefully at what’s going on in the real situation and can’t change their minds when they’re wrong. So if you are no genius, rejoice, because sometimes you can do things that even geniuses cannot

In terms of success at school, this wisdom from Barbara Oakley can help teens see that a huge part of academic success comes from a healthy attitude towards learning, rather than an in-born ability that you either have or don’t. It can help them stop comparing themselves to the so-called geniuses in the class in an unproductive way. While they may not become geniuses by leveraging a growth mindset, they will have confidence that whatever grades, university degree or career they have their eyes on, nothing is impossible if they put their mind to it.

Myth # 2: Growth Mindset Needs Positive Thinking 

Often, parents like to say they have a growth mindset, when actually they do not. This is called a false growth mindset. For example, being progressive, open minded, giving kids the freedom to fail - without backing it up with a deliberate strategy to improve learning outcomes - is not the same thing as helping build a growth mindset.

Myth #3: People with Fixed Mindset Cannot be Taught 

We are seeing teachers and parents sometimes say, “I can teach children who have a growth mindset, but since his/her mindset is fixed, it’s difficult to make progress".

It is the parent and teachers responsibility to work with children to consciously develop growth mindset skills and an enabling learning environment. Anyone can develop the skills needed to build a growth mindset - start with explaining the concept to the child and work with them to consciously build the skills.

Myth # 4: Growth Mindset is About Praise

Offering empty praise “Wow, great work” or encouragement “You can do it’ is not the same thing as enabling a growth mindset in the child. Do not confuse the two. Specific engagement, purposeful feedback, and effective learning strategies are far more powerful tools to build self-belief than empty praise. Just encouragement, praise or positive thinking alone won’t work.

Myth #5: Growth Mindset Leads to Exponential Performance 

Deliberate performance improvement is not about going from 0 to 100 in 10 seconds! It is not a sprint. A learning and continuous improvement mindset is like a marathon. It is about committing to small daily improvements.

It involves making changes to the learning strategy if those improvements are not coming; and being able to self-evaluate against milestones along the way to ensure progress is happening.

Growth mindset is not a magic formula that will turn an average performer into a genius overnight! But practiced regularly, it will help anyone improve performance in relation to where they may currently be.

Myth #6: Growth Mindset is an Extreme Sport

Growth mindset is not about constantly pushing yourself and taking on unnecessary challenges or risks just to test endurance. It is not an obsessive need to continually improve in every facet of life. 

A growth mindset is about simply believing that one is not stuck with the skill levels they are born with. With the right tools, strategies, and mindset, anyone has a chance to improve their performance and learning outcomes in any area they choose. But it is not about trying new things for the sake of it.

Myth # 7: All Growth Mindset Needs is The Right Study Skills

Aside from study skills, a growth mindset also needs learning skills and strategies, consistent effort and practice skills, the right set of learning resources, mentors, and coaches; access to valuable feedback and the ability to use it, and a positive learning environment and culture of learning at home.

Myth #8: Smart Kids Always Have Growth Mindsets

We mistakenly think that only under-performers have fixed mindsets. But you will be surprised at just how high a percentage of ‘smart’ kids actually harbor a fixed mindset. It is amazing how many smart kids that are desperate to be validated as ‘smart’ suffer with a fixed mindset that keeps them from reaching their real potential. 

On the other hand, average kids with a growth mindset eventually reach great heights simply because they believe they can, and because they put their efforts into improving performance rather than proving how smart they are.

As Barbara Oakley says, ‘always being right’ can lead to a poorer learning attitude. Know-it-alls may be less able to consider diverse perspectives and points of view, which as we know is a barrier to learning new things and getting smarter. So encourage and celebrate mistakes and just as you try to take away the stigma of being wrong, take away the aura of always being right.

Myth #9: Parents Need to Teach Kids to Have a Growth Mindset 

Preaching to children about having a growth mindset is futile. This rarely works to affect behavioral change. Taking them on as co-consultants, asking them to take ownership of their own learning journey, involving them, and empowering them with the tools, strategies and enabling environment to achieve their learning outcomes will help develop a lifelong growth mindset far more effectively. Sometimes the child leads, sometimes parent leads, and always both learn.

Myth #10: Getting Frustrated or Stressed While Learning Means You Have a Fixed Mindset

This is a common misconception but it is important for parents to understand that frustration, disappointment and even anger is just a symptom.

All learners feel these emotions when things go wrong. What matters is how they respond to these emotions: do they judge themselves, give up, or make excuses? Or do they see frustration as an integral part of learning a new challenge and find new ways to solve the problem? The learner’s reaction is what will determine whether they tend towards a growth mindset.

As parents, we should not aim to quell the frustration but help them understand it as part of their learning process, accept it as a phase, and figure out the next steps to move beyond the frustration to make progress in the learning task. 

Myth #11: Growth Mindset is About Academic Intelligence

Growth mindset is not just about intellectual growth. It can also apply to social and emotional situations as well. Learning from failed relationships, growing from a challenging social incident, etc. can also benefit from a growth mindset. 

If you haven't already read the Ultimate Parents Guide to Building Their Child’s Growth Mindset, read it now or bookmark it for later. Either way, remember that a growth mindset needs to be supported by a positive learning environment, and the right learning skills and learning techniques to really help progress learning outcomes. 

I’ll close with these magical words from Dr. Carol Dweck, who coined the growth mindset theory. She advises us parents to:

Ask our child to become aware of and listen to the voice in their head (instinct). Does it say “Don’t try this, it will make you look foolish” or does it say “If you attempt this, there is a chance you will learn and grow from it”?

Also Read:

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