MyTutor for Parents

How to encourage a growth mindset in your teen

Every child has creativity and curiosity in them. But some experiences in their past – like getting a low grade on a test, or being told they were wrong in class – might’ve knocked their confidence.

They might be afraid of getting things wrong, so they avoid trying altogether. The good news is that there’s lots you can do at home to help change the relationship they have with learning and encourage a growth mindset. 

Here, we also ask education researcher Professor Guy Claxton for his top advice.

What is a growth mindset?

You might’ve heard of it before from your own teachers or even at work. Having a growth mindset means believing that you can grow from any experience.

With this kind of mindset, setbacks and challenges are seen as a good thing because they help you grow.

A lot of teens are worried about making mistakes, failing, and looking stupid in front of their classmates and teachers. So it can be especially tricky for them at this stage in their lives to welcome challenges.

But there are ways you can encourage them to see problems as a good thing. 

How to encourage a growth mindset and love of learning

  1. Make a habit of asking questions
  2. Reframe mistakes
  3. Build out from their strengths
  4. Don’t put them in a box
  5. Find support

1. Make a habit of asking questions

Questions – especially open-ended ones – encourage curiosity. And when your teen is curious, they’re more likely to experiment and take risks. A curious mindset is fuel for creative thinking. 

To start building this kind of mindset in your teen, try leading by example. Professor Guy Claxton recommends ‘collecting questions’.

You can write out questions or problems that need solving, and post them on the fridge where they’re nice and visible. These can be questions about solving a problem at home (“How do we train the dog to roll over?”), or an issue facing the wider world (“How can we get more people to recycle?”). At the end of the week, tackle those questions with your teen. 

Why this strategy works

This simple activity shows your teen that they don’t have to know the answers straight away – that it’s okay to take time to work through a question.

Prof Claxton calls this slower, more playful kind of thinking, the ‘Tortoise Mind’. When there’s less of a rush and less at stake, your teen can take the time to think everything through and work out creative solutions. 

2. Reframe mistakes

Another way you can encourage a growth mindset in your teen is by helping them get comfortable with making mistakes. We all know that teens can be particularly self-conscious.  

By normalising making mistakes at home, you can help your teen realise that it’s okay to stumble – and they don’t need to feel ashamed. An easy way to do this is by sharing your own mistakes with them openly. 

How you can help

Over dinner, you could tell them about any small mistakes you made that day – perhaps you wished that you’d organised a work meeting better or that you’d cooked the chicken for a little less time.

Being open about slipping up means that when they next get stuck on their homework, or say the wrong answer in class, they can simply learn from it and crack on. Instead of giving up, they can think of new and creative ways to get around it.

3. Help them build out their strengths

Every child is good at something, whether it’s skateboarding, playing football, public speaking or looking after their cat.

“To build up your teen’s confidence in their schoolwork, encourage them in the areas where they’re doing well too,” says Professor Claxton.

Being a powerful learner is about practising certain habits like creative thinking, so you can use your child’s passion as a channel for nourishing a strong mindset. 

4. Don’t put them in a box

When your teen shows an interest in something like dancing or fixing something at home, parents can quickly jump to making bold declarations – ‘My child is going to be on the stage!’ or ‘My daughter’s going to be an engineer!’

“Help support them in their passions, but don’t leap to conclusions,” Professor Claxton says. “Let teens find their own way.”

The world that we’re living in now is full of possibilities and it’s a good idea to let children explore the full range of what’s on offer.

5. Find support

If your teen has ever left a class lesson feeling confused about what’s going on, they’re not alone. And it doesn’t mean that they’ll never understand the material. It’s just a matter of going over it in different ways until it clicks into place for them.

As a parent, you can’t be an expert on absolutely everything. 1-1 support with someone who understands where your teen is at can be just what they need to catch up. 

Whether it’s an older sibling or a tutor, it’s great to reach out to others for support when you’re not sure how to help your child.

A growth mindset will see your child through lots of challenges in school and beyond. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting them the support they need so that they feel empowered in their studies.

Think your child might benefit from a tutor? Find the right one here. 

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