The mindset ideas were developed as a counter to the self-esteem movement of blanketing everyone with praise, whether deserved or not. To find out that teachers were using it in the same way was of great concern to me. The whole idea of growth-mindset praise is to focus on the learning process. When you focus on effort, [you have to] show how effort created learning progress or success.
Gross-Loh: What should people do to avoid falling into this trap?
Dweck: A lot of parents or teachers say praise the effort, not the outcome. I say [that’s] wrong: Praise the effort that led to the outcome or learning progress; tie the praise to it. It’s not just effort, but strategy … so support the student in finding another strategy. Effective teachers who actually have classrooms full of children with a growth mindset are always supporting children’s learning strategies and showing how strategies created that success.
Students need to know that if they’re stuck, they don’t need just effort. You don’t want them redoubling their efforts with the same ineffective strategies. You want them to know when to ask for help and when to use resources that are available.
All of this is part of the process that needs to be taught and tied to learning.
Gross-Loh: Is there a right way to praise kids and encourage them to do well?
Dweck: Many parents and teachers who themselves have growth mindset aren’t passing it on because they are trying to protect the child’s confidence, focus on the child’s ability, and kind of boost the child’s view or protect the child from a failure. They’re conveying anxiety about ability.
But we have a new line of research (with my former graduate student, Kyla Haimovitz) showing that the way a parent reacts to a child’s failure conveys a mindset to a child regardless of the parent’s mindset. If parents react to their child’s failures as though there is something negative, if they rush in, are anxious, reassure the child, “Oh not everyone can be good at math, don’t worry, you’re good at other things,” the child gets it that no, this is important, and it’s fixed. That child is developing a fixed mindset, even if the parent has a growth mindset.
But if the parent reacts to a child’s failure as though it’s something that enhances learning, asking, “Okay, what is this teaching us? Where should we go next? Should we talk to the teacher about how we can learn this better?” that child comes to understand that abilities can be developed.
So, with praise, focus on “process praise”—focus on the learning process and show how hard work, good strategies, and good use of resources lead to better learning. Be matter-of-fact, with not too strong or too passive a reaction.
You can see evidence of fixed mindset as young as 3.5 or 4 years old; that’s when mindsets can start becoming evident, where some kids are very upset when they make a mistake or get criticized and fall into a helpless place. That’s when children become able to evaluate themselves. We collaborated … with researchers from the University of Chicago who had a longitudinal project with videotape of mother-child interactions. What we found was the more praise was process-oriented—not a ton, just where the greater proportion of the praise was process praise [versus outcome praise]—the more those children had a growth mindset and a high desire for challenge five years later, when they were in second grade.