Growth Mindset in Early Learners


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Do you have children in your care that easily give up when learning a new skill?  Have you noticed children who get overly frustrated if they don’t see success come easy to them?  What we are really asking here is if the children have a growth or a fixed mindset. A mind set is a self-belief or a self-thought that may either be positive or negative. Our mindsets are what guide our actions, reactions and behaviors, in particular to gaining knowledge and learning new skills. A fixed mindset equals fixed intelligence.  People in this mindset perceive they have no way to improve themselves. A Growth mindset equals intelligence that can be developed.  People with this mindset tend to work harder because they know they can improve.

Young children naturally lean toward the growth mindset as they are curious about their environment and explore and learn through all of their senses. They learn through trial and error, and incidentally as well as through modeling and teaching.  I wonder at what point do people make the shift from growth to fixed mindsets?

Carol Dweck, Lewis and Virginia Eaton professor of psychology at Stanford University and the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success states, “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.”

Here, Imagination Soup outlines Five Parenting Strategies to Develop Growth Mindset and Carol Dweck’s Study on Praise and Mindsets is outlined in this short video.

At a Childcare Providers workshop I attended recently, the presenter had studied some of Dweck’s work and shared a few “trigger words” that parents and teachers can use with children.

Trigger words that stimulate mindset:                                                          

  • Praising Effort 
  • Accepting Failures
  • Ask for Explanations
  • Express the Amount of work put in
  • “Your Brain is Growing”
  • Praise the PROCESS!

 Words that discourage:

  • Praising outcome
  • Criticizing Failures
  • Telling kids the answers
  • Labeling or Judging student/work
  • Telling them they “tried their best”
  • Praising the PERSON

At the same workshop, I was introduced to the “Power of Yet”…

I can’t do this….yet

This doesn’t work…yet

I’m not good at the…yet

I don’t know how to….yet

 Parents and teachers can support young learners in the struggle with this encouraging little word and guided questions that can lead students beyond “I can’t.”

By developing a “growth mindset”-an attitude that allows for possibilities and promotes progress and problem solving, children improve their skills for effectively solving problems every day and in more challenging scenarios (Dweck 2006).

Key Rationale and Strategies Supporting Growth Mindset


  1. Everyone makes mistakes.
  2. Making mistakes give us an opportunity to do things differently and to learn.
  3. Practice make better.


  1. Model resilience and problem solving strategies
  2. Give children opportunities to solve problems on their own when appropriate
  3. Encourage children to ask a friend to help before seeking an adult’s assistance

Check out Preschoolers Grow Their Brains from NAEYC for examples of growth mindset in action and how to set the stage for best practices in early childhood education.

Pinterest has an endless supply of ideas and resources for teachers on creating a growth mindset classroom. And there are numerous children’s books to encourage young learners to open their minds to the power of “yet”.


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What are your strategies for establishing a Growth Mindset Environment in the child care setting?


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Who Mentors Your Children?

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The Search Institute has identified 40 assets that are important for youth to have in order to grow and develop. Several of those assets are described as Support – “Young people need to experience support, care, and love from their families, neighbors, and many others.”

Parents are naturally a child’s first line of support, but it should not stop there. Youth need many more positive influences in their lives in order to develop to their full potential. Sometimes these relationships actually become safety nets as teens go through difficult times when they may or may not feel free to go to their parents with situations that come up.

Think back to your own childhood. Who were the major players in your life? Who helped you become what you are now? Who helped you discover and develop special talents and hobbies? Who was always there for you, no matter what? It may have been your parents, but in addition, it may have been a neighbor, grandparent or teacher. Other community members such as Sunday School teacher, 4-H or scout leader are also examples.

These special people are called mentors. Interestingly, it comes from a word meaning “steadfast” and “enduring.” It describes a relationship between adults and youth that helps them develop and succeed. Having a mentor has benefits. It improves self-esteem, helps young people stay in school and improve in their academic achievements. A mentor helps young people discover resources and encourages new behaviors, attitudes and ambitions. Besides the benefit for the youth, being a mentor provides an avenue for adults to give back to others some of the help they have received, and brings a sense of purpose to their lives.

Do your children have mentors? Do they have adults who are taking an active interest in their lives? It may or may not be a formal relationship. It is the positive relationship that makes the difference. If you do not see any of these special relationships in your child’s life, you may want to introduce them to adults who have interests similar to your child’s, or make it possible for your child to spend more time with a grandparent or other special relative. The benefits of these mentoring relationships last a lifetime.

 Jeanette Friesen , Extension Educator | The Learning Child

Originally published as a PDF document for the University of Nebraska IANR. Used with permission from author.

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Enhancing Emotional Literacy: Tips For Early Childhood Professionals

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 10.24.43 AM.pngWe know that supporting children’s social and emotional development is key to school readiness and overall healthy growth and development. One critical component of a child’s social and emotional development is their ability to experience, regulate, and express emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways. We call this emotional literacy. According to research, children who have a strong foundation in emotional literacy:

  • tolerate frustration better
  • get into fewer fights
  • engage in less destructive behavior
  • are healthier
  • are less lonely
  • are less impulsive
  • are more focused
  • have greater academic achievement

On the other hand, children who don’t learn to use emotional language have a hard time labeling and understanding their own feelings or accurately identifying how others feel.

There are many strategies you can use as an early childhood professional to help support children’s emotional literacy.

Indirect Teaching

One technique that works with infants, toddlers and preschoolers is indirect teaching, which would be when a teacher provides emotional labels – “you’re happy” or “you’re frustrated” – as children experience various affective states.

Teachable Moments

Another example of indirect teaching is building on teachable moments. When children are in the dramatic play area and acting out a scenario, comment on the character’s feeling. For example, the children are “playing house” and the child being the baby is crying. You may then respond, “Why is the baby crying? I think she is sad. What do you think?”


Also you are a model for helping children identify and appropriately express their emotions. Therefore, model your own feelings when you are talking with children: “I’m excited that the fire fighters are coming tomorrow in their truck to visit us!” “I’m sad that Melissa is leaving our group and moving to Maine.”

Want to learn more about how to enhance children’s emotional literacy? Visit our website and our Emotional Literacy Lesson

Lisa Poppe, Extension Specialist | The Learning Child

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