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Growth Mindset Parenting

How a hot psychology theory could help you improve your parenting chops

Have you heard about growth mindset parenting?

It’s based on a popular psychology theory in in education. Articles on growth mindset also get a lot of buzz in magazines and blogs for the entrepreneurial and self-improvement communities. Even pro athletes like the NBA’s Steph Curry have even talked about taking a growth approach to their careers.

Why should parents care? Because exploring a growth mindset may give you new tools as you take on the responsibilities that come with having kids.

Think back: one minute you were living your adult life, working on your career goals, deciding if you should join a recreational soccer league, or debating whether to try that new takeout place down the block.

Yet the minute you learned there was a baby coming, your priorities shifted. Before you know it, that tiny, vulnerable human being is in your arms. And during your child’s early years, it’s your choices that have the biggest impact on how they learn and grow.

New parents can read all the baby books in the world to get ready (and some parents do). But nothing prepares you for that humbling moment when you look into your child’s delicate face and grasp your new roles. There’s no going back—and no manual.

It can feel pretty overwhelming.

Don’t worry. All the research suggests that parents are made, not born.

What is a growth mindset?

According to Wikipedia, a mindset is, “a set of assumptions, methods, or notations held by one or more people or groups of people.” In other words, it’s all the ideas we’ve picked up from family, friends and our experiences about how we’re supposed to think and act. 

Carol S. Dweck is an American professor of Psychology at Stanford University.
Carol S. Dweck. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Growth mindset theory is credited to Dr. Carol S. Dweck, an American professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Over the course of her accomplished career, Dweck and her fellow scientists developed a theory of two distinct mindsets. They found that people basically fall into two groups with very different approaches to life, including what they think about failure.

From Wikipedia: “Those with a ‘fixed mindset’ believe that abilities are mostly innate and interpret failure as the lack of necessary basic abilities, while those with a ‘growth mindset’ believe that they can acquire any given ability provided they invest effort or study. 

So, here’s a quick graphic overview:

This diagram, courtesy of "Q.E.D. Choices for Learning, maps the differences in a fixed and growth mindset approach to challenges, obstacles, effort, criticism and the success of others.
The differences in fixed versus growth mindset, courtesy of Q.E.D. Image: Nigel Holmes / Graph Content: Carol Dweck

Dweck’s research showed that people who believe in growth are more likely to continue working hard despite setbacks. Through determination, learning, training and persistence, they improve because they believe that it’s possible for them to change.

That’s cool. But why does mindset matter?

If you think about qualities like intelligence as being fixed, like the number of jelly beans in a jar, then you have whatever you’re born with and no more. Your ability to learn and change is set, along with your ability to solve problems or rise to situations. Which means if you fail, the failure results from your abilities.

Kind of bleak, huh? No wonder people with a fixed mindset avoid situations where failure’s on the line at all costs.

On the other hand, if you think of intelligence as something more like a muscle you can build with practice and repetition, life becomes less all-or-nothing. You’ll spend less time obsessing over mistakes and what they mean if you believe it’s possible to learn from them and improve.

To Dweck, openness to this fundamental belief in your own ability to get better means you could “live a less stressful and more successful life.”

Food for thought, huh?

Okay. So how can I develop a growth mindset and get better at parenting?

A family takes a stroll outside in a wooded park space on a bright summer day. Their faces are turned away from the camera.
Parenting is a journey, not a destination. Photo by Julie Johnson on Unsplash.

Parenting is hard. Co-parenting with another person can be even harder. You and your partner may have very different ideas about how to raise another human being, and there’s no way to know until the baby arrives.

You may not feel like you have an immediate talent for parenting if:

  • Swaddling a baby seems like folding a squirming origami crane.
  • Staring down the formula and food selections in the baby aisle feels like trying to crack the Da Vinci code in three minutes or less.
  • Keeping a lid on your temper as you deal with day-to-day frustrations feels exhausting. This stumbling block escalates fast if you’ve got a fussy baby (or toddler) who thinks sleeping eight hours or more a night is optional.

If you didn’t grow up in a family where other adults showed you how to cope with these challenges, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Even people who come from big families may feel they have no idea what they’re doing. Comparing yourself to friends or skimming the feeds of parenting influencers intensify those feelings.

Everyone’s life looks shiny on the outside.

It’s all about persistence

But as Joe Hirsch writes in his INC Magazine profile on Curry, “Success comes as a result of effort, learning, and persistence–not just inborn talent, intelligence or strength.”

The good news? You don’t have to be a rockstar right out of the gate. Parenting is nothing if not an opportunity for persistent learning. 

So, adopting a growth mindset may help you think about parenting as a multifaceted skill at which you—and your partner—will get better.

You don’t have to be experts or achieve someone else’s level of perfection. You just have to commit and be open to achieving what works for you and your kids.

The Huffington Post’s Parenting blog has some great ideas for getting started, including monitoring your self-talk and being conscious of the messages you’re sending about learning and growth to your kids. 

Charting your journey

How will you gauge progress? Photo courtesy of mauro paillex on Unsplash.

Based on our experiences, the LifeTales team is how our app can act as a feedback mechanism for you.

The Personal Collection gives you a completely private space to jot down your thoughts about how you parent. And if you’ve noticed tendencies that you’d like to change, it’s also a perfect place to note your habits without judgement.

In the spirit of Professor Dweck, you can gather data about your choices and impartially assess where they’re leading you. Ask yourself:

  • What’s going well? 
  • What am I good at?
  • Where could I improve?
  • What absolutely needs to happen?
  • Where should I cut myself some slack?
  • If I’m struggling with a particular task, who can I ask for help?
  • Where do my partner and I take similar approaches? Where are we different?

Over time, you may see you’re doing a better job than you thought. And someday, when your kids are grown, you’ll be able to reflect on your experience and share your wisdom.

Does adopting a growth mindset to parenting appeal to you? What are the skills you struggle with?

Get in touch at hello@lifetales.com. We’d love to feature your growth experience or hear from you about other topics we should explore.