Being Mindful about Mindsets

September is a month I always greet with excitement…and trepidation.

Being a teacher this is the time when I get to meet all my new classes (which, after 15 years, I still find thrilling and nerve-wracking in equal measure) and I set myself all my targets and resolutions for the coming academic year.  Things like:

I WILL keep on top of  my marking this year, I WILL keep on top of my my marking this year, I WILL keep….you get the idea 🙂



However, this is not going to be a post about how I intend to be a better teacher in 2016/17.  Instead, it’s about the need for us all to take advantage of the extra bounce and energy that kids tend to bring to the classroom after their summer holidays and to build on this by encouraging them to approach learning (and other aspects of life too!) with a growth mindset.  For those of you who this is new to this means:

“…people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”  (Mindset Online)

Mindfulness links beautifully here in two-ways.  If we as parents, carers and teachers are mindful of our language we can have a positive impact on an individual’s mindset.  Secondly, if individuals (children or adults alike) are observing their thoughts in a mindful way then they are much more aware of when they switch from a Growth Mindset to a fixed mindset (the opposite of a Growth Mindset).


Have a think.  How many times a day do we say “well done”, “good job” or “clever boy/girl” to our children?  And yet science shows that this is pretty unhelpful praise.

Much better to be trying to work more comments along these lines into our conversations with children:

  • “Wow you found….[writing a postcard or that Maths homework] really hard and still kept at it”
  • “I love the way you are putting so much effort into practicing your….[reading/writing etc…] “
  • or “that bit of your…….[picture, creative writing, performance] is particularly good because….which bit do you think could be improved?”

I’ll hold my hands up – until about 2 years ago I was very much in the “well done” camp of praise when it came to both parenting and teaching.  I used (and still do) positive praise effusively to motivate my and/or other people’s children to do as I directed.  Don’t get me wrong I still do this, just not as much.  Also, I recognise it for what it is now – a verbal reward in order to encourage the child to repeat whatever it was that they did to gain the praise.  That seems pretty harmless right?  So why am I trying to be much more mindful of the praise I dish out these days then?  dweck mindset.jpg

Because in 2014 I was lucky enough to hear the Stanford Professor Carol Dweck speak at a conference.  What she said blew my mind.  She managed to put her finger on what had been troubling me about my use of praise and also to understand why I, students in my classroom and lots of other people too, shy away from challenges most of the time.  I bought her book ‘Mindset’ which is hugely readable and found it useful not only in the classroom but for other aspects of my life too.

The bottom line is that if you keep telling a child ‘what a clever boy/girl’ from an early age or ‘well done’ for doing something that is really quite easy anyway, they start to subconsciously believe that they oughtn’t do anything to disprove this opinion.  Thus these kids end up avoiding risks, challenges and learning new skills for fear of being shown up.

So what can be done?

Firstly , do NOT (like I did initially) use this as another stick to beat yourself with for being a ‘bad parent’ and for somehow detrimentally affecting your child’s development if you have heaped ‘fixed mindset’ praise on your child over the years.  In the end I told myself that no great harm will come to them as at least they know they are loved and valued.  However, I have tried to be more aware of the praise I use day-to-day in order to help the children I engage with build their confidence, resilience and a love of learning.  For example trying to:

  1. champion mistakes and (where appropriate) failure.  Discussing things like the fact that scientists spend 90% of their working life ‘failing’ or getting the children to research people like J K Rowling, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson who all faced huge challenges and knock-backs before becoming successful in their particular field.
  2. celebrate effort, hard work, and process.  Explain how Darwin and Tolstoy were considered ordinary children.  It was their effort and hard work (and the team around Darwin) that helped them with their extraordinary achievements NOT a natural genius that they were born with.  effort
  3. Focus chats more on strategies, persistence, progress and improvement instead of commenting on intelligence and ability.  Dweck talks about the ‘power of yet’.  Young people should be encouraged to add ‘yet’ to their statements.

Not:  I can’t solve this Maths problem.  Rather:  I can’t solve this Maths problem YET!

So this month is definitely about setting our youngsters on the right path for a fulfilling academic year.  If this means we start to moderate our language a little more so that we can help them to understand that “the hallmark of successful individuals is that they love learning, they seek challenges, they value effort and they persist in the face of obstacles” then that would be no bad thing.

slave to praise quote

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  1. Kate Orson
    September 1, 2016 / 8:21 am

    great post! I wish more parents and teachers understood how random praise isn’t helpful.

    • September 1, 2016 / 2:40 pm

      Thank you – it’s such a hard habit to break though! I even have posters stuck to my desk at school to remind me about it and still fall back into old ways if I’m not careful! Thanks so much for commenting. x

  2. September 2, 2016 / 3:42 pm

    Oh I loved this! I try hard to motivate my students and be more than a praise teacher but I know I don’t always achieve that. I love using yet though when my students say I can’t… Super post Thank you for linking up to #ablogginggoodtime 🎉

    • September 18, 2016 / 9:46 pm

      So pleased lots of other teachers out there are thinking about this too. Thanks so much for commenting. Hope the new term has started well. xx

      • September 15, 2018 / 8:45 am

        Popping back from #thesatsesh We have just introduced JigsawPSHE at school and I am excited to see how that goes. 🌈

  3. September 2, 2016 / 3:43 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this. So many children are scared to fail and we need to look at why that is. Having said that – I am only just allowing myself to fail and I’m in my late forties! Progress is what is important! #TheList

    • September 18, 2016 / 9:45 pm

      Ha – yes we are as bad as the kids – failure is definitely a fact of life. Thanks so much for commenting. xx

  4. September 3, 2016 / 7:25 am

    I completely agree. As a teacher I was getting pretty good at thinking ‘growth mindset’ before I commented on what the children were doing. As a mum I really struggle with it! Although when my 4 year old son said the other day ‘Mummy, I’m clever aren’t I?’ it really made me think!!!! #ablogginggoodtime

    • September 18, 2016 / 9:45 pm

      I agree – I find it easier as a teacher than as a parent! Thanks so much for commenting. xx

  5. September 3, 2016 / 4:31 pm

    Such a good post. I always say well done to my girls!! You’re right that it’s better to talk about what and how they have done that’s so great. #fortheloveofBLOG

    • September 18, 2016 / 9:44 pm

      Thank you – yes those conversations are good to have but sometimes take a bit more effort! Thanks for commenting. xx

  6. aliduke79hotmailcom
    September 3, 2016 / 7:24 pm

    This is a great post.More parents should be aware of this way of praising children.

  7. September 3, 2016 / 10:29 pm

    This is such a great post, and perfectly timed. I’m off to check out that book now x
    #TheList #ablogginggoodtime

    • September 18, 2016 / 9:43 pm

      Thanks so much – I hope you like the book. xx

  8. September 5, 2016 / 7:39 am

    I love this post, I have heard about the praise thing before and try so hard to keep mine balanced, fortunately i’ve reached the point where If i say ‘well done’ I actually notice and immediately follow up with another more helpful comment like ‘you did so well even though you struggled’ or some such. Thanks for sharing xx #EatSleepBlogRT

    • September 18, 2016 / 9:42 pm

      So pleased you’re on this page already – what a fab Mummy you are. Thanks so much for commenting. xx

  9. September 5, 2016 / 8:48 pm

    My favourite classroom word is ‘yet’ and this post is where I’m at and why it’s essential when are mindful with our words (verbal and written) in order to enhance the future cupcakes with the right level of sprinkle 🙂 fab read #EatSleepBlogRT

    • September 5, 2016 / 8:49 pm

      *we are mindful (oh the irony of that mistake in that particular sentence)

    • September 18, 2016 / 9:41 pm

      Totes agree with the power of ‘yet’. Thanks so much for commenting. xx

  10. Lucy At Home
    September 8, 2016 / 2:25 pm

    Very interesting! I try so hard to be positive with my girls but I fear that I may be falling into some of the traps you’ve outlined. I will try to rephrase what I am trying to say. #ablogginggoodtime

    • September 18, 2016 / 9:39 pm

      Ah glad it’s helped – yes I certainly fall into ‘lazy’ praise still at times – so easily done. Thanks for commenting. xx

  11. September 8, 2016 / 7:56 pm

    That is a very interesting view point, particularly about choosing how we speak to our children. Good luck with the new school year! Thanks for sharing on #fortheloveofBLOG

  12. September 10, 2016 / 12:20 pm

    Praising kids is so important! Even when they have admitted to doing something wrong i always try to say first, thank you for telling the truth… and then go through what happened. #EatSleepBlogRt

  13. September 11, 2016 / 1:05 am

    Great post! I’m actually going to do PGCE PCET in just over a week so that I can teach in colleges. I’m very nervous about attending a placement. I really enjoyed your post as I felt it was relevant to how I’m feeling. Dweck is great, however I don’t have the book, but should probably consider getting a copy! Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes.

  14. mackenzieglanville
    September 19, 2016 / 6:08 am

    I am only really just discovering you blog, and I have to say I love this post and totally agree with what you say here. My biggest challenge with Aspen now 12, has been to get her to be willing to take chances and make mistakes academically. She has always been a dare devil with jumping off diving boards, and scary rides, but when it comes to people she is a real pleasure and wants to be perfect at everything. I spoke to one of her teachers a few years ago and explained that what I wanted was for him to help her understand mistakes are OK, I was telling her at home but she needed to hear it someone else. Her teachers always praised her because she is very smart and so well behaved, but sh was scared she would let them or me down if she didn’t do perfectly. It ended up being a great school year for her and since then she is better at taking risks which is awesome. Sorry for blabbing on

    • September 19, 2016 / 9:32 pm

      Blab away – lovely to read your comment and to hear how embracing mistakes have helped your daughter. Thanks for commenting. xx

  15. Kirsty - Motherhoodery
    September 29, 2016 / 6:49 pm

    Really interesting post. I read Janet Lansbury’s work and although she doesn’t refer to it as growth mindset, she does suggest to limit the amount of ‘well done’ we dish out. It is soooo hard though, it just slips out my mouth! #ablogginggoodtime

    • September 29, 2016 / 10:14 pm

      Yes Lansbury speaks a lot of sense indeed. I know what you mean – I find ‘well done’ slipping out of my mouth more than I wish too, but I suppose there are worse things…. x

  16. September 9, 2017 / 7:43 am

    I never thought about it that way! Thanks so much for sharing. Of course I feel like a horrible parent, not for rewarding my kids with praise, but just for not being mindful of my tone when I get annoyed, which is often. #thesatsesh

  17. September 9, 2017 / 1:51 pm

    very interesting, thank you! I read recently that Google allow their staff at least one day a week to work on a new idea, but there is no pressure for it to become anything, it is purely allowing them to come up with constant ideas with no fear of failure. x

  18. September 9, 2017 / 3:52 pm

    Thanks for this – as a teacher I’ve found that children are very frightened of making mistakes – some want things to be perfect. It’s good for their efforts to be praised even when things haven’t turned out as they’d hoped, it gives them the courage to try things out. #thesatsesh

  19. September 9, 2017 / 4:38 pm

    This is really interesting, we always praise J and tell her why, and the same with why we’re telling her off. I always used to want to be a teacher, it’s such hard work but so rewarding. Thanks for featuring me this week x #thesatsesh

  20. September 9, 2017 / 5:48 pm

    I’ve read this previously but it was a lovely recap that we can all do a little more and be mindful of our vocab

  21. September 10, 2017 / 7:19 am

    I absolutely loved this post first time round and it’s a great reminder this time round as I seem to have slipped back to the basic well done type of praise. My son has an incredible brain and the connections he makes between things sometimes completely blows me away, he’s definitely an old soul. But he’s also very down on himself a lot of the time and has a fixed mindset. He doesn’t see his own potential and gives up on anything at the first sign of failure. It’s something I am trying my hardest to change, to show him that failure is just part of the process of discovery and should be celebrated. He doesn’t hear my words though and gets frustrated when I try so I need to start showing him through my own actions x

  22. talkingmums1
    September 10, 2017 / 9:21 am

    I loved reading this. I do use positive praise but equally I also try to challenge my daughter and encourage effort and learning from mistakes. I do believe that it’s important to try and get children to understand that failure isn’t bad and that we should use it as a learning opportunity x

  23. September 15, 2017 / 9:34 am

    Such a fab post!!! I think maybe a year or so ago I read an article along a similar vein ad realised how much I did use the ‘well done ‘ ‘clever girl’ throwaway praise and have tried to alter that and have found it really productive. As you say , very easy to slip back into it though!! #thesatsesh

  24. September 15, 2018 / 8:05 am

    Have saved a copy of this to my phone. I really agree with it, and do try, but it’s difficult since we’ve spent out lives hearing kids spoken to in the static way. But it’s worth putting in the effort! #SatSesh

  25. September 15, 2018 / 9:42 am

    Excellent post .. so right about vague “well done” comments, as against something like “I admire the way you stuck at that task, even when it wasn’t working out … #thesatsesh

  26. September 15, 2018 / 12:45 pm

    Great post. The power of language and internal dialogue cannot be underestimated. Found the bit about constant praise really interesting and thank you for the reassurance about not immediately beating ourselves up for doing so. Equipping our kids with resilience and the viewpoint that failure is actually a good thing and just part of the process of problem solving is one of my key aims in life As a parent 🙂

  27. September 15, 2018 / 6:09 pm

    being autistic parent I am quite conscious of how I speak to my child, I don’t get it right but I try. I have learnt through parenting courses how the phases can impact a child and have learnt to adapt. Still learning, but that is ok because I am open to that and to learn X #thesatsesh

  28. September 16, 2018 / 4:35 pm

    Really interesting post. I had a discussion with my previous class teacher last year. At the moment i have a fixed mindset and I’m working on changing!

  29. mylifeasmrsb
    September 16, 2018 / 6:01 pm

    Interesting read. I had a discussion with my previous class teacher last year and i have a fixed mindset which I’m working on changing it! #satsesh

  30. September 22, 2018 / 7:49 pm

    We read Mindset, by Carol Dweck along with the staff at our kids progressive education school. Loved it and it made so much sense. We praise quite differently now and its all about the hard work and grit, sticktuitiveness! Great post! #thesatsesh xoxo

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