Hooray for Mistakes!

I’ve been reading a very interesting book about exactly why intrinsic motivation is so important for children AND for adults. It’s called “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck and in it Dweck describes two opposing mindsets we all experience.

She refers to the first as the “fixed mindset.” This is the voice in our heads that tells us that we have a fixed amount of talent, intelligence, or skill at a certain task and there’s nothing we can do to change it. This mindset also associates effort with a lack of natural talent. This is the part of you that thinks you’re just not a fill in the blank kind of person. “I’m not artistic.” Or “I’m just not very playful.” Are examples of the fixed mindset.

The other mindset is called the “growth mindset.” When we’re in the growth mindset we believe that we can learn and grow and become better at anything that we put effort into. The effort becomes part of the fun as we develop our skills and reach for our goals.

Interestingly, when we tell children things like, “good job” we’re inviting them into a fixed mindset. Our focus is on the outcome, rather than the effort or the journey of discovery. And, once we’ve labeled them as “good” or “smart” or “talented” children in the fixed mindset suddenly have something to loose if they fail. So, they stop trying at all. Not exactly the result we were wanting when we offered the praise in the first place.

On the other hand, when we focus on the effort, “Wow, you really put a lot of effort into that!” we’re inviting them to see effort as a part of the learning process (which it is!). In this mindset, children will experiment, try harder and harder puzzles, and get excited about learning new stuff. Now, that’s what we’re wanting for our kids, right?

The thing I’m finding most interesting is that people in the growth mindset often celebrate their mistakes, rather than sinking into a hole of despair about them. And that one choice, to celebrate our mistakes rather than getting down about them, makes a HUGE difference in our overall ability to learn something new.

This is true for children and adults alike. So as I’m reading this book, I’m thinking, I know a lot of moms who are in a fixed mindset about mothering. We think that we should already be good at it, or that we’re just naturally bad at it and there’s not much we can do about growing our mothering abilities.

But I’m here to tell you that even if you’ve been doing all sorts of things you don’t want to be doing with your kids, you CAN change. You absolutely can learn and grow as a parent. And from over here in the growth mindset, that learning is half the fun of parenting!

So this week, instead of beating yourself up for the thing you said or the tone you used or the way you treated your child, imagine that there really are new skills that you’re discovering through these incidents. Try to figure out what those skills and next steps might be and then get excited about learning them!

If you’re yelling, you can learn to manage your emotions more effectively and come to your children with more composure more of the time. That doesn’t mean you won’t fail. But from this mindset, every “failure” is another step closer to success!

If you’re experiencing power struggles, or whining, or tantrums, or any number of parenting challenges, you can see these things as new opportunities, rather than as a life sentence.

The belief that things can change is a powerful belief, and it’s one that I use often, especially when I feel stuck in a situation I don’t enjoy. So, what is it that you’d like to learn this week? What would you like to change? How do you want to grow and stretch yourself?

I can’t wait to hear all about what you’re up to!

Sending warm hugs, Shelly


"And, once we’ve labeled them as “good” or “smart” or “talented” children in the fixed mindset suddenly have something to loose if they fail. So, they stop trying at all." I don't really understand the logic in that statement. I know when I was growing up I was labeled as "smart" and I definitely had something to lose if I failed in certain areas (such as grades), but that didn't stop me from trying. In fact, it made sure I tried.I definitely understand wanting to make sure your child doesn't think your love or their self worth is predicated on them being successful in everything they try, but acknowledging their skills in areas is a natural and seemingly healthy thing. Furthermore knowing one's areas of weaknesses is often helpful as well since you can then figure out ways to overcome them.

AwakeShelly moderator

 @Skitzzo Hey Bro, it sounds like you were actually in a growth mindset, even after hearing that you were "smart," which is awesome! However, the research is copious, clear and consistent. If you give kids a puzzle, they complete it and then you tell them they're smart, they're far more likely to refuse a more difficult puzzle offered after the praise. On the other hand, after doing the same puzzle if you say "you tried really hard on that" and then offer a more difficult puzzle, kids will happily try the more challenging task. I don't think it's so much about logic as it is about the emotional ways we humans deal with praise and/or encouragement. If you're interested in learning more, I highly recommend Alfie Kohn's book "The Punishment of Rewards."I agree that knowing our weaknesses is helpful, but only if we're in the growth mindset, and believe that we can do something about them.


It's not really about failing to acknowledge a child's skills, but by focusing on the effort, we're helping kids realize that they can accomplish whatever they put time and effort into, not just the things that are naturally easy for them.


 @AwakeShelly  @Skitzzo   I really loved Alfie Kohn's book, it makes so much sense.

I think other way to do it is to acknowleged that some puzzle are more difficult, sometimes we need help, or try an easier one and come back to the more difficult one afterward. For some difficult task, we need to practice before become good at it.  For exemple, when Marianne learned to bike on 2 wheels, she was discouraged at first, but I told help, that she needed practice, it's like that for everyone, everybody practice before being able to bike on 2 wheels.  Then, she got it and I remember her  this experience when she's stuck on a  difficult task.