How to raise a more resilient child

Happy school child.
Happy school child.
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty images

You may have seen your child almost feverish with frustration as they try to tackle a task – before tossing it aside, never to be touched again. Or heard them accept defeat at just not being good at maths, making friends or catching a ball.  Many adults do the same – “I’m just not a numbers person,” you may say, or you may decide not to try something under the assumption that it’s never been your forte.

This is what is called the fixed mindset, a term coined by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University in the US. “Children and adults with fixed mindsets believe character, intelligence and creative ability can’t be changed,” explains Jane McIntyre, CEO of Thinking Schools South Africa.Those with fixed mindsets often avoid failure at all cost to maintain the sense of being smart or skilled.

 On the flip side, those with a growth mindset believe you can get the desired result with the right attitude, strategy, and practice.  Failure is seen as a springboard for growth and stretching their abilities.


“The growth mindset embraces the idea that we’re all works in progress,” McIntyre says. “It’s about developing skills and personal mastery over a particular task. There’s an attitude of wanting to learn and improve yourself for its own sake and the satisfaction of seeing how far you have come.”She says that when students understand that their brains are muscles that can be strengthened by being exercised with increasingly difficult tasks, it helps them engage with new tasks instead of running away from them.

“They also learn to take responsibility for their own progress, instead of blaming others or looking for those who did worse than them to feel better about failures along the way.”

She adds that the growth mindset replaces an obsession with marks and external acknowledgement.“This gives children the opportunity to deal with future challenges that will come in senior school and after school. 

 “Even better, you help them ‘own’ where they are right now and where   they are going, giving them confidence and strategies to reach for the stars. “It’s this kind of self-driven motivation and grit that ensures success   based on life-long learning, engagement and a determination to make things better.People with these qualities are the ones who are not only most employable but also most likely to succeed as leaders and entrepreneurs,” McIntyre adds.  


Dweck came up with the term growth   mindset 30 years ago after she became interested in kids’ attitudes to failure.She noticed that while some bounced   back from it, others were crushed   by the smallest of setbacks. In one of her many studies, Dweck offered four-year olds a choice of  either redoing an easy puzzle or trying   a different, challenging one. Most children with fixed mentality chose the easy puzzle to affirm their ability, but those with the growth mindset wanted the challenge of learning something new, unafraid of failure.

In another study, hundreds of teenagers   had to complete the same test. They were then given two types of praise. Some were praised for their ability: “Wow, you got [X many] right. You must be smart at this.” Others were praised for their effort: “Wow, you got [X many] right. You   must have worked really hard.”  Afterwards, most of the students   praised for ability turned down a new, more challenging task, but 90% of the   students praised for effort welcomed   another challenge.  


“It’s important to praise children’s strategies and efforts in becoming  more effective, rather than saying they’re clever, which entrenches the   fixed mindset and disempowers them from taking risks and dreaming   bigger,” McIntyre says. Tell your child success is a process. Look at successful people you know and how they achieved it – not by being but by becoming through persistence, learning from others, and using strategies to improve.Help your child focus on developing their own competencies instead of  comparing themselves with and trying to be someone else, she adds.  

Here are more tips:

Tell your child it is possible for their brain to grow.  

  • Pay attention to effort over results.  
  • Do not say, “I don’t know how to do it”, say, “I don’t know how to do it yet.”  
  • Encourage a healthy attitude to   failure. Speak of it as an opportunity   to learn and grow. For example, if   you are in the car and take a wrong   turn, show them that it’s a chance   learn a new route or see a new view.  
  • Making them see that it is okay   to fail removes the anxiety of   always having to do the right thing   and increases their creativity and   problem-solving skills.