Develop Kids' Growth Mind-set

"Attribute Webbing" helps kids achieve.



An example of an Attribute Web

For the past year, I have had the great privilege of working with a group of national experts in the development of strategies for parents and teachers to promote critically important social and emotional skills in their children and students. These strategies are based on solid research in the fields of education and psychology, and are designed to help students develop skills valuable to achieving successful academic and life outcomes.

One of these important skills is developing a “growth mind-set.” This term was coined by Carolyn Dweck, a highly respected researcher at Stanford University. The essence of a growth mind-set concerns an individual’s (in this case your child’s) belief that his or her skills and abilities can be grown through hard work. This is opposed to a fixed mind-set, which is a belief that skills and abilities are fixed and cannot be changed. Individuals with fixed mind-sets believe that they have a certain amount of intelligence, talent or ability that really cannot be altered. Research by Dr. Dweck and others indicates that students with a fixed mind-set, regardless of whether they think they are “smart” or not, are less likely to try challenging tasks or accept feedback — and are even more likely to lie about their performance when they do poorly.

Here is a simple technique to promote a growth mind-set in your children and perhaps yourself: 

One of the national experts with whom I’ve been working is Ann Bryson, an educator with more than 20 years of experience teaching social and emotional skills to students and teachers. From Ann, I learned of an approach called "Attribute Webbing." The goal of Attribute Webbing is to help our children understand two things: 1) what factors contributed to their success; and 2) that these same factors can help them achieve in areas where they might be struggling.

To do Attribute Webbing you will need a large piece of paper and one or more markers.

  1. The first step is to have your child identify something at which they are successful and really enjoy doing.  This might be making first string on a team, learning to play a song on a musical instrument, maybe even doing well on a classroom assignment.
  2. Have your child describe the accomplishment in a few words, written in the middle of a circle in the middle of the piece of paper. 
  3. Now discuss with your child all of the strengths and attributes that led to his or her success. These can be recorded in smaller circles surrounding and connected by a line to the big circle in the middle. These attributes might include, in the case of an athletic achievement, things such as dedication (attending practice regularly, focus, listening to the coach and teamwork).

What we want as an outcome of this exercise is for your child to recognize that it isn’t that he or she is a “good athlete” but that it was his or her dedication and hard work that led to the accomplishment through gradual improvement. You can also consider using a story from your own life: something important that you achieved and what helped you attain that achievement. 

As you have probably already recognized, we can take this same set of principles and apply it to other areas in which your child might be struggling. For instance, how could these same behaviors help your child do better in math? Rather than listening to the coach, you child needs to listen to the teacher; instead of attending practice regularly, your child needs to do homework every night, etc. Create a second web focused on this challenge and hang it side-by-side with the first in the area where your child does homework, so it can be referred to when needed.

Of course there are rarely simple solutions to important issues, and creating a growth mind-set in our children will take repeated efforts over time, but the research of Dr. Dweck and others indicate that it truly is worth the effort. This is a lifelong skill we can teach our children now.

Paul LeBuffe is the Director of the Devereux Center for Resilient Children in Villanova, PA, whose mission is promoting the resilience of all children and the adults who care for them. More information on promoting resilience can be found at the center’s website.

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