Cognitive Skills and Mindset: How to Promote a Growth Mindset

Not so long ago, we were all under the impression that once we reached the ripe old age of twenty, our brains were finished developing. Perhaps the most exciting news in the parenting area over the last decade is the discovery of brain neuroplasticity. Like a muscle, with proper training, the brain can learn to perform tasks that were previously not possible. This process is called neuroplasticity.

As the brain continues to develop, old neural pathways are replaced with new efficient pathways. The brain actually grows new neurological circuits and becomes denser as new circuits are added. This improves the way that an individual takes in, processes, stores and retrieves information, enabling us to learn more effectively long into our adult lives. Building and promoting strong cognitive skills from an early age promotes a healthy growth mindset.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, studies cognitive development and mindset in children. She theorizes children, like adults, has one of two possible mindsets – a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

Fixed Mindset – At its most basic foundation, a child with a fixed mindset believes they are either  ‘intelligent’ or ‘unintelligent’. They believe that they are talented at something, such as music, art or sports, or they are not talented. Often, children see their classroom and peers as being having some gifted children, while the others function from sidelines. A fixed mindset prescribes to the belief that some are born “intelligent” and “gifted” and others simply are not.

Growth Mindset – Children with a growth mindset function under the perception that anyone can develop into anything they want to be. They recognize possibilities in education and life are limitless. While we may be more with a natural ability in some areas of life, with hard work and dedication anyone can take their abilities to the next level of greatness.

Dweck’s research shows a child’s understanding of intelligence plays an essential role in their academic achievements, engagements, and happiness. In her 2015 article Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’, she states that her team found how a “students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset).”

How to Foster a Growth Mindset

Cognitive skill development involves the progressive building of learning skills, such as building attention, building memory, and thinking. While children rapidly develop cognitive skills during the first few years of their life, they progressively build on them throughout their academic life. These skills are essential to the learning process and allow children to process sensory information. These cognitive skills help children analyze, evaluate, understand and comprehend what they are being taught. Essentially, strong cognitive skills turn teaching into learning. While some cognitive skills are linked to a child’s genetic makeup, most cognitive skills are learned. This means learning can be improved with practice and the right training.

Non-cognitive tips to promote a growth mindset include:

  1. The brain is a muscle – Help your child recognize that their brain is a muscle and it continually grows through determination, hard work, and practice
  2. Avoid using words such as gifted, talented, or smart – These terms imply that we are born with knowledge. Instead promote a mindset that encourages hard work, effort, and growth.
  3. Avoid results based praise – While we want (and should) acknowledge our child’s achievements, test scores alone are a rigid way of measuring learning and knowledge. When we only praise grades and test scores, we run the risk of limiting neurological growth.
  4. Embrace failures and mistakes – Like adults, children learn through their mistakes. Let your child know that mistakes are an essential aspect of the learning process. Essentially, the more difficult the problem, the more gratifying it is to find the solution.
  5. Encourage collaboration, teamwork and group learning – Children learn best when they are interested in a topic and allowed to discuss, experience and advance with their peers.
  6. Encourage competency-based learning – Students become excited to learn when they understand why a subject is important and how it can help them in the future.

If you are looking to promote cognitive skills and development to complement the non-cognitive aspects of promoting a growth mindset, the professional instructors at The Brain Workshop have the tools and knowledge to help. Contact us today to learn more about our brain-based, neuro-education programs.

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