Grit and Growth Mindset in Children & Emerging Bilinguals

Early Literacy
By JS Garcia Director of Curriculum and Learning Design at Encantos

As parents and caregivers of young children, we often focus so much on academics, on whether we are doing enough as role models, as parents and now for many, as homeschooling support. Fostering 21st-century character strengths such as grit and a growth mindset can be pivotal in the continued motivation for children and emerging bilinguals in a time when there is so much shifting in daily life and uncertainty in the weeks to come. So what does it mean to have grit and a growth mindset and how can you support your children, especially emerging bilinguals, in fostering these character strengths? 

Grit is passion, perseverance, and strength of will. It is the drive that propels learning through adversity and accomplishing short and long term goals even in the face of challenge or frustration. Grit also can be a critical factor for success that supports building a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that learners can get smarter through hard work, the use of effective strategies, and help from others when needed. Grit, which emphasizes perseverance and an attitude to keep going in the face of setbacks combined with a growth mindset, can be easily modeled by adults. It has been proven through studies in neuroscience that when errors are made and learners process mistakes, there is an increase in neural connections. The connections between brain cells grow even when we make mistakes. Therefore, teaching children how to process mistakes on their own or with grown-ups leads to new learnings. Our brains are malleable and with grit and a growth mindset, intelligence can be embraced as something that you are not just born with but as something that you can cultivate.   

Having grit and a growth mindset can also support building 21st-century life skills known as FLIP (Flexibility, Leadership, Initiative, and Productivity). They can also positively contribute to having more flexibility and productivity in the face of challenges. When a plan needs to change or a set back occurs, children with a growth mindset can see this as an opportunity for learning and keep at the task at hand rather than quitting due to self-doubt. When emerging bilinguals learn new language skills, vocabulary and a way of thinking that is different from their home language, processing the errors can lead to great strides in learning. Making mistakes can sometimes be embarrassing but encouraging grit and a growth mindset as part of the learning process in becoming fluent in a new language can be a driving force in a child’s willingness to continue forward. 

As a parent or caregiver to children, you can be the voice that helps them develop an inner coach by modeling behavior and language that supports grit and a growth mindset. The adults in a child’s life play an important role in modeling self-awareness, positive self-talk, and encouraging language for emerging bilinguals as well. One simple way to foster grit is to encourage inquiry, and curiosity around a challenge that you remember them moving through.  Ask your child how it felt when they met a challenge and what it was that helped them meet a challenge and keep going. You can explain to them that this is like a muscle that gets stronger every time they practice using it. 

 Modeling and speaking with children in a way that emphasizes effort rather than intelligence or talent as something that you are just born with is an easy shift that adults can make in order to support the development of a growth mindset and grit. Here are a few ways that you can use language to promote grit and growth mindset with your children. 

Praising intelligence:

  • Instead of praising intelligence with: “You’re so smart!” try praising effort with “You really worked hard on that”. 
  • Instead of “You’re such a talented artist! That’s a beautiful picture”, try “I noticed how much time you put into your painting today,” or “you really experimented a lot with mixing colors in your painting. Show me how you did this.” 

Ask your children: 

  • What did you do today that made you think hard and what strategies did you try?
  • What  mistakes did you make that helped you to learn something new? What would you do differently?

This type of language focuses the experience on the child engaging in the process of learning and the effort they put in. 

Modeling learning from mistakes:

In order to model how to learn from mistakes and embrace imperfections phrases like:  

  • “Oh, I made a mistake. I wonder how I can work with this.” 
  • “I wonder how I can make this better, what do you think?” 
  • “Hmm, this didn’t turn out the way I imagined,  how can I change this or learn from this to improve for next time”  

Approaching challenges:

To encourage an approach to challenges as new opportunities for learning try phrases like: 

  • “Uh oh, let’s try that again” 
  • “Not yet, but you will get there”
  • “This seems tricky, but let’s keep trying” 
  • “I love a challenge, let’s work together to figure this out.”
  • “What are some strategies that you can think of to help you find a different way to do this?”  

Encouraging grit:

To encourage grit: 

  • “You can do it!”
  • “Hey, look at that. You kept trying and you didn’t give up even when it got hard!”
  • “What could you say to a friend that would want to give up right now? Can you say that to yourself?

The Power of Yet

  • You might not be able to do it yet.
  • You don’t know it yet but let’s learn together!
  • Not yet. With practice, you will get it. 

For phrases to support your emerging bilinguals in Spanish, you can try: 

  • Sí se puede (you can do it), 
  • Nada es imposible (nothing is impossible), 
  • Sé valiente (be brave or courageous), 
  • Todo tiene solución (everything has a solution)
  • “Vas muy bien” (you’re doing very well).
  • “Sígue así” (keep it like that).
  • “Tu esfuerzo ha valido la pena” (your effort has been worth it)
  • “Estoy orgulloso/a de ti” (I’m proud of you)
  • “Muy bien, excelente!” (Very good, excellent)

Remember that as an adult, we are often also building our grit and growth mindset. It is a process and a practice. Give it time to develop in your children.  Invite your child to see the ways that you also are learning and growing your brain everyday. Embracing challenges as opportunities for learning is a strength that grows grit and lifelong learners. Naming these character strengths and encouraging them through modeling and positive language impacts not only academics, but also self confidence, and the joy of learning. 

For more information about growth mindset check out this inspiring Ted Talk by researcher, Carol Dweck, “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve”. 

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