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3 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Learn

March 11, 2018 | by Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP

How to instill a growth mindset in your kids.

Many parents have children who exhibit a lack of motivation, get frustrated with learning and give up on themselves. We may have also seen our children who at the outset were excited about school but after much disappointment lost their enthusiasm.

Dealing with a lack of motivation can be frustrating for parents, but it’s the children who suffer the most. Lack of success at school can impact a child’s self-esteem and can make them feel “broken” and “stupid.” They may have expectations of success that they don’t believe they can meet. So they lose interest in learning, begin to feel isolated from others, and start to show psychosomatic symptoms. If continued, the child may become depressed exhibiting social problems, difficulties connecting with their family and peers.

Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset can help children keep their self-esteem intact and foster and maintain a love of learning despite their language difficulties.

What is a Growth Mindset?

A fixed mindset believes that intelligence and talents are static traits that do not change. Since an individual has no control over whether or not s/he succeeds it does not matter how much work or effort one puts in.

A growth mindset is the belief that you can effect change within yourself by learning anything with dedication, effort, and persistence. A growth mindset can sow the seeds for true success and a love of learning. It focuses on the characteristics of a person, instead of his IQ score.

Dweck found that children and adolescents with a growth mindset are less likely to drop out of school, have an easier transition into middle school, high school and ultimately university. Children with this type of thinking are less likely to engage in bullying, and react with aggression to bullying.

The following chart highlights the other advantages of having a growth mindset:


Fixed Mindset: Leads to a desire to look smart and therefore a tendency to:

Growth Mindset: Leads to a desire to learn and therefore a tendency to:


Avoid challenges

Embrace challenges


Get defensive or give up easily

Persist in the face of setbacks


See effort as fruitless or worse

See effort as a path of mastery


Ignore useful feedback

Learn from criticism

Success of others

Feel threatened by the success of others

Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others

Three components of Growth Mindset:

  1. Neuroplasticity: The brain is a muscle than can change and get smarter with use. Recent brain research has shown that the brain can adapt and rewire itself throughout our lives. This idea negates the notion that intelligence is fixed from birth.
  2. Praise that is used appropriately focuses on the effort that the child brings to a task as opposed to a focus on their innate intelligence.
  3. Reinforcing the idea that mistakes are opportunities to learn and failure is not something to be feared. We can also help them learn language that helps them feel positive about their ability to learn.

All our children can benefit greatly from developing a Growth Mindset. There are simple strategies and techniques that we can incorporate easily into our every day lives.

Teaching Children How The Brain Works:

The first thing that we need to do is to teach children how their brain works and about neuroplasticity. Research has shown that the brain is made up of billions of neurons that talk to each other and send each other signals. When learning something new the neurons need to work harder to send signals to each other. Once they are sending the same messages back and forth then they become more efficient and it takes less effort to do so. The neural connections become thicker with use. So when learning something new it requires a lot more attention and effort. However, after you have practiced it becomes easier.

Children have been found to be receptive to the idea that the brain is like muscle and get smarter with more difficult work and practice. JoAnn Deak’s book, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It, is a great resource to use to teach this concept. Parents can use string licorice to help children visualize the neural connections getting stronger and thicker as the neurons are learning a new skill. One strand of licorice is a neural connection that represents a new skill that is being learned, like a new vocabulary word. Two strands of licorice represent the neural connection becoming thicker, like when you are able to define that vocabulary word. Three strands of licorice represent the neural connection becoming even thicker as you start using the vocabulary word in your everyday life.

2. Praise the process not the smarts:

Carol Dweck’s seminal work on the effects of praise was a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders.

Her team asked children to complete a series of easy puzzles. After the child completed the puzzle the researchers told each student his score, and then gave them a single line of praise. They were either praised for their intelligence or for the effort that they put into the task: They were told, “You must be smart at this” or “You must have worked really hard.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they had learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. 90 percent of the children who were praised for their effort chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test.

Dweck found that when children are praised for their intelligence, we essentially tell them that they have to look smart. They cannot risk making any mistakes. That is what the 5th graders did; they chose to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed.

In the next series of tests all 5th graders were given a difficult test. Everyone failed. But again, the two groups of children, divided at random at the study’s start, responded differently. Those praised for their effort on the first test assumed they simply hadn’t focused hard enough on this test and they tried even harder to solve the puzzles. The children praised for their intelligence just assumed their failure was evidence that they weren’t really smart at all.

At the final round of tests, the researchers gave all children a simple task to complete. Those who’d been told they were smart did worse than they had at the very beginning – by about 20 percent.

Here we see that praise can backfire. When we praise children for effort they feel as if they are in control of their intelligence. Praising for intelligence, discounts effort. Children feel, “If I am smart, I shouldn’t have to work hard. If I work hard, I must be stupid.”

Dweck’s study demonstrates how critical it is that we avoid the kind of praise that promotes a fixed mindset.

Dweck suggest praising children in this way:

  • “You really studied for your English test, and your improvement shows it. You read the material over several times, outlined it, and tested yourself on it. That really worked!”
  • “It was a long, hard assignment, but you stuck to it and got it done. You stayed at your desk, kept up your concentration, and kept working.”
  • “I saw you were getting frustrated with your worksheet. You stopped and took a break and a drink. That helped you regain your concentration and finish your work.”
  • “You reread your notes on the first article and the second article, and you put a check mark next to the notes that were the same in both.”
  • “When you finished reading 2 articles on the same topic, you stopped to compare how they were similar and different.”

This can be especially encouraging to children with learning disabilities because they usually do work hard, but often they still don't do well. When that does happen we want to further support them by saying:

“I liked the effort you put in, let’s work together some more and figure out what it is you don't understand.”

“We all have different learning curves. It make take more time for you to catch on to this and be comfortable with this material, but if you keep at it like this you will.”

“Everyone learns in a different way. Let’s keep trying to find the way that works for you.”

Mistakes are good

The third principle of a Growth mindset is the idea that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. Mistakes should not be feared.

We want to help our children embrace their mistakes. We can help children be less fearful of making mistakes by reminding them often: “No one is perfect” and “Everyone makes mistakes. It is part of how we learn.” This teaches children to keep a good attitude about their errors, and they will be less fearful of making mistakes.

We also want to be honest about your own mistakes. We can share our mistakes with our kids and discuss what we learned from those errors, modeling this idea that mistakes are okay.

For example, we can say: “Yesterday we were supposed to read two books and I only read one. Today I am going to make that up to you.”

“I thought that you were being a tattle tale, but you were trying to let me know that Katie was hurt. That was my mistake.”

Another great activity is to read stories of great inventions that were invented by mistake (Post It Notes, Penicillin, Slinky, Play Doh, Stainless Steel…)

Finally, there are many schools that have implemented grades that include a “Not Yet.” Grade. If students don't master a particular unit of study, they don't receive a failing grade – instead, they get a grade of “Not Yet.” This helps students avoid the shame of a poor grade but also foster responsibility. They know that they are expected to master the material, if not the first time, then the next time – or the time after that.

The word "yet" is valuable and can be used frequently in our homes. Whenever our children say they can't do something, or are not good at something, we should add, "yet." Whenever our kids say they don't like a certain subject, we can say, "yet."


  • “I am not good at vocabulary” –YET
  • “I can’t do it” –YET
  • “I tried but it didn't work” –YET

Teaching kids to develop a growth mindset can be valuable for all children, no matter what their degree of success is in school. .

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