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Rachel Burris
BY Rachel Burris

3 Ways to Foster a Growth Mindset in Your Child with Special Needs

As a parent, you undoubtedly worry about the way others think about children with special needs. It’s important that the community strives to change the negative views society holds, but it’s even more vital that we work to improve the way children with special needs view themselves. 

Children with special needs are at a far greater risk of dwelling on their mistakes and doubting their abilities, which can severely limit their potential. That’s why helping your child become confident in their ability to learn is fundamental to ensuring your child succeeds in school and life. 

How do you prove to kids with special needs that they can overcome the obstacles they face? You must foster a growth mindset in them.

What Is a Growth Mindset?

After studying the way young children faced intellectual challenges, Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Standford University, found that children fell into one of two mindsets regarding intelligence: a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

Children who have a growth mindset welcome challenges and embrace mistakes. They understand that with continual effort, you can increase your abilities and become smarter. These children tend to perform far better in school because their beliefs about intelligence encourage resilience and perseverance. 

Unfortunately, not all kids take on this valuable perspective. Many children, especially those with special needs, tend to have a fixed mindset. Kids with fixed mindsets often give up in the face of difficulty and avoid challenges altogether. They think that having to struggle through a problem is a sign of failure because they believe their intelligence and abilities are set in stone. 

But we know that’s far from the truth.

3 Ways to Foster a Growth Mindset in Your Child

You can foster a growth mindset in your child by changing how they think about intelligence and learning. Here are three strategies that can lead to major gains in children’s academic success and wellbeing.

1. Reward the Process

It can be tough to keep kids engaged in material over long periods, especially if they have special needs. For many, the natural instinct is to give up at the first sign of difficulty. Although parents tend to gravitate toward praising their children’s results, intelligence and talents, there are better ways to encourage kids. 

To instill a growth mindset, parents and teachers should instead reward the focus and effort kids put toward their work, the strategies they use to solve problems, the mistakes they learn from and the improvement they make as they continue to tackle challenges. The more you praise the effort they put forth, the more your child will learn to persevere in the face of mistakes and obstacles.

2. Consider the Language You Use 

Think about the language you use to discuss successes and struggles. Traditionally, schools mark assignments with As and Fs and list students as passing or failing. However, that type of labeling doesn’t help children with special needs face challenges. It tends to cause all kids to doubt their intelligence and abilities. 

Therefore, it’s best to discuss children’s progress in ways that increase the confidence they have in their future abilities. 

Instead of saying…Try saying…
“I failed!”“I haven’t mastered that skill yet!”
“I can’t!”“I need to try a different strategy.”
“I give up!”“I could use help figuring this out.” 

Let your child know that they possess the ability to improve. This will encourage continued effort and remind them that intelligence is something that develops over time.

3. Model a Growth Mindset

If you want your child to develop a growth mindset, you should model the type of thinking and behavior required. Showing your child what a growth mindset looks like can be its own challenge for many parents, some of whom may also have a fixed mindset. However, working together to change how you think about intelligence can be a great way to illustrate the kinds of gains you can make when you put your mind to something.

Model how you work through mistakes to learn from them. Expose your child to healthy risks and demonstrate how you push yourself out of your comfort zone to face them. Show your child that it’s useful to ask for help. With each opportunity, use self-talk to highlight the thinking you use to approach challenges with a growth mindset. 

Through a growth mindset, you can prove to your child that it’s not the past that determines their ultimate success, but their participation in the present. Challenges are inevitable in life. However, how your child approaches them will greatly impact both their academic performance and self-image.

Rachel Burris

Written on March 5, 2021 by:

Rachel Burris is currently working as a data journalist for Rocket Homes and a reading, writing, and critical thinking tutor for kids aged 10 – 18. Prior to moving to Michigan, she worked as a Middle School English Language Arts Teacher for the New York City Department of Education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Bucknell University, a post-baccalaureate certificate in psychology from Columbia University and a master’s degree in English education from Teachers College, Columbia University.
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