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Mindset is Everything

As I saw this canvas by @ikonick, I knew it had to go in my son’s nursery. The little goldfish wearing a shark costume depicts his view of himself in the world. “Mindset is everything” has been a statement that has become essential to my counselling practice. Working with young children who are battling with an internal struggle has opened my eyes to how important one’s belief system is to their overall success. It pains me to see such an innocent person be stuck in their own unrealistic and negative belief system. Little do they know, a particular mindset is powerful enough to detect what level of success you will have in your life.

In Carol Dweck’s book Mindset she outlines 2 types of mindset; growth mindset and fixed mindset. In a growth mindset, people can see their most basic abilities being developed. They understand that they they may need to try at a multiple times at a task before being able to solve it. However, in a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities like their intelligence or talent are simply fixed traits. They believe they are either going to know something or they won’t. Children who see failure as a part of learning are more likely to take risks and have a strong sense of resiliency, both essential components of success. However, children who shy away from risks and see their failures as a reflection of themselves tend to have lower self-esteem and higher anxiety. Therefore, it is very important for adults to send the message as early as possible that if you believe you can then you will. Furthermore, parents need to praise efforts rather than talents, as efforts can be developed. For example, when your child learns to write their own name, a natural statement would be “You are so smart.” Now knowing that this is not going to help a child cultivate a growth mindset, we may use an alternative statement, “You never gave up and now you are able to write your own name, which is awesome.”

When children come into my office convinced they just don’t understand math or will never have friends to play with at recess, I offer them a different way of looking at things. For example, I may say “You just don’t understand math yet” or “You are still working on making friends at recess.” These simple reframe sentences offer hope and growth. Children need to see problems on a continuum rather than a black or white option. Some children are prone to fixed mindsets and my work is to help them transition. Our brains are malleable and with a bit of training and practice, children can rewire negative thinking traps into more positive and realistic thinking patterns. For example, one student would come to my office regularly because he would have meltdowns in class when he felt he was falling behind. He feared having homework. It turns out his belief system was that if you get homework then you are not smart. We challenged this fixed mindset by looking at his previous work where he avoided having homework but instead rushed it and had it done incorrectly. I asked him whether he wishes to be smart (a fixed trait) or get work done correctly (a growth trait). He started viewing being smart as less important and started focusing on his efforts more as those had results he could measure and develop.

Everyone loves a good success story but sharing your perseverance and failures can be equally if not more important to share with a young person. If they see obstacles and adversity as part of the process from an early start there is no telling what they can do. My son may not understand what his canvas on the wall means at this point in time but I can guarantee he won’t ever forget hearing it as a young boy.



Living and working with gratitude on the traditional unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

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