by Nadene van der Linden
“Growth mindset” is a term I often see related to increasing productivity in business. Initially I was a bit suspicious. When I looked into it, I realized growth mindset is what I help children and adults learn every day at my clinic.
People with a growth mindset are flexible thinkers who believe they can change their thoughts and behaviors. They believe that success is a result of persistence, good strategies, and input from others. People with a growth mindset worry less about how others perceive them and they learn for the purpose of learning. Those with fixed mindsets (those who believe their attributes are less changeable) tend to function less well in relationships and have less success than people with growth mindsets.
A recent study asked the question if a single growth mindset session could help reduce depression and anxiety in teens. The study, led by Jessica Schleider of Harvard University, examined whether teaching teens a growth mindset about personality, that personality was changeable and not fixed, could help reduce depression and anxiety. They predicted learning that personal qualities are changeable would improve teens’ perceived ability to change their behaviors to problem-solve setbacks, and to modify their feelings in response to situations outside of their control and that this would have a positive impact on their mental health.
Ninety-six teens aged 12- 15 years at high risk of anxiety and depression participated in the study. The teens’ parents were also involved. Measures of the teens’ anxiety, depression and personality beliefs began at the beginning of the study. Parents completed parent report measures of their child’s depression and anxiety symptoms.
At the beginning of the study the teens received either 30 minutes training in growth mindset concepts or 30 minutes training in identifying and expressing feelings based on supportive therapy.
The growth mindset training included five key elements:
- The concept of neuroplasticity (descriptions of how and why behaviors are controlled by thoughts and feelings in their brains and emphasising the constant potential for change);
- Older teens relating their beliefs that people can change because the brain is intrinsically changeable;
- Stories from older teens, recounting times when they used growth mindsets to persist or deal with adverse events such as peer rejection or feelings of hopelessness and feared embarrassment;
- Providing a worksheet detailing ways to applying growth mindset principles to the teens’ own lives;
- The teens wrote notes to younger children, using their new growth mindset information to help the children to cope with future difficulties.
Follow up occurred at 3, 6 and 9 months after the intervention. Those receiving the mindset program experienced larger and faster reductions in parent and self-reported depression across the 9-month follow-up period than those who received the supportive therapy program. The effect for anxiety was less significant. The results were better than other depression focused single session interventions. The researchers suggest the intervention’s focus on ‘keystone beliefs’ that were highly relevant to adolescents may help explain the results compared to other single session interventions.
According to the researchers, growth mindset sessions could be taught upon entry to middle school to improve teens’ mental health. Whilst some teens will continue to need clinical treatment, single session interventions based on growth mindset may help prevent the onset of depression and anxiety in others.
What does this mean for parents?
Parents can encourage a growth mindset in their child and in turn support better mental health in their children. As a parent, you can involve growth mindset into your family’s philosophy. Some useful tips are to encourage the belief that we all have the potential for change and that our thoughts and behaviors are changeable. Avoid labelling children’s temperament or skills as set (unchangeable) or like a relative’s is also helpful. Model a growth mindset to your children by being flexible enough to change your thinking and behaviors as needed. Living a growth mindset is likely the best way to create children with a growth mindset to.
– Nadene van der Linden
Nadene van der Linden is a clinical psychologist in private practice. Nadene is the author of the much-loved Tales from the Parenting Trenches: a clinical psychologist vs motherhood. Join the Unshakeable Calm facebook group today. Science based tips for calm and confident living. Website, Instagram, Facebook