“Helping Children and Youth Develop a Growth Mind-Set,” Ensign, February 2020
When my grandson Rockwell (“Rock”) was six years old, he took me aside to teach me a valuable lesson he had learned at school. He asked, “Grandpa, do you know the difference between a fixed mind-set and a growth mind-set?”
I admitted that I did not. When I invited Rock to explain, I learned that those with fixed mind-sets say, “It’s way too hard” or “I give up” or “I can’t learn that” or “I can’t change.” On the other hand, those with growth mind-sets embrace new learning opportunities and say to themselves, “I’m going to keep working at this,” “I can’t give up,” “I am capable of change.”
People with fixed mind-sets, therefore, are constrained by fear, self-doubt, and lack of vision, while those with growth mind-sets are striving to learn and grow each day.1
As our children embark on the new Children and Youth initiative and set goals to become more like the Savior, we as parents and grandparents can help them acquire and maintain a growth mind-set to ensure that their future is promising and bright.
How would your child respond if you asked, “What is something you can’t do?” Would your child’s answer be: forgive someone who has hurt them? repent of sin? be more patient? serve a full-time mission? accept a difficult calling?
Is there something holding your children back because they have decided they can’t change in one way or another, whether it be spiritual, social, physical, or intellectual?
Heavenly Father urges us to seek to develop gifts and improve ourselves because He, as a loving parent, believes that we can achieve great things, including, eventually, exaltation. He is a parent with a growth mind-set. If we are to become like Him, we need to adopt that same mind-set and learn to grow in all the ways He expects.
Likewise, you as a loving parent can be an advocate for your child. Your own growth mind-set and your belief in your children will bless them immensely. Previous undoables can become doables and unchangeables can become changeables.
As you have these conversations with your children, it’s important to remind them that as we grow and progress, we will inevitably experience setbacks and difficulties. If we miss a day with our goals, for example, all is not lost. We can use our agency to choose to keep going and to seek the Lord for strength, help, and direction.
That is how a growth mind-set blesses us. It allows us to cling to the belief and reassurance that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (see Philippians 4:15).
The scriptures provide us with examples of both growth mind-sets and fixed mind-sets. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi said confidently, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7). Conversely, Laman and Lemuel murmured and asked this doubting question: “How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands?” (1 Nephi 3:31). Nephi’s growth mind-set clearly contrasts with the fixed mind-sets of Laman and Lemuel.
From the Pearl of Great Price, we learn about a young man named Enoch, a future prophet, who felt limited by personal frailties. When the Lord called him, Enoch asked, “Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?” (Moses 6:31).
Let’s consider also the multitudes blessed because a young priest in King Noah’s court was humble and possessed a growth mind-set.
“There was one among them whose name was Alma. … He was a young man, and he believed the words which Abinadi had spoken, for he knew concerning the iniquity which Abinadi had testified against them; therefore he began to plead with the king that he would not be angry with Abinadi, but suffer that he might depart in peace.” (Mosiah 17:2).
Later, “Alma, who had fled from the servants of king Noah, repented of his sins and iniquities, and went about privately among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi” (Mosiah 18:1; emphasis added).
What do we learn from these few examples? Humility, perseverance, and—especially in Alma’s case—a willingness to repent all contribute to maintaining a growth mind-set.
My wife, Julie, maintains a growth mind-set. However, this doesn’t mean that learning for her, or anyone else, is always pleasant or easy.
When we were called as a mission president couple, we were told that Julie could be the first point of contact for our missionaries with medical issues, or we could find a member with a medical background to fill that role.
Julie doesn’t do well at the sight of blood. She has a hard time simply walking down the hallway of a hospital without feeling faint. The thought of taking the role of mission nurse had zero appeal for her. But I thought it would be a great way for her to serve the missionaries and get to know them better. I hesitatingly suggested that she try it for three months. She agreed to give it a try.
Completing this assignment wasn’t easy. Confronting medical concerns among the missionaries was a challenge. All of her unease didn’t miraculously go away in an instant. It took persistence, asking for the Lord’s help, and a growth mind-set that allowed her to believe that she could do a consistently challenging task. Giving up was no doubt an enticing consideration, but Julie pushed on.
At the three-month mark, she decided to keep her mission nurse hat on. With the help of an area medical adviser, my wife provided a wonderful service to the 650-plus missionaries who served with us in the Texas Dallas Mission. She learned much and loved much as she counseled many sick and sore missionaries for three years. Her resilience and steady belief that the Lord would sustain her enabled her to grow in ways she hadn’t imagined.
Her effort became a living example of this familiar verse of scripture: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
After our missionary service, I received a call from our 30-year-old daughter, Laura. She was experiencing a strong pain in her abdomen. I handed the phone to Julie. She asked Laura a few questions and had her do a pain test that Julie had learned in the mission field. Julie then diagnosed Laura over the phone as suffering from appendicitis and advised her to go immediately to a hospital emergency room. Doctors confirmed the diagnosis, and surgeons removed our daughter’s appendix later that night.
You never know what blessings might come from being willing to learn new skills that can help others, even if the idea of them doesn’t naturally appeal to you.
It is not uncommon for people to tell themselves, “I can’t change. That’s just the way I am.”
President Russell M. Nelson, our beloved prophet, said: “We can change our behavior. Our very desires can change. How? There is only one way. True change—permanent change—can come only through the healing, cleansing, and enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He loves you—each of you! He allows you to access His power as you keep His commandments, eagerly, earnestly, and exactly. It is that simple and certain. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of change!”2
President Nelson has also said, “A well-educated person never stops learning.”3
Is fear a factor in your children’s lives. Do their fears prevent them from overcoming personal hurdles? Fear can cause a fixed mind-set and stop us in our tracks. The Lord offers a solution. He says, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36).
That may be easier said than done, particularly for children and youth. But by placing your own faith in God, you can help them do the same. And as they turn to God with a growth mind-set, they can learn to do what they currently think they can’t. Ask God for help, and then trust Him.
I don’t know what challenges you are facing as a parent, or what obstacles you may have to overcome in your efforts to bring up your children in truth and righteousness, but I invite you to see life as a series of growth opportunities that Heavenly Father gives you to help prepare you to return to Him (see Alma 34:32). And then to help your children acquire that same vision.