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Play, The Secret To A Growth Mindset

Updated: Apr 4

When we think about our mind and how we use it to create or learn something new, we must remember that play has a vital role in the process.

When Carl Jung mentions the play instinct, he is talking about our natural urge to play around with our world and work things out through trial and error. He is talking about our natural instinct to have fun, be curious, and learn new things. This is the creative process and it needs a growth mindset to succeed. Getting comfortable with failure is part of this process.

One of the ways that we can support children in their play and creativity is to support their failures.

Failure can be an important step in reaching our goals. On the path to success in creating or learning something new, it will likely take many tries and many failures. We can teach children that each one of their failures is an opportunity to learn from what didn’t go right, and failure is an opportunity for growth! Failure is just one of the steps towards success, mistakes are part of the game. Supporting our children’s mistakes helps move them from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

So what is a growth mindset all about?

Having a growth mindset means that you are curious and want to learn.

You may fear the unknown, but you are willing to try new things. When you have a growth mindset and challenges arise you approach them with curiosity and look for multiple solutions. When issues occur you try several ways to problem-solve solutions.

People with a growth mindset also are open to collaborating with others. When we teach and model a growth mindset for children it means that we are opening up endless possibilities for them when they set out to learn and create something new. We appreciate a challenge and test boundaries.

Children who approach tasks with a growth mindset are confident that they can and will learn to do new things as long as they are willing to try.

How having a fixed mindset can hold you back.

The opposite of having a growth mindset is having a fixed mindset. When someone has a fixed mindset they avoid challenges unless they already know the answer. When they play, they follow rules and expect one outcome or answer. They always seek to confirm their already known answers. Someone with a fixed mindset will stick to what they know rather than wanting to learn something new.

Play is the secret –it is this instinct in children that leads them to discover, create, imagine, and learn. This instinct defines a growth mindset.

Here are 5 suggestions to build a growth mindset as you play:

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Celebrate multiple answers and ways to approach the problem. “What would you do..” “What do you think…” “How does that feel…” “What happens when…” These types of questions invite multiple answers and deeper conversations.

  2. Set up challenges or goals for your child and allow them the freedom to create the “rules” to accomplish it. Celebrate their process even if they missed the goal.

  3. Embrace the word YET. “that didn’t work yet…” “we haven’t gotten it yet…” Yet helps anchor the idea that despite failures, mistakes, or disappointments, there is always another opportunity to succeed.

  4. Superheroes and Superpowers are important. Talking about everyone’s special powers helps children embrace their strengths. Playing with and embodying these strengths helps children become brave. Supporting your child in facing their fears, using their superpowers, and acting anyway - builds grit and confidence.

  5. Make a game of your day or a problem by making it an adventure. “Your mission if you choose to accept it - is…” “ What is our mission today?” “The goal in the next hour is…” Try looking at your day as a set of opportunities to conquer! This helps build your child’s sense of purpose and resilience.


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