Growth Mindset

Brought to you by Creative Healing for Youth in Pain's Parenting Blog

Dr. Samantha Levy, PhD
June 5, 2023 / 3 mins read

I often tell the parents of my clients with chronic pain that their child will reach their goals, but that the journey may take longer and have more twists and turns than originally expected. Young people with chronic pain likely tend toward perfectionism and are probably their own harshest critic when it comes to schoolwork, grades, and learning a new skill. Some of what is intertwined with chronic pain is this focus on success.

Often kids with chronic pain have learning differences, ADHD, anxiety, or some challenge that makes it harder to achieve, while maintaining a high level of expectations for themselves. This stress leads to more pain, which then makes it even tougher to succeed. A vicious cycle is born.

While “Growth Mindset” does not have anything to do with youth with chronic pain specifically, I think that we can use its principles to help kids with pain disorders feel better about their learning processes and therefore be more likely to achieve to their full potential.

But what is Growth Mindset?

Carol Dweck describes the contrast between people with a “Fixed Mindset” and people with a Growth Mindset. People who have a Fixed Mindset believe that their traits are just given, so these people worry about how adequate or inadequate they are instead of developing their skills. They believe that talent and inherent intelligence is solely responsible for success.

In contrast, people with a Growth Mindset see their traits as a starting point that can be increased by dedication, hard work, and effort. This view fosters resilience and a love of learning.

When teachers and parents encourage a Growth Mindset in students, they become enthusiastic learners because they are taught to believe that their intelligence can be developed by learning from mistakes and through effort. This belief in themselves has positive effects on their motivation and consequently on their achievement. Carol Dweck’s research shows that kids become confident learners when they are praised for the process they engage in, rather than being told that they are smart or talented.

Fixed Mindset students will often shy away from difficult tasks because they fear failure. Failure threatens their belief in their inherent intelligence or talent, and they worry that if they have to work hard, they must not be that bright. For students who are raised with a Growth Mindset, effort is the experience of learning how to do something for the first time – which involves trying hard and being challenged. This is seen as a learning experience, no matter the outcome.

I believe that a Growth Mindset is healthy for all humans of any age. For kids with chronic pain who tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed, this is even more important to drive home to them. They need to hear from you that it is okay if they take an extra year to complete high school so that they can take fewer classes each semester. They need permission that just being at school is an achievement for them and that getting high grades is not the goal for now.

They need to feel that mistakes are part of learning, and that trying difficult tasks (whether academic or walking to the bathroom from their bed) creates growth, even when things don’t go smoothly. They need reassurance that you are proud of their efforts and that you know they are working hard, despite pain, fatigue, dizziness, and so on.

Also, you as a parent can benefit from seeing your child as achieving through effort and through their process, instead of only looking for “results.” All kids struggle as they grow, but we know that kids with chronic pain have even more on their plate than typical youth. However, they expect more of themselves than do most youth, so they especially would benefit from a Growth Mindset.

I must admit, I love quotes. In my office, I have a board on my wall that is filled with quotes about Growth Mindset. This mindset can apply to anything that a
person is striving to do. So, I thought I would leave you with some of my favorite quotes that may guide you in helping your child on their journey towards a Growth Mindset so that they may be less focused on the product and more on the process.

Enjoy these quotes!

“Strive for progress. Not perfection.” – David Perlmutter, MD

“I am always doing what I cannot do yet in order to learn how to do it.” – Vincent Van Gogh

“Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

“Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” – Joshua J. Marine

“Failing is just another word for growing.”

“You have only failed if you have given up.”

“If plan A didn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters, so stay cool!”

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein

“If at first you don’t succeed, you’re normal.” – Kid President

“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.” – John F. Kennedy

“There is a difference between not knowing and not knowing yet.” – Sheila Toblas

“I think. I question. I imagine. I create. I struggle. I collaborate. I try. I fail. I persist. I reflect. I change. I learn.”