Want to help your kids banish their fear of failure and learn to embrace hard work? Growth mindset – a Catholic one, specifically – is the ticket to a life of virtue and Truth.
About 20 years ago, our local public school district adopted a character education program. The purpose was to help its students grow in character through six basic pillars:
It’s a good program, and its heart is in the right place, for sure. But if you look closely enough you’ll notice that not only does the wording get a little convoluted, the implementation is like biting into an empty Boston Creme donut.
You’re expecting something more at the center of the program.
It’s hard to teach children about the virtues when you can’t talk about their author at all.
This is kind of how I felt when I first encountered the idea of growth mindset: the “you can do anything” philosophy that has taken education by storm. Yes, it’s good to teach kids that mistakes and challenges are opportunities for growth and improvement. All children (especially those who are gifted and differently-wired) need to know that it’s possible to pick themselves up and move forward.
But there’s a key component missing, and it’s a big one:
A secular growth mindset downplays the reality that “I’m no good at this” is a desolation.
It ignores the way in which our children are made for the heart of God.
What is a Secular Growth Mindset?
In the mid-2000s, educational researcher Carol Dweck spent thousands of hours working with elementary school children in a classroom setting. She studied their academic behaviors, their failures, and their successes. From her observations, Dweck identified certain habits of mind that support or suppress a child’s intellectual development. Dweck compiled her research and analysis into Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2007).
In Mindset, Dweck outlines how students learn and succeed. When children move from a fixed mindset (“I’ll never be good at that”) to a growth mindset (“I’m struggling with this topic. What do I do next?”),
they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.
Dweck’s focus was purely academic. Schools and educational institutions snapped it up. Parents saw the value in it, too, and started using it at home to help their kids conquer their fear of failure.
But it left me – and a lot of other Catholic moms out there – looking for something more.
Fixed mindset thoughts are a form of desolation, thoughts that seek to separate us from God. So when a child says:
- “I’m no good at this.”
- “I’m worthless.”
- “That’s not something I could ever do or be good at.”
That isn’t our Heavenly Father speaking. It’s a personal version of Wormwood, and it needs to be routed out.
While it’s true that Dweck’s secular growth mindset approach can go a long way toward doing away with those sentiments, it would be better to address them from the source. A secular growth mindset focuses on improving the material.
A Catholic growth mindset goes further, addressing the brain, the body, and the soul.
Why a Catholic Growth Mindset Tells Your Children the Truth
A secular growth mindset teaches children they can do anything.
A Catholic growth mindset teaches children they can do anything through Christ.
Your children are made in the image and likeness of God. He is the author of their gifts and talents; everything they do serves to reflect Him and His glory. Secular society says your children can achieve anything through their own power. The truth is, your children can do all things pleasing to the Father because they can do all things through Christ, His Son.
A secular growth mindset is rooted in personal achievement.
A Catholic growth mindset is rooted in redemptive suffering.
Being your best self isn’t a matter of worldly success. It is a matter of sanctification, of one’s purposeful walk with God. This is why a Catholic growth mindset adds depth and purpose to our struggles that a secular growth mindset cannot. Secular growth mindset philosophies gloss over the redemptive power of suffering. While it does teach children that challenges and obstacles are worth facing, it stops short of the real reason for their value: they are opportunities to shoulder your cross for Christ.
A secular growth mindset encourages children to grow in ability.
A Catholic growth mindset encourages children to become the person God designed.
Technically, yes, you can become anything, but your heart will only rest once you become the individual God desires. He formed you with a specific vocation – a calling. You have free will and can choose to discern and pursue that calling, or you can choose to do something else.
When your children learn growth mindset from a Catholic perspective, every challenge is an opportunity to discern God’s will for their lives. Becoming “anything” is not the same as becoming the one thing for which you have been created. Choosing God’s will is what makes your children fully alive.
Fortunately, it’s not difficult to help your children develop a Catholic growth mindset.
Catholic teaching lends itself toward the development of a true growth mindset. Church history is full of solid role models to learn about and explore.
Start with a study of the virtues
in which we develop a firm and consistent habit to seek what is good. Each one of the virtues can be paired with a specific growth mindset habit. You can find suggestions and activities here.
Read about the lives of the saints
I have a few growth mindset favorites, primarily because they exemplify both a virtue and a growth mindset principle at the same time. Your children can learn more about each one of these holy men and women through their profiles in Made for Greatness: A Growth Mindset Journal for Courageous Catholic Youth:
- St. Therese of Lisieux
- St. Maximillian Kolbe
- St. Martin de Porres
- Venerable Teresita Quevedo
- Venerable Augustus Tolton
- Mother Angelica
- Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
And discuss it’s growth mindset relevance with your kids. I’m a huge fan of the following passages:
- Phillippians 1:6
- James 12:3
- Matthew 10:29-31
Plus many more you can find here.
Learn and practice the Works of Mercy
as tangible ways to do hard things for others in our lives. Opportunities for service are a great way to take the focus away from us and toward God’s kingdom. You can learn more about the connection between growth mindset and the Works of Mercy here.
Secular culture longs for the Truth Christ offers, but its efforts leave families with much to be desired. Our children deserve to know their worth and dignity as God’s precious children.
As far as I’m concerned, they’ve got a much better chance of succeeding in that effort if we can help them develop a true growth mindset: one steeped not in a quest for material achievement but in the teachings of Christ and His Church.
Looking for a tool to help shape your child’s Catholic growth mindset? Check out Made for Greatness: A Growth Mindset Journal for Courageous Catholic Youth (great for kids 8 to 12), or Made for Greatness: Thrive Edition (great for kids 12 and up). Both feature:
- a study of the Virtues
- a look at the lives of seven saints and holy men and women
- Scripture passages
- original prayers and space for journaling
- personal stories from contemporary Catholic young people
- The Works of Mercy
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