Parents’ beliefs about whether failure is a good or a bad thing guide how their children think about their own intelligence, according to new research from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research indicates that it’s parents’ responses to failure, and not their beliefs about intelligence, that are ultimately absorbed by their kids.
“Mindsets—children’s belief about whether their intelligence is just fixed or can grow—can have a large impact on their achievement and motivation,” explains psychological scientist Kyla Haimovitz of Stanford University, first author on the study. “Our findings show that parents can endorse a growth mindset, but they might not pass it on to their children unless they have a positive and constructive reaction to their children’s struggles.”
Despite considerable research on mindsets, scientists have found little evidence to suggest that intelligence mindsets are handed down to children from their parents and teachers. Haimovitz and psychology researcher Carol Dweck, a pioneer in mindset research, hypothesized that parents’ intelligence mindsets might not transfer to their kids because they aren’t readily observable. What kids might see and be sensitive to, the researchers speculated, is their how parents feel about failure.