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Using disciplinary actions to promote a growth mindset

Turning disciplinary actions into learning experiences will benefit children in the future
Turning disciplinary actions into learning experiences will benefit children in the future

One of the most hotly contested issues facing parents with young children is how to discipline effectively. It’s a very thin line that a parent has to walk when it comes to enacting discipline: go too soft on a child and he/she develops the idea that they can do whatever they want, but go too hard on a child and he might enter a state of constant emotional distress. Although if done right, parents can use disciplinary actions to create learning experiences that can benefit their child for the rest of their lives.

“Mindset” – Fixed vs. Growth

The goal of every parent raising a child should be to promote the development of a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. The distinction, according to the concepts championed by Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, lies within an individual’s personality and how they interpret challenges and setbacks. An individual with a fixed mindset “assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way” (1). Therefore that individual, when faced with a challenge or obstacle, tends find ways to avoid applying increased effort to overcome it (due to the inherent belief that any additional effort will not change the results). That inherent belief of static intelligence can hinder an individual’s ability to reach their full potential.

On the other hand, a “growth” mindset manifests itself in an individual who recognizes an obstacle as a “heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities” (2). This mindset allows a person to recognize challenges as a learning opportunity and more importantly recognizes that with added effort, that challenge can be overcome. Overall, an individual is primed to experience more success in their life.

Conscious Discipline

We can see evidence of pro-growth mindset discipline in the Conscious Discipline model. Created by Dr. Becky Bailey, a recognized expert in childhood education, created Conscious Discipline as a way to help teachers and parents turn disciplinary actions into growth opportunities. In their own words, “discipline (is) not something you dot to children, but something you develop with them” (3).

One of the tools offered to parents who subscribe to the practice of Conscious Discipline are the 6 Principles of Encouragement, which are:

• We are all in this together.
• Contributing to the welfare of others builds self-worth.
• How you “see” others defines who you are.
• We are all unique, not special.
• Effective praise relies on describing, not judging.
• Children need encouragement, especially when they have made “poor” choices.

Specifically, parents can help their child develop a growth mindset by implementing #6 into disciplinary actions. Jenny Kepler, a San Francisco based psychotherapist and blogger, summed it up beautifully in a recent post posing the question, “What if by practicing encouragement when our kids make poor choices, we could develop within them a more compassionate monologue, a growth mindset that was flexible and understanding from the start, that had resilience enough to get up and try again, even after making a hefty mistake?” (4). Lets face it, as part of the growing process children will make mistakes. By turning those mistakes into learning experiences, not just telling them what they did wrong but emphasizing what they can do to do better next time they are met with the same challenge, a child can start to develop a growth mindset.


(1), (2) Popova, Maria “Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives”

(3) Conscious Discipline, “Conscious Discipline for Parents”

(4) Kepler, Jenny “Encouraging Discipline – Discipline That Helps Kids Grow”

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