Play Like a Girl strives to empower middle school girls to realize their potential and unlock the possibilities for them within historically male dominated arenas. However, breaking the barriers into these fields can prove difficult. Often girls face failures in their attempts to overcome these barriers. So, how can they deal with it?

Failure is difficult for anyone no matter the age.

However, it can be especially difficult for girls during adolescence. Psychological research points to perception of failure as being a leading reason for academic decline in girls starting middle school. This rings especially true within STEM subjects. It is difficult for girls who have not yet faced many challenges to begin to encounter more in the classroom. 

Research from Stanford University has shown that dealing with failure all comes down to mindset.

Those with a fixed mindset see results as a reflection of worth, intelligence, and ability that is fixed. Those with a growth mindset see results as an evaluation of their work rather than worth. They understand that intelligence and ability can be developed (as research demonstrates it can be). Therefore, those with a fixed mindset are discouraged by failure, whereas those with a growth mindset are encouraged by it. They see it as an opportunity to grow. 

The mindset that parents adopt when talking about achievement is one of the biggest factors that affects the mindset girls adopt. Click To TweetMessages that reinforce the idea of successes as a reflection of intentional effort rather than talent promote the development of a growth mindset.

Even phrases, typically seen as positive, such as “you’re so smart,” can ultimately be harmful, as they promote a fixed mindset. A girl who sees herself as smart because she has consistently performed well in math class throughout elementary school may experience distress over that piece of her identity when the work becomes more challenging later on. She may see the need to study more in order to maintain her success as a sign that she is actually not smart anymore. 

So how can you reframe subtly harmful thoughts and phrases to promote the development of a growth mindset? Simply consider the attributes that you praise when discussing successes and failures.

Here are some examples: 

“Good job on your math test, you are so smart!” → “Good job on your math test, you worked hard to learn the material!” 

“That is a beautiful drawing, you are so artistic!” → “That is a beautiful drawing, you spent a lot of time on it!”

“It’s okay you lost that game, the other team is really talented.” → “It’s okay you lost that game,  now you can identify focus areas for next practice!” 

“It’s okay, you just made a mistake, nobody is perfect.” → “It’s okay that you did not do the right thing, you can fix it and next time you will know better” 

Ensuring that girls see achievement as a helpful benchmark for growth rather than an evaluation of worth is key to maintaining academic performance throughout middle school and beyond. Girls who embody growth mindsets become more responsible, honest, confident, and growth-oriented in all aspects of their lives. 

Here at Play Like a Girl, we are working to empower girls to challenge themselves and chase their dreams. We hope that by reminding girls that failure is merely an opportunity to grow rather than an evaluation of their worth, we can support them in growing and developing into the leaders of tomorrow. 

We’d love to hear from you! Let us know how you’re growing and developing your skills and abilities. Leave a comment below.