Play It Forward Therapy

How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset

How to Cultivate A Growth Mindset

Do you ever wonder….

  • Why do some children shy away from challenges or crumble at the first signs of a struggle?
  •  Why do some children refuse to try a new activity or have a history of quitting various activities if they did not immediately excel?
  •  How to help kids who have low frustration tolerance and give up easily?
  • Why does my student have this tendency to be so perfectionistic and self-conscious that he/she paralyzes their own progress?

Hindsight is 2020

Throughout this pandemic, most of us found ourselves in unanticipated circumstances that affected our families, jobs, overall health and well-being. Despite last year’s challenges, when the new year arrives, it never hurts to take some time to reflect on our past experiences, both professionally and personally, how they have shaped us and what we can learn from them.  This past year, there were many lessons to be learned not only on a global level, but on personal and professional levels too.

On the other hand, when you have a growth mindset, you believe that your skills and intelligence can be improved with effort and persistence. Instead of avoiding challenges, people with a growth mindset persist through obstacles and often thrive in the face of a challenge. They also have a level of internal intuition and can learn from criticism and seek out inspiration in others success (1).

The truth is, there are always going to be circumstances beyond your control that will impact whether you are able to attain your goals regardless of how hard you try. However, there are also times when you may surprise yourself at your own fortitude, resourcefulness, determination, and perseverance that enables you to come out on the other side even stronger and wiser. The key is cultivating the right mindset which is the first step on the road to both personal and professional success.

Remember that it’s not always possible to control the circumstances around you, but you always have a choice in how you decide to respond to those challenges. 



This type of mindset takes effort, awareness and the mental flexibility and willingness to try a new approach or way of doing things.

The past 2 years of this worldwide pandemic presented a multitude of unprecedented challenges in how to do our jobs, how to effectively run a business or participate in online learning.  The majority of us found ourselves in a situation of distance learning and/or working remotely, all while juggling multiple responsibilities simultaneously.


The Pivot From Therapy Onsite to Therapy Online

In the therapy world, most traditional pediatric occupational and physical therapists are most comfortable working hands-on and with children “in person”. The challenge of this past year was how to combine clinical expertise with technology to treat and evaluate children via telehealth.

Our openness to adapt to an online model of therapy greatly influenced our ability to continue helping children and families in the greatest need of our services. If kids were struggling prior to the pandemic, online school plus the disruption in familiar routines made situations even more challenging for parents at home.

As a private practice owner and an online OT educator, I have had the chance to interact with hundreds of therapy practitioners this past year.  It’s apparent that the therapists who had an open mindset to different model of service delivery, who could pivot quickly and who sought additional telehealth training were the most successful in being able to continue to deliver high quality, therapy services online. On the other hand, many practices struggled or were forced to shut down during this time resulting in unprecedented therapy layoffs.

Lesson learned: Your responsibility to your clients and students is to ensure that you are well trained, competent and effective with telehealth as a model of service delivery.

It’s so important for therapists to adopt a growth mindset to become more competent and confident with telehealth!   It’s never too late to pivot, to learn and to adapt to a new way of doing therapy…because telehealth is here to stay.  And as a matter of fact, your license and future career opportunities may depend on it.

Have you heard this before ... “Telehealth won’t work for my child.”

For parents and caregivers, it’s also equally important to keep an open mind to virtual therapy. Before you assume that telehealth won’t work for for your child, keep in mind that your involvement is a critical aspect to your child’s success whether in person or online.   The truth is, if you want to experience successful virtual sessions and faster progress, it’s not just about your therapist.   It’s about partnering with your therapist.  You know your child best.  And your therapist knows OT best.  You may be surprised with how effective telehealth sessions can be for helping your child reach their potential when you have the right partnership with your therapist.

Lesson learned: Successful therapy sessions, whether in person or online, work best with parent involvement and partnering with your therapist on behalf of your child’s growth and development.

Growth Mindset Vs. Fixed Mindset

Do you know the difference between a “growth mindset” versus a “fixed mindset”? People that have a fixed mindset tend to believe that they cannot do much to change their intelligence and their abilities. For example, have you ever heard someone say, “I’m just not a _________ person” or “That just won’t work.” before they’ve even tried.  With a fixed mindset, there’s an underlying sense of defeat or being stuck before they’ve even started.  Challenge yourself and honestly answer, “Is my inner coach is holding me back from reaching my potential?”

Believe it or not, another type of attitude that encourages a fixed mindset is if you already know everything. Have you ever met anyone that was a “Know It All”?  Adults and children alike, who are closed to listening to others input and ideas are stunting their own mental growth, not to mention the negative affects this type of attitude has on social connection.  Parents may inadvertently cultivate this type of fixed mindset when they praise their child indiscriminately and constantly throughout childhood.  I am not suggesting that we do not praise children, but rather for parents to be more mindful of when, how much and what we praise to instill the right kind of motivation and self-confidence in our children.

Lesson learned: A lack of mental flexibility can be your own worst enemy when it comes to preventing you from reaching your potential or even helping others reach their potential.

Growth Mindset

Modern psychology recognizes “how our belief systems about our own abilities and potential fuel our behavior and predict our success.” Much of this understanding stems from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck who is known for the book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”  As a clinician and coach, I find Dweck’s research to be remarkable when pondering why presence is more important than praise in teaching kids how to cultivate a healthy relationship with achievement as well as how these mindsets are formed. (2)

Lesson learned: Depending upon which mental framework you adopt, or what has been instilled in a child from an early age, significantly impacts your behavior, your relationship with success and failure in both your professional and your personal life.

The True Test…

Take a Moment to Ask Yourself…

• Do you believe that you can get better at something by putting in the effort, time, and energy?
• Do you think about how you can work on your own shortcomings or flaws to become the best version of yourself?
• Have you ever told yourself that your clients or students are not good candidates for telehealth, yet you have not pursued additional training or mentoring to improve your own competence and confidence with telehealth?
• Are you able to reflect upon your experiences and focus on the process and not just the outcome?

The ability to change your mindset will take some self-reflection along with inner work and a forward-thinking outlook.  As an OT with over 20 years of clinical experience, I always like to anchor how I practice, how I learn, and how I teach based upon the principles of neuroscience.   The good news for all of us is that recent advances in neuroscience have shown us that brain is truly malleable. This type of neuroplasticity and connectivity between neurons can change with experience, practice and the actions and strategies we take.

Lesson learned: By changing your mindset from a fixed mindset to that of a growth mindset, you will be able to overcome setbacks and how you face certain obstacles in a more productive way. This type of growth mindset is applicable to ALL circumstances and situations… and it’s a practice that we can teach our own children and clients.

How can we cultivate a growth mindset in our children?

Here are 5 of my personal and professional tips for how to inspire a growth mindset in our kids.

  1. Encourage children to work through their challenges and teach them to persist even at the first signs of a struggle. In other words, don’t be so quick to let them accept defeat.
  2.  Focus on the process of an activity or task and not just the results.  This helps support your child’s efforts when trying a new activity.
  3.  Help them understand the value of hard work, effort, patience and set realistic expectations to help them stick with activities even if they do not immediately excel.
  4. Use social thinking strategies. behavior modification techniques, positive reinforcement and collaborative problem solving to help curb low frustration tolerance.
  5. Be aware of not inadvertently nurturing your child’s perfectionistic tendencies.  Focus less on the mistakes, but rather the lessons learned.

Lessons Learned: By teaching kids and ourselves to adopt a growth mindset, it can help us change or prevent destructive thinking patterns.

From my experience as a parent and a therapist,  this mental framework of a growth mindset does not come naturally. As a matter of fact, it takes some specific teaching, guidance and coaching to help cultivate a growth mindset not only in ourselves, but also in our children.

Cultivating and nurturing a growth mindset is a skill for life that will help kids overcome obstacles and reach their fullest potential in all life areas. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be the best in everything, but it instills a resilience that will help kids to continue to progress and cope more effectively leading to a more grounded perspective and a healthy self-esteem.

We all want for our children (and ourselves) to be able to lead happy, fulfilling lives and to help them reach their potential.  We are all role models for our children.

My challenge for you is to nurture a growth mindset in yourself and the children whom you love or work with. Think about one word that can help you change your attitude and grow your own intelligence and skills through mindful effort so you can reach your potential… and help your children reach theirs.

First steps to cultivating a growth mindset

Instead of making a new year’s resolution this year, consider kicking off this new year by choosing a positive word or a phrase that will help guide your actions while nurturing and encouraging a growth mindset. Take a moment to offer yourself some grace and give yourself some credit for your resilience this past year.

What are the personal qualities you have that got you through the tough times? Remember, you are strong, resilient and have unique and special gifts that only you can offer.

I challenge you to think about the coming new year as a fresh start and looking at challenges that come your away as opportunities for growth and insight into yourself.

What word will you choose?

What one word or phrase will help you find a fresh perspective to inspire your growth mindset no matter what happens in the upcoming year?
If you can adopt a more holistic, positive, growth mindset you’ll set yourself up for success this year and for years to come. Your children, clients and students will see this quality in you.  When you believe your brain can grow, you will behave differently.

Once you’ve decided on a word for yourself, talk about it with your own children or the students you work with.  Check out the additional resources at the end of the article.

Lesson learned: When you focus on one positive word or phrase to guide your thoughts and actions this year, you’re much more likely to follow through. Once you’ve learned to embrace a growth mindset and to truly become your best self, you will be poised to help others to be their best selves too.

By Jessica McMurdie OTR/L:  Jessica is the owner and clinical director of Stepping Stones Therapy Network clinic and also the founder of Play It Forward Therapy’s online continuing education courses and resources for parents and teachers.  Jessica is passionate about occupational therapy and helping kids and families through a holistic, realistic and practical approach to treatment.


Additional Resources
• Psychology Today Article: 15 Ways to Build a Growth Mindset Click here
• Helping Kids Develop a Growth Mindset Click Here
• T School Telehealth Training for Pediatric Therapists Click here


Here’s what you’ll learn in The 3 Essentials For Telehealth Success:
You’ll walk away from this training with 3 specific steps to immediately feel more prepared and confident before your next telehealth session… pretty cool right?…so if you want a few secrets to feel more confident and competent when it comes to your online practice…

FREE Training | AOTA Approved! (1 CEU)

Here’s what other’s have to say about the training…

“Jessica made the introduction to telehealth less intimidating to me. I can now breathe and move forward.” ~ Stephanie OTR/L

“Jessica’s course made me feel more positive and comfortable about telehealth practice. It was practical and actionable; I can use Jessica’s suggestions right away.”  ~ Kelli OTR/L

“I just finished watching your course and loved every minute of it! The lessons are very informative and engaging.” ~ Sabrina COTA/L

“The telehealth resources were a hit, so I plan to keep on using them even though I’m back to working with kids in person.” ~ Suzanne OTR/L