How Parents Can Help Children Develop Mastery Orientation

Schoolgirl doing multiplication on white board
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Mastery orientation sounds like a complicated concept, but it simply refers to a child's desire to become competent on a task. Kids with high mastery orientation stand out. Parents and teachers don't have to coax these children to learn. Instead, these students want to practice lessons in school just for the sake of becoming more highly skilled.

What Sets Students With Mastery Orientation Apart

Students with mastery orientation belong to the select group of youth who are not primarily motivated by external rewards. Many gifted children have this trait.

Kids who have high mastery orientation tend to have high intrinsic motivation or behavior driven by internal rewards.

This contrasts with extrinsic motivation or behavior driven by external rewards or by fear of punishment. Students with extrinsic motivation have a mindset described as performance orientation.

In a school setting, children who have high mastery orientation want to learn for the sake of learning. They are not preoccupied with their performance (i.e., their grades or teacher's approval) and keep working on school tasks even if they get poor feedback. In fact, they welcome challenges and new learning experiences. Research indicates that mastery orientation can improve a child's academic performance both in the short term and in the long term.

What Students With Mastery Orientation Believe

Kids with high mastery orientation also believe that hard work matters more than innate characteristics, such as intelligence. They can be contrasted with helpless learners who think that if they are not "smart enough," they might as well not try because they'll never succeed.

These risk-averse children are too fearful of looking incompetent to make the moves necessary to grow. They also tend to think of intelligence as being fixed.

Students with mastery orientation believe that intelligence can be nurtured and developed. Such students are likely to earn better grades, even in the face of trouble.

Psychologists have said that mastery orientation is more positive than performance orientation because it fosters a sense of resilience in children, allowing them to work through failures or setbacks. Mastery orientation can help students of all grade levels -- from elementary school to college.

How Parents and Teachers Can Encourage Mastery Orientation

Mastery orientation can be encouraged through positive parenting techniques and parental involvement in education. Parents and teachers alike can nurture mastery orientation in students by giving children tasks they care about and tasks that are challenging but attainable for them.

The goal should be for students to master a certain skill or lesson rather than for them to earn a certain mark or score for performing the task.

Teachers can encourage mastery orientation by changing classroom structure and giving children the learning strategies necessary to become self-motivated instead of performance-motivated. Teachers should praise a student's effort when they excel at a lesson and offer constructive criticism when their work shows room for improvement. Educators should especially heap on praise when students complete challenging tasks.

Teachers can inform students that mistakes are part of the learning process. They should also let students know that academic success is first and foremost about effort.

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  2. Wimmer S, Lackner HK, Papousek I, Paechter M. Goal Orientations and Activation of Approach Versus Avoidance Motivation While Awaiting an Achievement Situation in the Laboratory. Front Psychol. 2018;9:1552. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01552