Everyone takes for granted that small children learn through trial and error. It’s practically unheard of for a parent to shout at a stumbling toddler, “What’s the matter with you—can’t you stay on your feet for ten seconds?!”
Would that we retained that attitude as our children grow older. Whether kids are learning to dress themselves, make their own beds, or memorize basic multiplication tables, they all too often are exposed to a steady stream of negative talk:
- “Will you hurry up—you’re too slow!”
- “How come you only got 89 percent on this test?”
- “Never mind: I’ll do it!” (Heard as, “You’re hopeless.”)
Small wonder that many long-grown “kids” only take on things they can get right the first time—and that so few people show interest in innovative challenges. If you want your children to achieve more than token success, take the right attitude toward those temporary setbacks we unfairly call “failure.”
Focus on the Positive
No matter how sloppy a job looks by adult standards, you can always recognize something that will assure the child she’s making progress. Especially, always acknowledge the value of taking initiative, even when that initiative is used to surprise you with a breakfast-in-bed that tastes terrible and leaves a mess in the kitchen. A few messes are a small price to pay for raising a child who isn’t afraid to break new ground.
Let Them Decide Their Next Move
Demanding that a child “do it over until you get it right” is counterproductive: the resentment and stress it generates only make each new attempt turn out worse, and poison all desire for future progress. Don’t be afraid to let the child assess the situation on his own, or to let the existing results stand if he’s satisfied: where he’s motivated to continue, improvement will come in its own time.
Never Punish for Less-Than-Stellar Performance
You can “punish” with a disappointed look as easily as with scolding or grounding—and either way sends the message, “You didn’t perform acceptably.” Children then feel resentful, hopeless, or both, and they respond by openly rebelling or quietly giving up.
If there’s obvious room for improvement and a child seems unwilling or unable to find the next move on her own, you can gently encourage her with open-ended questions: “What have you learned through this? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently? What results do you picture for next time?” But never take it upon yourself to decide how well she “should” have done.
Note to Teachers
Primary-school students are better off without “standard” grading systems, but if your school system insists you hand out A’s-through-F’s, that needn’t stop you from encouraging the right kind of student success.
- Always emphasize learning as the true goal.
- Study completed assignments to see who is struggling in what areas. Use this information to adjust your teaching approaches as you go.
- Become familiar with every student’s natural strengths, and make sure everyone has regular opportunities to use and develop their best skills.
Note to Everyone
Veterans Day is Thursday, November 11. Take a moment from your day to congratulate a veteran for never giving up!
LEARNING IN AN ENCOURAGING ENVIRONMENT
Are you (and your primary-age children) tired of standard academics’ obsession with test scores? At Shady Oak, we believe there are more important factors—especially the challenge to develop unique individual talents—in an education worth having. We emphasize purposeful focus, independent thinking, and guiding children to become effective contributors to the larger world. Contact us to learn more about our unique approach!
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!