Maritza Pardo M.A.,BCBA
Teaching the Essentials to Our Children
Ever heard the saying by Roy Bennett, "Every challenge, every adversity, contains within it the seeds of opportunity and growth"? It's no secret that our society is going through some significant growing pains during this pandemic. However, this pandemic has also provided the platform for self-reflection and much-needed change. Initial lessons or discussions emphasized the importance of hygiene (e.g., handwashing), wearing masks, and social distancing. However, the trending conversations among parents today seem to concern the uncertainty of education for our children. Currently, some schools are open at a minimal capacity, while others remain closed. There are several children limited to remote learning as parents supervise their child's education full time. I have heard concerns that children who previously struggled may fall further behind, and those who were advanced may remain stagnant. Teachers have done what they can to provide academic instruction through remote learning; however, not without difficulty. Some children have excelled, while others continue to struggle. Is there a solution guaranteed to close the disparity of learning? No, however, as an educational consultant and developmental assessor, I want to convey a message of hope. While academic achievement is uncertain, there are fundamentals that, if cultivated, are guaranteed to have a positive impact on young learners. I urge parents not to despair and focus on academic achievement at the expense of the learning process. A study was conducted (Mangels JA, Butterfield B, Lamb J, Good C, Dweck CS. Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model) and found that the overemphasis of intellect often left students vulnerable to failure, as they feared challenges. Yet students whose efforts were acknowledged produced a "growth mindset" correlated to high achievers. As we know all too well, the platform for learning has never been more challenging, presenting our young learners with various obstacles they must overcome. However, it is the “growth-mindset” that will prevail during these difficult times.
So, what are the fundamentals parents should cultivate? Four key character traits can be taught, practiced, and reinforced during this time. The following traits are correlated to successful learning and include goal setting, flexibility, problem-solving, and perseverance.
To begin with, setting daily goals for yourself restores some sense of organization and control over your day. However, when we create goals alongside our children, we are modeling these skills to them. Many of us had lofty goals at the beginning of 2020 and have had to accept the postponement of their completion. While it left a feeling of disappointment, we can still set goals more in line with today's resources. I suggest creating a new goal each day with the participation of your child. Together, you can develop a goal or two and write it down (e.g., "Today I will exercise from home for 15 minutes") on a paper or wipe board. I also suggest writing it down, utilizing a pencil or dry erase marker to make changes easier. Keep in mind your child does not need to have writing capabilities, but simply communicate something they would like to complete that day (e.g., "Today I will read a new book" or "Today I will take one bite of my broccoli"). Of course, they may require your guidance to create sensible and attainable goals; one child-centered goal and one recommended by the parent. Remember to start simple and gradually increase difficulty according to your abilities and that of your child's. Small and gradual success leads to greater and sustained success.
Next, we review the ability to be flexible. Adults and children have had their established routines disrupted by the pandemic, impressing each of us the need to be flexible. Promoting and modeling the ability to be flexible has never been more needed than today. As we reflect on our goal setting, there will be days we cannot complete our goals (e.g., exercise from home, take, clean out the refrigerator, etc.), as there will inevitably be setbacks. If the same goal needs to be carried over to the next day or adjustments made to our original goals, it's ok. As you check off or carry over your goals to the following day, emphasize the effort over the outcome with your child. When your child says that they "can't," redirect them to say that they will “try”. Also, follow-up with a new plan on how you or your child might complete that goal (e.g., "Maybe if you read before you eat lunch, you won't be so tired, and you will get it done").
Along with flexibility is the topic of problem-solving skills. As goals may or may not be completed, problem-solving will become a factor. Many of us had no choice but to alter our goals and routines, all while accepting our limitations. From parents to business owners, many scrambled to find resources to stay afloat. Again, our young learners observe and either absorb the chaos or gain from a positive problem-solving perspective. Even as the adults learn by trial and error, it is ok as long as adults convey positivity in learning from their mistakes. The message to be conveyed is that there are many different ways to approach a problem, and if one method does not work, we can approach it with a new strategy in mind. Adult problems are more complex than child-centered problems (e.g., sibling conflict or academic problems). However, the message is the same, and the acquisition of problem-solving skills equally needed. Also, the ability to solve problems or view it from a different angle may require others' help. It's ok to admit as parents that you don't have all the answers. Asking for help by no means is a sign of weakness. Asking for help is a sign of intelligence and bravery, which are the very attributes we want our children to have.
Lastly, we review the topic of perseverance. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck believes that perseverance is the key to intellectual growth (https://news.stanford.edu/2015/04/29/dweck-kids-potential-042915/). I can't recall how many times during my school-based observations, I witnessed accelerated students break down in tears over typical mistakes (e.g., Being asked to re-do a task or ripping their own paper by accident from excessive use of their eraser). Yet I noticed students who were academically further behind, unafraid to take on challenging tasks, or re-do those same tasks as their confidence was built on their actual efforts. The overall message during the pandemic is that we are all learning and growing together. As adults, we can continue to progress and raise high achievers despite educational difficulties. If we focus on the fundamentals of learning and learn to value, the process over the outcome we will all succeed.