When I was teaching pre-school, I noticed something that made me very sad. I had children in my classroom who already believed believe they were not good at something. For example, one child wanted to sit out our ‘dance’ time because he already believed that he wasn’t a good dancer. Another child was distressed when asked to draw eyes on his snowman. He said ‘I can’t make eyes.’ Imagine giving up on drawing or dancing at age three!
Like all parents, I wanted my children to succeed. When we worked together on projects or when I watched them in sports, I let them know everything they were doing wrong and how to correct it. I wanted them to be successful; to get it right. Over time, I saw the damage that my approach had on my children.
Do we just stop ‘helping’ or teaching? Not at all. That results in a child who has to learn everything the hard way. Often that ‘hands off’ approach results in a child who feels frustrated because he sees other children already knowing what he has yet to discover.
So, how do we help children increase their skills without making them insecure? One of the things we do is to start giving specific positive feedback. This means that we tell them the things they are doing right and that we appreciate it. If they need our input, we use questions and gentle help.
Let me give some examples:
- Your child is coloring, learning to stay within the lines but still going outside the lines in some places. You point to where they are within the lines and say something simple such as ‘look how well you stayed inside the lines right here. That is going to be a good picture.’
- Your child is dancing to the children’s program on screen. Just dance with them a minute or two and enjoy the moment.
- Your child is arranging letters in order but appears to be stuck. You skim your finger over the letters already in order as you say them and then ask ‘what comes next?’ If they know then point out the letter and say its name. If they don’t know, give them the letter name and point it out. Tell them you are impressed with how hard they work.
As simple as this seems, it is difficult to master if you’ve been raised with and use ‘constructive’ criticism. When you are about to offer help or instruction to your child stop and plan what you want to say and how you want to say it. You won’t see a difference at first, but you will see an increase over time in your child’s confidence and willingness to learn new things.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed