At the ripe age of one month or even before, children begin forming ideas about who they are and how they will survive in this world. By the time they enter school, they have already formed opinions about their strengths and weaknesses. They learn this from all their interactions with family, friends, strangers, and all of their observations.
Parents can tell children how smart they are, but they may not belief it because of observations they have made on their own. It is only after we ask them how they see themselves that we truly know what they think.
Mark was a troubled third grader. His test scores indicated he was highly gifted. The notes in his file indicated he was a disruptive pre-kindergartener. The same comment was repeated each year.
Whenever children with high test scores under perform or demonstrate distractive behaviors, I ask them when they got the impression they weren’t smart. Mark’s reply pointed to the fact he did not share the opinion of his parents, grandparents, or the test scores. “I know exactly when I knew my parents and grandparents were lying to me. It was the first day of preschool.” He went to further explain what happened that day. “I was asked to write my name on my paper and I was the only one who didn’t know how to do.” Mark decided at the age of 2.5 that he wasn’t smart, and every time something was challenging, his beliefs were validated and lead him to act out.
Like Mark, a good number of students are coming into school with preconceived ideas about their capabilities in one or more subjects. If introduced to concepts before readiness, they main form an opinion that they are not good at math or reading. As a third grade teacher, I was amazed at the number of children who were certain that no one would be able to teach them how to read and that they would never learn their addition facts. One little eight year old adamantly shared that I would never be able to teach her how to tell time. She shared, “Everyone has tried and none of them have been successful.”
We may have been mislead to believe that if we tell our children they are capable, they will feel capable. The truth is, saying so doesn’t make it so, if they are observing their environment through their lens and are getting different feedback that leads to beliefs that don’t match the words being said, they will not believe supportive words.
Parents and teachers can sport the children by helping them examine their beliefs about their capabilities in each subject, and help reframe them, so they can see them through a different lens.
The following are suggestions that I have found helpful:
- Ask them to share how they feel about their capabilities for each subject.
- Ask them why or when they decided this. Avoid telling them what we think. They may say, “I don’t know” at first. That is a normal response. Allow them time to think about it. Ask if something happened that made them feel that way. Did someone say something or was something hard?
- Help them see the situation from a different perspective which will shift their mindset.
Many times their observations punctuate how smart they are. To observe, compare themselves to others, and draw conclusions are higher level thinking skills that are indicators of higher intelligence.
Shifting the thinking or mindset from, “You will never teach me to tell time, because others have tried and they weren’t successful.” to “Others have tried to teach me to tell time that didn’t work, because I wasn’t ready to learn it yet. I will be able to learn it if I keep trying.” (Once she reframed her thinking, she was able to read her watch by December).
“I’m not as smart as my parents say, because I couldn’t write my name at 2.5 like the other children in the class, because no one taught me like my classmates were. I just need to ask for help when I don’t know how to do something. If something is hard, it doesn’t mean I am not smart. Smart doesn’t mean everything is easy. If I keep working at things, they will get easier. Even smart children struggle.”
“I’m not good at math, because I can’t remember my addition and subtraction facts.” to “When something is hard, I need to ask the teacher to show me how to do things in a different way, or ask for any tricks for remembering my facts. “
Many third graders have decided they would never be able to be good at math, because they could not remember addition and subtraction facts. When they learn that subtraction facts are the most difficult math concept out there and that some children need a more visual approach to learning them, they will change their belief to “I am capable in math if the teacher offers me visuals to explain the concepts.” Just because the way they were taught didn’t help the facts stick is no indicator that they couldn’t be good at math.
If you have children who share this challenge, there is a good chance they are a visual spatial learner and will struggle with rote memory unless it is connected to a picture. These students can learn to ask for visual representations of concepts if they are not clicking. Once they learn it isn’t their ability but the approach, they will soar in math.
“I hate reading, because I get too tired or I can’t remember what I have read.” to “I am just learning to read, and I will get better with practice. or “I just need to read a little differently.” The best readers don’t read every word, but read phrases. It does take a lot of practice to accomplish this type of reading. Most children don’t recognize that.
Some children find it more effective to say, “I wasn’t a good reader until I learned to read the questions first so my brain knew what to focus upon, and I was able to remember more of what I read.” “Practicing reading phrases will help me from getting tired when I read.”
(I always want to rule out any visual processing issues or check to see if children need visual therapy. Weak eye muscles can make it difficult to sustain reading for long periods of time. An evaluation by a pediatric optometrist can rule out any challenges that might get in the way of a children becoming proficient readers).
Please share your children’s responses and any observations you have below. If you need assistance in helping them reframe their beliefs, just reach out to me. I can help.
I look forward to hearing what your children have to say.