What Should I Teach my Child so They Will be Successful?
Updated: Oct 2, 2021
Dear Every Parent who has ever asked me this question ever,
This post is for you. It's also for all the parents who thought about asking it to me. It is the question that I have been asked the most often, in a few slightly different ways, since I started teaching. Although, I have to say, now that your kids are home I have been asked it even more. I get it, you are worried. You used to be able to bring your kids to me in the morning reasonably confident that I was filling their little minds with knowledge (hopefully) but even if I didn't that was out of your hands to some extent. Sure you could get tutors, sit with them and do homework, read every night and take them to cultural events but the day to day work of teaching them Math or English was my issue.
Coronavirus messed with lots of things but likely the single thing that has had the biggest impact on the most people has been that all the schools are closed. Everyone is trying to work from home with small humans who are stuck at home and it's hard. What is harder is knowing that the schools might not open soon. This means panicking that all your hopes and dreams for your children could suddenly fall apart in the space of the next three months because they will be that dreaded education word. BEHIND
So, lets clarify something right now. Being "behind" does not mean that your children will not do well in life. In fact I have seen children who struggled with the alphabet in Kindergarten go on to write poetry in English competitions. As I have already said, children show us what they want to learn. Sometimes they just are not ready to pick up the alphabet or write poetry. Don't worry, they will get there. Maybe they will never like poetry. That's fine too. There will be other academic things your child will excel at. Not every career needs science and sure we need to be able to do our taxes and figure out if we are getting a good deal at the grocery store but advanced theoretical math is a very specific career set. I'm sorry to say it but at some point it is likely that your child will be "behind" the rest of the class in something. Even children who seem to pick up academics quickly will struggle somewhere.
So here is the real trick. Teach your children how to manage their shortcomings. If they are struggling with math, how do they cope with the feeling of being frustrated and not knowing what they are doing? Do they work on it until they solve it? Do they ask a friend for help? Ask a teacher? Do they flip their desk and scream that math is stupid and they never wanted to learn it to begin with? Burst into tears and get overwhelmed with anxiety? All are options on the table but it's the choices that your kids make at these moments that will help them be successful adults. Why? Because when we are adults we will have a thousand things that we don't feel good at but we need to figure out anyway! (like how to put images in a blog- just sayin')
If we learn as kids to give up when faced with adversity then we will always give up when faced with anything difficult and our best work will never really be our best. It will be the standard that we can create without a challenge which, lets face it is not our best. We do our best work when we challenge ourselves and guess what, children who know how to cope with the feeling of insecurity that comes with not knowing everything seek out new and exciting things. So, lets get practical, and outline things you can do to help your children.
So I should push them super hard academically to make sure they are challenged right?
No, absolutely not. Please do not do this. As I said before and will keep saying children learn at their own pace. The most important thing you can do is listen to your children. Talk to them and find out what they find difficult. Trust me they will tell you, usually loudly. Often, it is not academic at all. Sometimes it's getting on shoes when they are two and tired. Sometimes it's getting on shoes when they are sixteen and trying to go to class in the morning and they are tired. Being challenged happens in thousands of ways every single day. Acknowledge it, talk about it. Help them problem solve in a way that's meaningful to their age. For a two year old you might ask if they need help. For a sixteen year old you might ask them to walk you through what would make their morning easier.
So I should tell them how to Solve their problems! Got it!
Nope! We are teaching not demanding. You are there to listen and make suggestions not preach. Now I know that you believe the reason your teen is struggling with getting to school is because they stayed up to late with their phone (again). I know that you are frustrated because now you have to have an argument with them about getting ready (again). It's really tempting to give them a lecture about how they need to go to bed on time. What we are looking for however is meaningful conversation that you know children are engaged in. That means there is an exchange beyond a grunt and eye-roll from them. If you lecture them in the morning because they are short on time don't worry, but maybe sit them down in the evening and talk about why that morning was hard. Have the conversation about it. Let them come up with suggestions.
Okay so we talked through it but it didn't work. Now what.
Keep trying. That's it. They will fail and that's just fine. We aren't looking for perfection we are looking for development of the skills that will assess problems and learn how to fix them. We are learning how to identify our shortcomings and find ways to adapt to them. I know many adults that can't do the second one. This is hard work! Maybe they tried talking to their friend in math class and that didn't help at all! Now they are more frustrated. Talk to them about how to handle that frustration and walk them through what to try next. This isn't a one time thing. We are going to spend a lot of time talking to the kids.
Okay well I talk to my child all the time.
Do you? Are you sure? I'm not saying this to harp on parents, however the studies are out there. Most children under the age of 14 are talking to google more than their parents. Twice as much in fact and there are 30 children in my class. Even if I tried to give each child 30 minutes of conversation one-on-one every day it would take me 15 hours to talk to each of them. Which, by the way, works out to roughly three days of school time. So once every THREE DAYS if I did nothing but speak with them I could talk to the children one-on-one. There is a difference too between passive and active conversation. Passive is when we are being talked at. "Billy if you don't put on those shoes RIGHT NOW I swear I will make you walk to school." this doesn't offer a chance for a response. Active conversation, however, engages both people "Billy, why are you struggling right now? Are you tired?" Try asking the question, you might be surprised at the response.
I can talk to my child, I can listen but what else can I do?
Model. This is a fancy word that means you do the thing you want your kids to do. For example, if I want the kids in my class to be kind to each other I need to be kind to others too. If they see me being snappy at other teachers, who they perceive to be my friends, (which hopefully they are!!) they will mimic my wording and word choices. I once had a kindergarten student who was hanging on my arm at Recess listening to me talk to another teacher overhear me saying, "Oh Brit is just the most wonderful person she is so sweet!" I was talking about my colleagues student teacher that year who had just come to help me get the little ones out for recess. When we were undressing in the coat room later I heard the little boy turn to his friend and say "Oh, Miss Brit is just the most wonderful person! She is so sweet. Like candy! Let's lick her." Clearly he hadn't understood the last part but he knew I really liked Brit! Never assume that they are not listening. If you mess up, that's fine too. Explain that you were wrong in how you acted and wish you hadn't done it that way. Kids can learn from others mistakes too.
And don't forget actions!
Want kids to read? Then read yourself. Want them to put their phone away at the dinner table? Yup that means all phones. This goes for how to overcome your insecurities too. Let your children watch you problem solve, get frustrated, keep working and finish. How you handle frustration is being watched. If this is an area you struggle with too then explain that to them. You are a human, sure an adult one but not super human just because you are now caring for or teaching children. Please don't try to be.
Keep your expectations realistic.
This is for those parents that asked me about medical school in Kindergarten (yes I have had that.) My answer is always the same. "Who cares!" They are young let them be young! Let them explore and find out what they like without pressure to be something they may never be. It is just fine to be five and cry because your best friend just got another best friend. This is after all the worst crisis of your life! (It's only been five years long!) Problems are only as big as you are. We can expect no more than that. Let them play doctor instead. It's way more adorable.