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Empowering kids for school success with support and encouragement

5 minute read

We are all trying to raise and nurture kids into becoming self-sufficient and confident adults. Kids have to manage their education, nutrition and sleep, chores, family life, and the complexities of the outside world. Underneath these topics lies each kid’s personality and how their brain is wired. Each kid needs to find methods and strategies that suit their needs to manage all these facets of personal development. 

The parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, and other adults in kid’s lives have a great power in helping the kids recognize their individual strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. We can help kids use this information about themselves to better understand HOW they are going to learn. Once the kids understand the HOW then the adults can help the kids understand WHEN they need to speak up for themselves if they have obstacles in their way. This all begins with becoming a good active listener.

Adults using active listening to build relationships with kids

To me active listening means to fully engage in hearing and understanding the message of the other person. I listen to their words. I ask questions to clarify or ask them to elaborate more. It is a bit like investigating (without interrogating) to understand the complete picture of what you are being told.

How does active listening relate to kids?

blue text inside a white rectangle saying "Step 1: adults use active listening to make the child feel heard and understood."

Let’s imagine a kid was told to go to their room and do their homework. Several minutes later you check on them only to find that they are sitting on the floor playing with toys or watching videos on the internet. Your first instinct might be to yell and accuse them of not doing their work.

Instead your approach could be to ask them if the work is done. The kid replies, “No.” Ask them to tell you why. Maybe the kids says that the assignment is difficult. Encourage them to tell you about the class and the teacher. For example, “I’d like to know more. Tell me about class today. What did the teacher say?”

The responses you could receive from this point on will vary wildly between kids and situations. Maybe the other kids in class were disruptive and your kid didn’t hear enough of the lesson to understand it. Or the kids did understand the lesson but the assignment is loaded into an online learning platform and your kid doesn’t know where to find it. Or the instructions don’t make sense.

While the kid is explaining and telling their story show them that you care. Listen, stay calm, and ask questions to get more context and clarity. Demonstrate that you are committed to understanding the situation and that you have no interest in shaming or blaming the kid.

This scenario examined active listening to get to the root of a problem. But you an also use active listening to understand more about the kid and why the choose and avoid certain ways of doing their homework or chores.

Teach kids to identify strengths, weaknesses, and preferences

Everyone has their preferred way to perform a task. Let’s use putting away clean laundry as an example.

I like to fold all my pants and place them on shelves and in drawers. I hang my shirts so that they are easy to see.

One of my kids prefers to have all of his shirts folded and on shelves. He sees them better this way.

Is either way better? No. The ultimate goal of laundry being put away is achieved. How you arrive there should not matter.

The same basic premise can be applied to doing homework. If a student has strong math skills but needs background noice to help focus their mind then let them listen to music or TV. Maybe a student likes a perfectly quiet room with minimal distractions if they have to read a lot of content and try to understand it. These are kids who are already have self-awareness about their learning style and personal preferences.

For those kids who are younger or just haven’t become self-aware about how to create routines for themselves it is the responsibility of the adults to help them.

The adults need to use observation and active listening to understand strengths, weaknesses, and preferences of the kid. 

Practical examples of helping kids become self-aware

For example let’s think of a student who constantly asks their teachers and parents/caregivers many questions.

Strengths:  confidence to ask questions of adults, natural curiosity, seeks answers and understanding

Weaknesses:  may not always have the best timing of when to ask questions (e.g., in the middle of a lesson, interrupting a conversation), want to be given the answers instead of researching on their own

Preferences:  like to know as much information as possible, feels satisfied to have answers

The adults in this kid’s life can use these insights to positively reflect this information back to the kid. “Wow! You have great questions. Your desire to know more is a great skill to have”

And if the timing is not right then one can say, “I like what you are asking. We are driving to baseball right now and I can’t answer all of that. Can we talk about this some more when we get home after practice?”

And to empower the kid to use this information to their advantage in the future you could say, “You know how to ask very good questions. If you do that at school (and work when you are older) you will help yourself become an expert in the things that are important to you.”

You need to take the kid’s rudimentary preferences and show them how to turn preferences into long-term strategies for success. 

Give kids examples when and how to advocate for themselves

blue text inside a white rectangle saying "Step 2: teach kids how to advocate for what they need"

So we just finished talking about how to teach the kid to recognize all the parts of their personality and how they like to accomplish things in life. This was all in the context of being around a supporting, understanding, and encouraging adult who knows them well. So we need to imagine and prepare for situations when our kids will interact with adults and we will not be present.

You can prep the teachers by giving them the highlights of how best to interact with your kid and provide assignments and lesson materials. The key is focusing on the goal of having a student who is engaged, participating, and learning. I like to provide enough information to the teacher and then let them implement it in their magical ways. I am not a teacher and I am not equipped for it either. I will trust their knowledge and training in classroom management and teaching content. I just feel compelled to share ways that they can make my child an eager participant in the process.

Since we cannot be with our child every moment of they day we need to teach them to SELF-ADVOCATE.

Since we have already built a foundation of recognizing the child’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences we springboard off of this to giving them words and phrases to describe themselves and what they need.

One child might tell a teacher, “I understand the math lesson but this worksheet looks confusing. Can you give me sticky notes to cover up problems so I can only look at one at a time?”

This allows the child to identify that they do indeed understand the math concepts (they might even LIKE math) but that the format of the assignment was misaligned with their abilities and/or preferences.

This moves a child from only saying, 

“I don’t want to do that.”

to “That looks hard for me. Can I do it in a different way?”

Give the child meaningful and useful vocabulary that they can use not only to feel good but to advocate for themselves as they grow.

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Related posts: Sharpening Observation Skills, Understanding the Mental Load on the Student, Focus on the Learning Process, not the Grade

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