As an educator I often am asked questions about how to help kids. Occasionally I will write about my experiences in this space. Thank you for reading!
The sweet seven year old girl walked up to my desk and melted into sobs. Taken a bit by surprise I put my arm around her and leaned in to hear her struggling words. She had thrown her math page on my desk and said haltingly,
“I can’t do it. It is so hard”.
My heart let out a sigh. She had literally been in my class for a week. Five short days. We were doing the basics of second grade math, review from the year before and her own little heart was so torn up she couldn’t write one single number.
Somewhere, somehow, she had learned and believed that she could not succeed in this area.
Someone or some event and destroyed her ability to see that she could work hard and accomplish a goal and more importantly that it is wrong to have something hard in life to master.
Years have passed since that little girl stood at my desk, but honestly, as an educator, I have kids like this EVERY SINGLE YEAR.
What is it that ingrains in kids, such as desire to succeed and such a hesitation to work hard to figure something out?
I have learned that it boils down to confidence.
As the adults, in our little people’s lives, we have the privilege, honor, and complete ability to breathe life into their hearts. To keep hope going and encourage them to press forward. Even when the going is tough.
I am not one who believes kids shouldn’t struggle. In fact, I welcome this for them, because it is in these areas that we grow and become stronger. But I am a firm believer that without a doubt kids need to know someone believes in them and trusts that they can become better at something.
The following three areas are all ways that kids will respond positively in situations that are challenging for them and in the process build and shape their confidence.
FIND THE STRUGGLE AND VALIDATE IT
No one enjoys lack of validation. Goodness knows that kids get enough of adults not listening to them. We can get wrapped up in our work, our hobbies, or our own busyness. I am as guilty of this as anyone.
But this isn’t meant to lay a guilt trip, rather it is meant to remind us that little people have a lot to say and insight into the world around them.
Take a minute and literally bend your body down to the level of a child in your life. Try walking around like this for a good five minutes.
Your perspective changes, doesn’t it?
Now think about something that kiddo is struggling with.
Maybe they have a hot temper–but it looks like everyone is literally talking over them.
Maybe they can’t reach something–but it is because there are not tools to help them.
Maybe they struggle with reading words and they just need an eye check, or to do phonics a different way.
Maybe math is hard–they might need to visually see it laid out.
Is there something from their level you are at that helps you realize, in part, why they struggle?
For some kids it might be something in their past.
Broken relationship, mean words, or worse, tragic circumstances. Talk with them and let them know you understand it is hard.
Let them know you realize it is a struggle. Share with them something you have struggled to overcome before. Give them validation that what they are saying is indeed truthful and heard.
FIND ONE POSITIVE AND CONSISTENTLY POUR INTO THIS
As adults, aren’t we more willing to listen to someone who has gone through something that we personally are struggling with? They give us encouragement and insight.
Children are the same way. They will connect and that connection opens the door for love to be poured into their hearts. Once you have validated with children that you believe they are saying, they are ready to listen.
As the trust builds, find one area of the struggle and focus on giving praise for this.
The little girl that stood at my desk picked up her pencil and one laborious problem after another began to be solved. She found success is some of the simpler ones and before we knew it the paper was over and a smile spread across her face.
However, the key to success with kids is consistency in feedback. This can be where we as adults fail. We help them work through a temporary challenge and forget that the next time it will be easier, but it will still be a challenge.
The next time that child picked up her pencil to do math, I was consciously aware that she was doing it and I made a point to praise her efforts. I continued to do this every time until I was convinced she didn’t need it anymore.
Think about the way we learn to walk. Someone in our lives stood at one end of the room and encouraged us to keep coming. They continually praised our efforts day after day, step after step. Slowly we gained confidence and went from walking to running.
None of us have other adults standing across the room encouraging us to “keep walking”. Someone in our lives decided we had it down and had the confidence to continue.
This is what kids need, the constant praise of an adult who is cheering for them-until is becomes natural.
Find one area of the struggle and choose to focus on that. It will encourage them to move forward and build their belief in their abilities.
BUILD ON THE STRUGGLE FOR THE FUTURE AND REFER BACK TO IT
As children progress in their struggles, referring back to the challenges they have faced and overcome are dynamic ways to build confidence. Seeing what they have been able to do in the past and finding joy and satisfaction in that gives them positive outlook for the future.
Sometimes I will make a list with kids of what they have been able to accomplish in the past. Or I might make it into a game saying “I learned to ____________. I am working on learning to _______________”.
This gives them ownership and belief that they can succeed at a challenge.
While we want to be forward facing, turning around and looking provides strength for kids in being able to see what it is they have mastered.
We all have areas we have struggled with and been able to succeed in. Sometimes we just forget to look at the big picture and remember where we have come from.
Little people need to be taught how to do this.
That little girl crying at my desk– just two years before couldn’t write her name.
Today, let’s just say, she can complete a math page with absolute confidence!!