Once children reach an age where serious study begins, pressure increases and lines of academic differentiation begin to appear in their group of friends. Some children can feel stressed, sensing that they are under scrutiny and are expected to perform well as measured against their peers. Here are some tips to help with these situations.
1. Aim for wins.
If helping with schoolwork or practising questions of some kind, make sure that you don’t overburden the child. Give them easier questions to begin with so that they gain in confidence and associate the procedure with winning rather than losing. Don’t be afraid to stay in the ‘easy’ zone for much longer than you think is needed -keep in mind that every question a child gets right is another parcel of ‘fuel’ into their confidence engine. At some point, the child will reach for harder questions or not be backed off by them. Watch carefully so that the child is still smiling and happy to try to give you answers. And ensure that you end off on a ‘win’.
2. Tackle one thing at a time.
School subjects can be complex both in their nature and the way in which they are presented to a child. Studying ‘nature’, for example, can involve all kinds of mathematical and physical ideas all coming at the child at once. If you want to help, break things down so that the child can grasp one aspect of the subject at a time. You’ll know when this is -the child will be smiling and able to confidently talk about it and answer simple questions about it. Then move on to another aspect, taking the same approach until the child expresses confidence with that too. Pretty soon the child will be able to put it all together and will manage the complexity.
3. Keep it real.
Sometimes an abstract concept can present difficulties to a child, Take the idea of ‘velocity’ for instance -a young child might struggle to grasp the idea and this might be getting in the way of other ideas. Instead of using textbook examples or just ‘talking at’ the child, come up with real life occurrences which help to explain what you’re describing. Instead of explaining what happens with ‘a car’, for example, use the family car; instead of an abstract journey to try to outline what velocity is, use a real, recent journey that is still clear in the child’s mind. This helps to ‘anchor’ what is being learned in the mind of the student and keeps concepts alive.
4. Watch the basics.
It’s easy to confuse an unwillingness to study with other factors like a lack of sleep or a need to eat more. Try to avoid situations where a child is being taught over the top of tiredness or hunger. Things will get tangled very fast and the child will begin to protest irrationally. He or she may well know completely whatever it is you are trying to teach, but is unable to explain it to you because they simply haven’t had enough sleep. Children require much more sleep than our modern culture seems to suggest, and diet is always important. Keep these basics in so that you can be a better judge of what your child really does and doesn’t know. Then you’ll be able to better determine where help is needed.
5. Point to the positive.
If a child needs more motivation to study, it’s not a good idea to use threats or duress to try to ‘make’ them do it. The child is already struggling -adding more compulsion into the issue will only make matters worse. The far more successful approach is to keep things positive and point to incentives, freedoms and gains. Stay cheerful yourself and that will get you a long way; give as much range and choice as feasible and the child will have space to brighten up; indicate where the child has made progress and you will boost confidence and prevent the child from connecting a current failure with a dozen failures of the past. Offer prizes for tasks done -the prizes don’t have to be large at all, especially with younger children, and a prize for getting something right is infinitely preferable to a penalty for getting it wrong.
Children need support when learning gets tougher, not the impression that they are failing or falling behind. They want to succeed, and in applying the above tips you can help them to do so.