I have worked in Early Childhood Education for over10 years, but now that I find my self in a high school, it is occurring to me why those early years are so important. I really am getting a lesson in perspective. One thing that I have discovered is that high school students don't have a lot of practice with decision making or problem solving. They will dutifully follow instructions, but when they encounter a problem, they look to the adult to fix it or to tell them what to do next. Being able to make good choices with out an adult to instruct you is important for any job the child may have in the future, but many aren't being taught these skills.
What can we do?
As parents and educators we can help a child help themselves by fostering self determined behavior.
Self determined behavior is when a person makes choices based on their own motivation and not based on the influence of others.
Young babies and toddlers begin life in a very self determined way. They learn to crawl, not because mommy and daddy are clapping and telling them "good job" over and over. They learn to crawl because they want to. They want to learn to roll over, walk, grasp and scoot. But as a child grows they learn that certain behavior gets praise and attention, and certain behavior doesn't. Soon their self determination is replaced with external motivation.
Whether you have a toddler, preschooler, school-ager or teenager, there are things you can do to help your child learn these skills.
- Give your toddler the opportunity to explore a safe environment with out commentary.
- Hold off on giving too much praise. Don't say, "Oh, you found a flower. Isn't it pretty? You are such a sweet boy!" Instead say, "You found a flower." Allow their pride to be their own.
- Take a step back and let your child solve smaller problems on their own. Don't rush in to make it right.
- Verbalize your own small problems and let your child see how you work to solve it.
- Allow your child to fail. I know it's hard but the more ways they learn that don't work, the closer they will get to learning what does work.
- When making a decision, have your child guess the possible outcomes of their choices. "What do you think will happen if..."
- Give your child jobs and responsibilities. This will give them a sense of pride at contributing to the household and will teach them what they are good at and what they need practice at.
- Have your child write a list of their strengths. We can't all be good at everything, but when a task is hard, it helps to know that their are somethings that we are very good at.
- Allow your child to choose their own clothing. I know this is a toughie! Your child doesn't have to look like a model out of the Gap Kids advertisement. Remember choices= dignity.
Preteens and Teenagers
- Have your child write out 5 strengths. Reinforce those strengths by giving them opportunities to demonstrate them, not by praise.
- Teach your child how to make a PRO/CON list when making a big decision.
- Try to predict cause and effect. If I do this...this may happen. Teach your child to own the results of their decisions.
- Teach your child to prioritize. Make a list of school activities, personal responsibilities and social activities and list from "Most Important" to "Least Important"
- Have your child set a goal for the week or a goal for the day. Talk about these goals at the end of the day in a non judgmental way.
- Allow your child to accept responsibility for their actions and identify ways to remedy the situation.