Tears well in my eyes as I see the tears in my student's eyes. She sits across from me staring at the book that I had set in front of her. She repeats the phrase in case I didn't catch it. "I'm stupid! I can't read this book!". Tears roll down her cheeks, and in embarrassment and defeat she buries her face in her arms. Where are we going to go from here? I ask myself.
You may be reading this reflecting on a time when your own child or student has had this conversation with you. Some children become violent when tearing themselves down. They will hit themselves or other objects - frustrated with what they cannot put in to words and repeat that little word over and over again. stupid. stupid. stupid. stupid.
If you're anything like me, it pains you greatly when you hear a child say this word- especially when referring to themselves. In my ideal world the word stupid would be considered a curse word and not told to young children. I really really dislike that word!
So what are we to do when children start using this word to refer to themselves? When they lose hope in their abilities and start to see the world in black and white, stupid and smart?
Focus on growth
Is is an unfortunate truth that the traditional school culture focuses on the end result (grade) and not the growth that took place in your child. When our children are expected to fit in boxes, they are more likely to put themselves in a box, and sometimes that box is the "stupid box".
The good news is that you can focus on growth with your child and change their mindset from a grade focused or result focused mindset in to a growth focused mindset. Once this shift occurs, your child will focus more on what they can do that they couldn't do yesterday instead of what they can't do today.
When helping your child shift to a growth mindset make sure to focus on effort and improvement. Praise your child when you can see that they are working hard on something, even if they aren't getting a desirable result yet. Talk to your child about how we have to practice things to improve, and that it takes everyone a different amount of practice to achieve the same result. Instead of celebrating grades, celebrate improvement whenever you see it.
For more information about growth mindset, I highly recommend Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.
While you work with your child to make school their jam, get them in to something that truly is their jam right now. If your child is interested in something, find a way to get them plugged in to their interest and to others who have the same interest.
Sports programs are great places for students who are struggling in school. Physical activity is good for the brain, and sports can teach valuable lessons that kids don't always get in the classroom.
Scouting is another great way to get your child involved outside of school while teaching them wonderful life lessons. Psst - did you know I was a Girl Scout from K-12th grade? Yes, there are embarrassing pictures, and yes I will probably share them with my email subscribers.
The possibilities are endless here! Bottom line, doing something outside of school can help curb the feeling that your child is having about their performance. Giving your child an opportunity to shine outside of academics can be a game changer.
Change the language
You and your child might need to take some time to replace some words in your vocabulary. As an educator, I try to do this often. Sometimes we don't realize that the language we are using might be damaging to kids. I'm not telling you to get all cutesy with what you call things- I also believe in being a realist. Here are some examples of phrases I have shifted in my own vocabulary and try to help my students change their mindset about grades.
I can't - I am really struggling with this. Can you help me?
Fail - first attempt in learning
This is too hard. - This is very challenging and it is overwhelming me. Can you help me break it down?
I'm not good at this. - I'm not good at this...yet.
When we make these changes when relating to our students and children, we increase the likelihood of them encountering a difficult problem and saying "I'm not stupid, I can do this" and then attacking it with all they have as we sit in front of them with proud tears in our eyes. Let's work together to create a world where children sit in front of a challenge and repeat that little word over and over again. smart.smart.smart.smart.