What are the most powerful things parents can do to help their young children begin school on a positive note, and enjoy a lifetime of successful learning? Teach them some basic life skills! Charles Fay explains.
Those who thrive
During the first week of school, how can kindergarten teachers spot the children who will thrive in their classrooms? What characteristics also allow these kids to enjoy success throughout the elementary, middle and high school grades? Thousands of teachers throughout this wonderful country tell me the same thing: Students who excel begin school knowing how to:
- Sit still for at least 30 minutes at a time
- Avoid interrupting others’ conversations
- Use polite words such as “please” and “thank you”
- Take turns, “share,” in conversations, games, and other activities
- Show that they are paying attention by looking at adults when adults are giving instructions
- Follow simple directions such as “stop,” “start,” “wait,” “line up,” etc.
Sadly, not all kids have these skills. Even sadder is the frustration, sadness, and embarrassment many feel as a result. Over and over again, we hear the same story from very caring, concerned teachers:
I’m so worried for these little ones. I can’t believe what I’ve been seeing over the past few years! We actually had to suspend one of my kindergarten students yesterday! It’s so sad. More and more of the young kids we’re seeing lack the basic skills for success in school. They don’t know how to stand in line, sit, listen, take turns, and follow simple directions. It’s not just the kids from broken homes and poverty. We’re seeing more kids with these problems from highly educated, wealthy homes. And, I can’t believe how disrespectful some of these little ones are. More and more act like defiant teenagers. When I ask them to do something for me, they put their hands on their hips and say, “No!” Some of them are even using words that would make a sailor blush! What worries me is how hard life is going to be for them.
Kindergarten teachers aren’t just concerned with behavior problems. They’re also seeing more youngsters who lack basic academic readiness skills — skills that serve as the building blocks for reading, writing, arithmetic and reasoning. Kids with an advantage immediately stand out. How? Because it’s clear that someone in their lives.
- Spends a lot of time reading to them
- Talks with them constantly and enthusiastically about everyday activities, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, driving, work, etc.
- Has them playing with blocks, sand, clay, balls, crayons, paper and scissors, dolls, toy cars without batteries, and other toys that require creativity and visual-motor coordination
- Takes them to libraries and museums
- Does the above instead of allowing them to sit in front of the television or some other electronic device
Each of these activities grows the brain. That’s right! Each of these simple and fun activities creates new neurological pathway — or “brain connections” — that give young children a powerful and lifelong advantage.
In this series of articles, we’ll share plenty of practical techniques for helping young children develop skills that help them stand out as winners. A great side effect of these skills is that they make parenting fun and rewarding instead of stressful and chaotic!
Let’s start with the very most important thing we can do for our kids: establish ourselves as loving authority figures in their eyes. What do I mean by “loving authority figure?” Simply put, our kids see us as being someone who cares very much for them, someone who’s kind, someone who can make them do things that they really don’t want to, and someone who will hold them accountable for their poor decisions without resorting to anger. When children experience this magical combination of high expectations, accountability, and lots of kindness, they feel safe and loved.
What does this have to do with success in school? Consider the following:
Who do children see when they look at their teachers? Who do kids see when they look at police officers? Who will they see when they look at their bosses some day? For the rest of their lives, who will they see when they encounter any other authority figure? Their parents! That’s right. The answer to all of these questions is the same. For the rest of their lives, our children will never treat their teachers, bosses, or other authority figures better than they treat us.
The key is setting firm and enforceable limits and showing our kids that we can handle their misbehavior with meaningful consequence and without breaking a sweat. The easier we make our discipline look, the more our kids begin to reason:
“Wow! Even when I act the very worst I can, my parents can handle me without getting angry and frustrated. Boy, are they strong, and boy am I safe.”
A mother who came to one of our conferences gave her three-year-old a great gift. For weeks, this sweet little child was driving her nuts every time they went grocery shopping. She’d behave pretty well until they had to wait in the checkout line. Then the whining and screaming fits would begin. Soon, all of the other shoppers were looking her way. Soon, Mom felt like digging a hole right in the supermarket floor, crawling inside, and hiding.
How likely is it that this child will someday have problems at school if she doesn’t learn how to be patient and wait in line at the grocery store with her mother? What’s going to happen if she decides it’s fashionable to whine at school and disobey her kindergarten teacher? How is she going to feel about herself? Will she grow up to consider herself a winner? Or will she feel pretty down about herself much of the time?
Luckily, her mother was learning a few simple yet powerful skills for teaching her little girl to listen the first time. With a twinkle in her eye, she told me how she experimented with Love and Logic:
I took the Love and Logic parenting course offered by my school, and I planned for days before I decided to actually do it. There we were, standing in a long line at the store. As usual, Rachel decided to strike at that very moment by whining, running away from me, and irritating everybody around. This time, I looked down at her and said, “Uh oh! This is so sad. All of this whining is really draining my energy.” Then I kept my mouth shut until later. As we drove by the ice cream shop on our way home, I looked at her in the rearview mirror and said, “This is so sad. I was thinking about stopping for ice cream, but all of my energy got used up listening to your whining at the store. When you can behave, I’ll probably have more energy to take you to Dairy Cow.” For the rest of the week, I kept saying, “Oh. This is sad, I don’t have enough energy” every time she wanted me to do something special for her. It broke my heart to see her so upset, but now she’s starting to understand that when I ask her to behave I really mean it.
Did Rachel thank her mother for her wise and wonderful parenting plan? Did Mom hear something like, “Mommy, I love your new skills,” from the back seat of the car that day? No way! “I WANT IT! I WANT IT! ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM!” was more like it. Thankfully, the long-term results of Mom’s bravery shone through the next time they stood in the checkout line:
The next time we went to the store, Rachel started to go into meltdown mode again. I leaned over, got about an inch away from her ear, and whispered, “Uh oh. You’re starting to drain my energy again.” It was amazing how fast she got herself back under control. And it was great! Later that day, I had a blast with her eating lots of ice cream and giggling at Dairy Cow!
If Mom keeps up the good work, Rachel is going to dazzle some lucky kindergarten teacher in three years. Rachel will stand out, because she will know that it’s important to listen the first time. Rachel will stand out, because she will already have a voice in her head that reminds her, “Make good choices, because bad ones make things really sad.” Rachel will stand out, because her parents gave her the gift of self-discipline and self-esteem.