The framework for optimal academic training
Brain development is a scary, fragile process. If you, as a parent, load it up with disapproval, anger or impatience, your child's brain may well misfire or shut down. At that point, you'll have to start all over again. Academic pressure and stress will have dive-bombed any mental advancement you were hoping to gain. Negative emotions over academics can raise an impenetrable wall of resistance in your child that can seem like a concrete blockade that is never coming down. If that sets up hard, you'll be looking at weeks and months of patiently and artfully diffusing it. Habitual patience makes your job just that much easier. If your child's lower lip is quivering over academics, back off.
All intellectual growth must take place incrementally. It should never be overwhelming. (To gain a sense of what your child feels like when he is in over his head with some new concept, you can go stare at a screen of Japanese letters for a moment.) Get the task bite-sized enough—a slight stretch—and you'll make steady progress with no resistance. If there are tears, you are pushing too hard.
You'll get the fastest results if you'll surround academic endeavor with your own cheerful attentiveness. Studies have shown that when classroom teachers leave the room during an academic session where the students are concentrating hard, the students' focus goes all to ribbons. Just your presence helps the child stay on task. Internal discipline is always learned by many, many experiences of external discipline, i.e. a tutor directing the student’s mind through the task, inch by inch.
If a teacher steadily walks up and down the rows of student desks, the academics prosper profoundly. Likewise, if you as the parent will simple sit next to your child, pointing to each new thing, this will focus the child in an incredible way. Parental focus on the child and on the task is the single most effective tool in your toolbox. If when the child frequently looks up at you for encouragement, he (1) finds you there and (2) finds that his flailing, beginning efforts are met with your warm, loving eyes, you will have success.
This is why tax hikes for public education are worthless. The more money we throw at public education, the worse the test scores become. It's an inverse graph. Why? The public sector focuses on academic trinkets, and more glitzy curriculum and equipment—while retaining indifferent, preoccupied teachers, or too many students per teacher. We know from history, however, that the Pilgrims' children (with virtually no tax money allocated for schools) were taught in bare one-room schoolhouses but got twice the education out of their children as a modern child does—because the teacher was "on it", with one book. The Puritan teachers gave meticulous attentiveness to the process. If you hover over every stroke of the pen in teaching beginning handwriting, or shoe-tying, or teeth-brushing, or math flashcards, you'll embed the right way to do it in your child for a lifetime. It is all about hovering over beginnings. Don't turn your back too soon.
If you observe academic stress in your child, do one or more of the following things to remove that emotional resistance:
- Shorten the task; less is sometimes more.
- Splinter the task into even more bite-sized pieces.
- Go wide when you can't go forward; enrich and stabilize what is already known.
- Leave it alone and try it again in a few days.
- Change your teaching approach—try another angle.
- Go back to the concrete level and proceed slowly to the abstract.
- Teach it at a different time of day—right before bedtime, perhaps.
- Teach it in short spurts, with spaced repetition.
See our 12 Amazing Brain Triggers eBook for much more about these and other strategies for the easiest ways to get information into the brain of your child.
Character training--on the other hand...
Conversely, make no mistake, moral training requires you to exercise tight, firm, unflinching resolve. When a child is misbehaving, the parent must level some sort of consequence. The most effective consequence is to devise something that is seen by the child as against his own self-interest. Do not match energies with his fits. Remove yourself from the fray. Pit him against himself, not allowing him to think he is irritating you at all. Pick some consequence that costs him emotionally and you’ll turn that behavior around, prontito.
Some parents have this all backwards. They are rough on the academics, but the child is swimming in self-indulgence in his character. Teach the child self-denial, putting his own will under for the good of another, not once, but over and over throughout the day. Then if you want to make over your child with your own gushing love impulses (what parent can resist) go ahead at other moments, when you are not engaged in a toe-to-toe conflict of wills. You can endlessly initiate love activities, but make sure that you have not descended into a "respond-a-thon" with your child. If you are giving in to your child, contrary to your first commands and wishes and hunches for what is best in the situation, you are creating a future problem for yourself. Nip it in the bud now while he is young, and you can put your feet up, eat bonbons and take a snooze later. If you don't, you may be battling that immature, indulgent will all the way to your grave.