10 Tips for Confidence in ME


The school year is about one month along.  By now some students have found their pace and are back in the swing of things; others are still struggling and will always struggle.  For the child for whom learning is always a struggle, how can we help her gain confidence and learn to be self-assured?  And why is this so important to learning?

There is something called “learned helplessness.”  A person who struggles to do many things can come to believe it will be a struggle to do everything and there will only be failure.  Then that person refuses to try anything new or try different ways to do what they struggle with now.  This is learned helplessness.  It can be unlearned, too.  Here’s your checklist for learning confidence and becoming self-assured.

1.  Give your child experiences that will be successful, guaranteed.

2.  Point out to everyone, especially the child, that this is success.  How clever, how strong, how pretty…whatever it is, say it aloud so the success is shared as broadly as possible.  (One mom created a nightly “success report” via phone to Grandma.)

3.  Once the child has some success under his belt, give a small challenge and make sure he has all the tools or skills he needs to meet the challenge successfully.  DO NOT DO IT FOR HIM.  When he falters, say, “You just did XXX so well, and this is only a teensy bit more.  I KNOW you can do it.  There, see, you almost did it.  One more time, and……..YOU DID IT!”

4.  Create charts for success.  Like the daily chore charts and homework charts, chart these trials and accomplishments.  The child who is entrenched in learned helplessness seems not to perceive that he is about to succeed, and if he succeeds, he may be unable to give himself credit for his success.  The self-talk goes like this.  “I’m not really that good, that was just luck.”  “I’m not that smart.  Anybody could have done that if I could do it.”  “Sure I did it.  I had help.  I can’t do it by myself.”

Charts that give a visible, tangile evidence of success and show growth help this child perceive that yes, his ability to succeed IS growing.

5.  Find someone else who needs to learn something this child can do and teach or help another child to learn.  This emphasizes an area where your child is competent and has the added benefit of friendship.

6.  Make comments during the day about successes of yesterday.  “Yesterday you were on fire!  You wrote that note like a pro!” “Jack may throw a mean curveball, but you catch mean!”

7.  Help your child find activities (at least one) that is successful for him.  If he can excel or do at least average in only one activity, this helps make him immune to the feelings of helplessness when he can’t learn at school.  He now has his personal proof that yes, he CAN do something well, and with that success, failure in another area is not as big a deal.  These areas of success are called “islands of competence.”  Help your child collect these islands.

8.  When your child knows he can be successful, you can start working on how to use failure for good things.  Edison failed more than 10,000 times at finding a material that worked in the electric light bulb.  He said it this way.  “I didn’t fail.  I found 10,000 ways that don’t work!”  Every failure has its lesson–or more than one lesson.  Sit with your child or walk with your child and talk it over.  What is the lesson?  How can he build on it for success?  Being able to look at failure this way is a mark of maturity and many adults have never learned to do it.  Starting as a child makes it much easier to learn.

9.  Have your child start a piggy bank where deposits are made only for failure.  The point of doing this is that failure is a part of life and it is how we build experience.  Losing isn’t failure if you learn from it.  It becomes an experience that brought another piece of strength for the next effort.  Money in the bank.  Forgetting the homework wasn’t life-threatening if you figured out how to get it to the teacher after this.  Money in the bank.  Eventually your child will have enough money for a hamburger or a sundae or something she’d like to have, and when that reward is bought, remember and celebrate the lessons that converted failure into success.

10.  Instructions:  You or your child can do the writing.  Your child must do the thinking, but you can prompt & remind if necessary.

Day 1:  Write down 3 things he can do.

Day 2:  Write down 3 things he can do with one hand.

Day 3:  Write down 3 things he can do with one foot.  (it could be “wear a sock”)

Day 4:  Write down 3 things he can do with his left index finger.

Day 5:  Ask him what 3 things he’d like to write down about something he can do with (a spoon, a pencil, a superhero toy)

Day 6:  Ask him about 3 times he’s helped someone do something.

Day 7: Ask him about 3 things he does to help around the home.

Day 8:  Ask him to wear (or carry in a pocket or purse) a certificate you make for him that says “SUPERDUDE (Superdudette for girls)!”

Our children experience success every day but it’s often so mundane and unnoticed that it is taken for granted and passed over.  These exercises help point out how much our children actually are learning and doing successfully.  Go ahead–surprise your child–and yourself!

With all this success around, your child will learn to say, “I can do it.  I have confidence in ME.”

Keeping Up

Sometimes we get exasperated with our students and our children because they don’t innately understand organization and time. There are brain differences, both in structure and in neurochemistry, that contribute to these deficits. These are part of our executive skills, our ability to understand and determine our priorities and to set out plans of action for achieving these goals–and the ability to marshall the motivation to complete the plan so we achieve what we set out to do. Time and organization are two nebulous concepts for those who face executive skill challenges.

Children who don’t know how to achieve within time frames need help. Just plopping an organizer on the desk is not enough help. What are they supposed to put in it? How are they or we to know that what they put in it is accurate? How is this child going to follow what is in the organizer? I can tell you that even though I am an adult (WAAAAAY past youth), I still forget to check the organizer for meetings, events, notes, etc. It is NOT an automatic given that possession of an organizer means one is organized and efficient in time management. That is a learned skill for most of us, and if we have an IEP for academic learning, we need to remember that the conditions requiring an IEP mean we should deal with other learning in much the same way.

So, how to teach time management? A minute at a time. (And there are 60 of those in an hour, so don’t resent the required repetition here). Go over the organizer with the student. Explain why we use them. Explain that it’s not a weakness to need one–it’s the fact that all our lives we are busy and when we become the child’s age and older, there are too many details to expect to remember everything without prompts or reminders. All people with significant jobs use organizers/planners. The presidents and rulers of the world use them. It’s only democratic that we can, too.

Don’t let the student grind on and on about “weakness” or “nerdy-ness” on this point. It’s a life skill to know what must be done and when. Period. End of discussion. “Here’s how you can make this most useful for yourself.” Or, “Let’s look at this and see how it will help you do everything you want to do without missing anything.”

How many times will prompts and reminders to check the organizer be required? As many as it takes. I always tied this activity with something else my children would NEVER forget to do–like eating. Come home from school, grab the snack, go over the organizer quickly and put it back in the backpack for use when doing homework later. Just that small peek is significantly important toward developing the habit of using an organizer.

IEP/504 it if that’s required. Get school staff to actively support your child’s efforts to learn to use an organizer effectively. Some schools issue their own organizers to their students; others act like its an intrusion to ask someone to verify that your child actually got the assignment written down somewhere, never mind if it’s accurately copied. Support at school and home gives your child consistency and stability.

Organization–everybody has a different idea of what that is. Here’s mine: We understand our world in chunks–a set of activities that pertain to preparing a meal, activities for homework, activities for cleaning a room, etc. Organization is going through our days knowing what we will be doing and being prepared with materials and time to do everything efficiently and as needed. Newbies need help to do this–and not just an organizer. Some people need to have life explained. Chunk–get out of bed, bathe, comb hair, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, grab bookbag, go out the door–this is getting ready for school. Chunk–preparing lunch the night before and putting it in the right places until it goes into bookbag. Chunk–homework, including getting all papers and books back into bookbag. Wise parents will talk about these chunks and make them visual with charts for those learning the chunks. Older students need that talk about how much time each chunk really takes–and how to put that time into the organizer for good time management.

Children with learning deficits often feel overwhelmed by the demands of homework, after school activities, family activities. Watch your child, talk with your child. Setting up the child’s organizer is a good time to talk about how to be only busy enough that one is tired in the evening–not exhausted–and how to plan in some time for just being a kid who has time to watch a bug climb a blade of grass, chase a butterfly, or try to cook an egg on a hot sidewalk. The time-stressed child learns less effectively than the one who is relaxed. There is time enough in life to be a busy person, but there are only a few precious years when acting like a child will be tolerated. We must allow at least some of that time to be used that way rather than generating complicated schedules where no minute is free for anything except going from one planned activity to another. In this conversation about use of time, listen to the child. Like us, he can only live each minute once–let it be good! Then when it’s time for school work, he’s refreshed and able to focus better.