Monday, March 19, 2012

Focus on Success

If you are regular to this blog you know how strongly I feel about setting children up for success. I thought I'd take this opportunity to expand a little more on this concept.

Success builds experience and confidence. The neural pathways constructed following successful attempts are strong bridges to the new pathways. My feelings about success do not mean that I make things simple or easy for a child. Challenge and struggle are powerful players in building skills, but I don't want to put up road blocks to positive outcomes. Children who are frustrated on a regular basis begin to believe that they "can't do it" - even before they try. So challenges need to be appropriate hurdles they can get over without becoming bogged down in frustration.

Problem solving is a key component to success. For young children problem solving can be easily infused into all types of activities - play, drama, games, reading, stories, school work, sports, etc. This skill is developed over time and with plenty of practice. As children begin school, problem solving techniques play a major role in gaining new skills. Working through a challenge, getting over hurdles, thinking outside the box, and finding successful solutions is a lifelong skill. Providing opportunities to practice and expand skills are essential. Make problem solving opportunities part of your success plan.

Seeing success in a new light. The seven year old I currently care for loves to play games or make up new games. This is his time to have me all to himself while is siblings are doing their homework after school. He's a very creative guy and has made up some very interesting and workable games. Initially his need to be the winner colored the fun of playing. So we had an honest conversation about what makes game play fun for everyone. Most of the conversation was me asking him open-ended questions getting him to think more broadly. Without any prompting he concluded that to have a good time the focus couldn't always be on winning. He was able to work through a challenge, offer other solutions and come up with a plan that works with very little input from me. Since then we've had many enjoyable afternoons - sometimes I win, sometimes he wins, but the most important thing is we're enjoying the time together. He still wants to win, but it doesn't overwhelm him. He feels successful and it empowers him.

Trying new things can be hard for some children. They can have a variety of concerns or questions when faced with a new situation. These are valid and should be addressed. It's important to understand what they are thinking. You may find that they have expectations that are not accurate and can be easily corrected. After an activity or experience it is a great idea to have a debriefing. This evaluation time again gives you clues about their thought processes and can show you ways to help them if needed. Be aware that not every activity is a good fit for every child, so don't force situations that become one of those frustrations for them down the road.

In my previous nanny position of 20+ years each child approached new experiences differently. The oldest was always cautious and thoughtful. It wasn't that she didn't want to participate but I soon realized she needed information on what to expect. For her, talking about the activity afterward really helped and made it easier as we tried another new thing. The middle child was very adventurous about some things and more tentative about others. He would ask questions when we was feeling uncertain so we could deal with them immediately. My follow up with him was more of a check in session. The youngest was ready to try anything and jump right in. She immediately let me know what she thought about the activity. She enjoyed dabbling in a variety of things. She continued with things she loved and felt good about and discontinued activities that weren't for her.

Commitment to a group or activity can sometimes be a point of contention between adults and children. In our case, their parents and I agreed that if they joined a group or activity they were committing to a length of a session, school year, season or other agreed upon time frame. After that time was up, we were open to discussion about discontinuing the activity. If an unusual situation came up then we'd re-evaluate at the time. Their parents wanted to establish the importance of follow through and that making a commitment to others was important. So some activities were for a short season and others continued through until they moved onto college, but all were part of their portfolio of success.

What ways are you focusing on success with children? We'd love to have your comments!

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