Author - Nina Cordoba
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9/1/2020 9:17:35 PM

READ THIS SECOND: Getting the Most from Your Child

Before you read the following post, I feel a disclaimer is in order.

 I give examples from my own life that may sound as if I was a super confident parent who went around thinking I was doing a great job all the time.

 Let me clarify: The things I’m discussing in these educational posts—creating a kid who wants to learn, teaching reading, and how I used my psychological hypotheses to get good academic results—are the only things I was confident about as a mom.

 All the moment-by-moment decisions drove me crazy. “Should I let her have the piece of candy? Has she been eating too much candy? Will I give her an eating disorder if I’m too strict with the candy?” (Yeah, I’m an overthinker, just like the heroines in my fiction novels.) And when my daughter was young, she was extremely strong-willed and was so hard for me to deal with, I couldn’t get the behavioral results I wanted regardless of how many books or articles I read. I just had to wait for her to grow out of some things. Now, nobody believes me because she’s so easy to get along with. Even Mr. Nina, her stepdad, says I must be talking about some other kid because HIS stepdaughter is super chill.

 So, when I sound like a know-it-all, just be aware that my knowledge and confidence were mostly limited to education.

 Making the Most of What Your Kid’s Got:

 Let’s be real, first off. Looking at any child or adult and telling them they can be anything they want to be is a lie. We all have limitations. I’m 5’3” and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have been a pro basketball player no matter how hard I tried. I also couldn’t have been a model (too short for starters), an astronaut (motion sickness), or a tightrope walker (very questionable balance).

 As a parent, it’s not your job to create a Nobel Prize winner or a billionaire mogul. It’s your job to try to set your child up so that she isn’t blocked from what she wants to be by preventable factors. Ideally, the skills and confidence she learns now will set her up for the widest range of possibilities that she’s genetically capable of. And, honestly, even if you just have a positive attitude about learning and only do a passable job as a homeschool teacher for a year, it’s not going to keep your little Einstein from reaching his potential.

 Attitude and Modeling:

 For a parent concerned about her child’s future success, attitude and modeling are, like, 75% of the battle. (Yes, I made that statistic up, but, based on the many families I’ve known and watched--Too creepy?—over decades, I believe it.)

 This is where brainwashing comes in.

 The word “brainwashing” typically has negative connotations, but, the truth is, we are all being brainwashed every day. From the time we are born, we depend on the people around us to clue us in about the world, and we don’t just go by what they tell us directly. Children watch, learn and mimic.

 Story Time:

My mother believed very much in nurture over nature. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was actively trying to brainwash me throughout my childhood. She was the first person to go to college in her family, and was determined that I would go too. She never said, “If you go to college.” She always said, “When you go to college.”

That one worked. In my mind, college automatically came after high school, in the same way high school automatically came after junior high.

 She was also very successful in not making me self-conscious about the thing on my left cheek she always referred to as a “beauty mark.” It wasn’t until college, when someone made reference to the “mole” on my face, that I thought, “Oh, my God! I have a mole on my face!” But my self-image was already set by then, so I didn’t go around upset about the mole—I mean “beauty mark.”

 My mom’s brainwashing wasn’t 100% effective, unfortunately. She also went around saying to people in front of me, “Yeah, she’s easygoing like her father.” I’m sure my mother could see I wasn’t easygoing, but she was hoping if she said it to me enough, she could manifest it. What happened was that I believed I was easygoing for years, while being nervous and stressed out all the time. (I seem to have inherited some bad body chemistry that runs in the family.)

 But, none of us can expect to be a perfect parent or a perfect homeschool teacher. You can only give it your best effort.


Consider what you want for your child:

 To be eager to learn? Not to give up easily on important things?

 If you want your child to be eager to learn, you’ll need to model that behavior yourself. If you’ve been complaining about learning or about what your child is learning, stop now.

 Kids are much more likely to follow your lead than do what you tell them they should do. You’ll need to adopt an attitude of wanting to learn and point it out to them. If you don’t feel you want to learn new things, start pretending and fake it ‘til you make it (or at least until your child is grown).

 Example: Child walks by while you’re on the computer and you say excitedly, “Guess what I’m learning?” or “I’m learning something really cool!” or "I just learned a new word!" It doesn’t matter how objectively the thing you’re learning is or isn’t cool. Your young child will start to get the idea that learning stuff is cool.

 What if you have a child old enough to call you on your bullshit?

Kid: “You want me to like learning, but you don’t. Remember how they changed things at work and you were mad because you had to learn to use a new computer program?”


Grimace. Everyone hates to be called out for being a hypocrite, but coming from your child, there’s that extra layer of ick because you realize you’ve set a bad example.  (We’ve all done it.)


This is when you need to look your child in the eyes and say something along the lines of: “I was wrong. It’s, sort of, human nature to resist change, especially as we get older, but if it weren’t for learning and change, you’d be carving your homework into rocks instead of just writing it down on paper.” I think a lot of parents believe admitting they were wrong will undermine their authority, but, in my experience, admitting you’re wrong adds an extra layer of trust with your child. Make no mistake, they will realize you’re only human sooner or later. If you act like you’re never wrong, your kid may lose trust in your judgement. It also means they can get things wrong without shame, which means they can try without fear.


Side note about honesty: I was always hyper aware that my little girl was going to grow up. For me, the most concerning period of time are the teenage years when kids often decide their parents are full of crap. There’s no guarantee because “Every mind is a different world,” as my grandma said. But I wanted to lay the groundwork of honesty and clarity, so when I told my teenager a particular thing was dangerous, I had a good chance of being believed.

 From the time my daughter could understand me, I was as honest as possible and explained the reasons for the decisions I made that affected her. “You can’t go over there because I said so,” doesn’t teach a child anything.

 A better explanation would be, “They’re probably nice people, but they just moved in, and I haven’t met the parents yet. My most important job is to keep you safe.” This sends the message that safety is important, and it’s good to consider your safety before you run off with random people.

 It worked on her, by the way. She was the least troublesome teenager ever. I treated my stepson the same way—I met him when he was around eight, then he moved in with us full time just before high school. He actually thanked me several times for explaining situations fully to him. He just graduated from college and still thanks me sometimes for my detailed explanations.


Story Time

One of the early signs for me that my daughter was paying attention to what I was doing was when she was between about 1 1/2 and 2 years old. I found her in my master bathroom, sitting with her back against the bathtub. She was holding one of my thick historical fiction paperbacks open, staring into it. She even moved her eyes back and forth across the pages and eventually turned the page.

 She couldn’t possibly have been reading it, but she kept up her mimicry while I brushed my hair and teeth without saying a word. I mentally high-fived myself after I left the room because I knew that I had already imprinted the idea that reading was an enjoyable way to pass time. As I've said many times, in my experience, kids who like to read, even if it’s just for pleasure, are more likely to grow up to be self-learners and have more choices in life. And they don’t have to be afraid of whether they can learn new things on the job.


Emphasize the Value of Trying:

 Most parents know they need to applaud their child’s accomplishments. But there’s something equally as important, if not more so.

 Regularly compliment your child for trying. Example: “Wow, you’ve been working so hard on that! I’m proud of how hard you try!” I even flat out explained the philosophy to my daughter when she was in middle school. “Even if you try really hard to do a certain thing,” I said. “sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes you fail. However, if you consistently work hard and try your best, you’ll be rewarded eventually. (She’s now a software developer and being rewarded well for all those years of effort.)

 Don’t you enjoy it when a boss or co-worker acknowledges your hard work? It always made me want to work harder and do better.


Bribery or Incentivization?

 People--including psychologists--have differing opinions about bribing your child to do things.

But isn’t that how the world works? Your incentive for getting a job and doing good work is a paycheck and maybe a bonus or a promotion. Unless you’re actually doing something illegal, the difference between bribery and incentivization is just semantics.

 Whatever you want to call it, in order to use this tool to its best results, you need to consider what currency (that you can afford) will get your child’s attention. Bribery is not something you want to use for every single task, but, when your child is working on something he needs to do but doesn’t want to do, try to catch him well before he is at the point of no return (when he decides he just can’t stand it another minute).


Story Time:

My daughter loved the idea of getting a prize, any prize. After we stopped homeschooling and she was in public school, she was given a “special” spelling test, which she passed with flying colors only to learn—to her horror—that her score qualified her to stand up in front of the whole school for a spelling bee.

 She was very shy and did not crave the limelight. However, her dad—who I was married to before Mr. Nina—once told me he had such stage fright that he would tell his teachers he didn’t finish assignments he actually did complete because he couldn’t make himself stand up and talk in front of people.

 I was concerned my daughter would pass up jobs she wanted in the future out of fear that public speaking was involved. So, I bribed her. I said, “Sisi, I know this is really hard for you, but I think it will be good for you if you can be brave and try. What if you got a prize?”

 She perked up immediately. “What prize?”

 I knew her currencies. “If you stand up and spell one word at the spelling bee, I’ll take you to Connie’s Frozen Custard. You don’t even have to spell it right. You just have to be brave enough to try.”

 Her attitude about the bee changed immediately. “What if I spell two words?” she asked.

 Knowing that she valued shared experiences over more stuff for herself, I said, “Okay, if you get the first one right and get up and spell one more word, we’ll take one of your friends with us to Connie’s, even if you don’t get the second one right.”

 I almost died of anxiety on the day of the spelling bee. I’d put her hair up in two very long blonde pigtails. As soon as she followed the other kids onto the stage and turned to see the audience, her face grew pink, then red. Her eyes were watery.  She looked like she was about to burst out crying at any moment. I knew the likelihood of her spelling any words into the microphone was dropping by the second.

 In the end, she managed to get up there and spell one word correctly and a second word incorrectly, securing her prize. Nowadays, she gives presentations all the time as part of her job and volunteer work.


 I just want to mention word choices that do and don’t go along with a positive learning attitude. I suggest you to think about the words you’re using and the way you’re using them, in general. Here are a couple of examples:


As much as possible, try to throw the word “hard” out of your vocabulary when you’re talking about schoolwork or your own work. With the kids I tutored and my own kids, I used the word “challenging.” If they said something was “hard,” I would ask them to use the word “challenging.” When they asked what the difference was, I said, “If you are working at a job and you tell your boss it’s ‘hard’, it sounds like you aren’t able to do your job. If you say it’s ‘challenging’, it sounds like it’s making you work harder than usual, but you can still do it. I know you can do this, so its ‘challenging’.”

 However, if you go around complaining about everything being “hard,” you can’t blame your kid for doing the same.

 Have to

I can’t count how many times I heard this word from other kids when I was in school. “Do we have to do the second page?” “Do I have to write the questions?” “Do I have to read a whole chapter?”

 My parents were teachers, plus I was always a raw nerve of empathy. Over the years, every time I heard a question like that while in class, I cringed and looked at my teacher.  I could see on my teachers' faces how annoyed they were, and I didn’t understand why my classmates kept using the words “have to” when they obviously had a negative effect on our teacher. (This was before I realized not all kids could tell what their teachers were feeling.)

 Bottom line: No teacher or boss ever wants to hear the words “Do I have to…?” Better choices:

Do you want me to…?

Should I…?

Is it okay to…?

 I guess the thing “hard” and “have to” have in common is that they often appear in whiny sentences and nobody likes a whiner.


Your Tone

My other suggestion is that you pay attention to your tone of voice, especially when you are helping your child with schoolwork. It’s easy to get frustrated with our own kids, but if you want yours to feel positive about learning, you need be aware not just of what you are saying but how you’re saying it.

 You know how annoying it is when a significant other talks down to you? Hearing the man-splaining voice doesn’t motivate me to want to cooperate with Mr. Nina, just sayin’.

 If your tone is impatient or condescending or mean—STOP IT! Give yourselves a break. Stop for the day. Whatever it takes so that your child doesn’t dread doing schoolwork and grow up to hate learning.


Other education blog posts published or currently in the works as of 9/2/2020:

-READ THIS FIRST: Educating at Home: Deciding What to Do and How to Do It

-READ THIS SECOND: Getting the Most from Your Child (This post)

-Reading: Quick Phonics Assessment

-Reading: Teaching Reading the Right Way

-Where Can I Find Learning Materials for My Preschool or Elementary School Student?

-Creating Real-life "Opportunity Learning" Moments

-Preparing Your Infant and Toddler for Success

Copyright 2020 Nina Cordoba

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