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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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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?”
perked up immediately. “What prize?”
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.”
attitude about the bee changed immediately. “What if I spell two words?” she
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
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.
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.
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:
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’.”
if you go around complaining about everything being “hard,” you can’t blame
your kid for doing the same.
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?”
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.)
line: No teacher or boss ever wants to hear the words “Do I have to…?” Better
you want me to…?
it okay to…?
guess the thing “hard” and “have to” have in common is that they often appear
in whiny sentences and nobody likes a whiner.
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.
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,
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