When it comes to our children’s academic performance and their future success, wouldn’t you like the keys to unlock their full potential and the powerful tools to build them a strong solid future?
Regardless of the genetic make and model, the road we travel is largely guided by our thoughts, and driven by our feelings. It is only when we understand the cyclical relationship between emotions, cognition and behavior that we become empowered to intervene.
Momentum From Experience
One of the most influential yet underestimated aspects of learning is emotion. How we feel towards something effects how we think about it, and subsequently what we do about it. On the positive end of the scale, are things which we enjoy, have confidence in and a motivation towards. At the opposite end however are those things that we dislike and have no motivation towards. Whether or not something (including school activities or particular school subjects) falls towards the positive or negative end of this scale largely depends on cognitive cycles that develop and gain momentum following our experiences. Because most experiences occur incidentally, many of those cycles are driven automatically. If we understand how to modify those experiences however, not only can we break those cycles; we can reverse them in a positive direction.
The Fear Cycle: A barrier to True Potential.
The following describes the processes by which a child’s ‘weakness’ begins, progresses, develops and spirals out of control, often into adulthood. The cyclical pattern described below is the number one reason that many students fail to reach their true potential, why many drop out of school and why many students struggle with their HSC subjects far more than they need to. The cycle can apply to anything, so “X” could be Mathematics, English, Homework, Essays, Exams, Creativity, Art, Sport, Social Interaction, Public Speaking – the list is unlimited. Cycles which start during school years often continue into adulthood, and can last a lifetime if not altered.
· The child approaches X with no confidence. (Thought: The belief they are not good at X. Emotion: Fear of the unfamiliar).
· Their lack of confidence impairs them from doing well at X. (Despite our conscious thoughts and actions, our subconscious beliefs act as an invisible yet powerful force).
· Their poor performance reinforces the belief that they are not good at X. As an emotional side effect, the fear of unfamiliarity now turns to fear of failure, and by doing so produces a ‘wound’ in the child’s self-esteem.
· Now reattempting X is like running a race with a wounded leg. The reinforced fear handicaps their efforts, and results in poor performance again. This experience further reinforces their original belief and associated fear.
· At some point, this poor performance is likely to attract some form of criticism. Even if done so with constructive intentions, the criticism of what they are already feeling vulnerable about only adds salt to the wound and reinforces the existing negative cycle more than ever.
· By this stage, the pain and fear of failure has become so great, the minds defense mechanisms kicks in. So now the conscious mind interprets X with frustration, irritation and perhaps even hatred. Either way, the child has formed a negative attitude towards X.
· This negative attitude will affect how they perceive anything to do with X. For example, even if they do better the next time they attempt X, the child is less likely to notice their progress and instead focus on their failings or other negative aspects about X. (This psychological effect is similar to the ‘placebo effect’ in reverse). By this stage the child has become especially sensitive to criticism about X, and is likely respond poorly to praise even when they do well at X.
· Now that the belief and fear is so strongly established, the negative wheels are set in motion. From this point forward the cycle continues to gain momentum and spiral out of control. If X happens to be a school subject or something which they will have to continue doing for the rest of their school life, some of the more detrimental signs that a negative cycle is in place will appear during High School. Other than a negative attitude, the student will struggle finding motivation to engage in any learning associated with X and may experience difficulty concentrating on X-related activities. Motivation and difficulty concentrating will of course impair their performance leading to poor marks, criticism and further drives the cycle with more and more momentum.
The negative cycle which may have begun back in Primary School becomes especially problematic around HSC time, even when the student tries to force themselves to learn and study, their motivation and concentration are only impaired further by the stress they now face about how their HSC marks will affect their future. Whilst it is never too late to intervene, parents must understand that the more momentum these cycles have gained, the more difficult it becomes to slow the cycle and then reverse it.
The Tell Tale Signs of Negative Cycles.
In school, when the student receives lowered marks, the effect builds the belief that they are not good at the subject. By the time the cycle is complete, the student not only dislikes the subject but any attempt they make to approach it is met with difficulty such as impaired motivation and increased distractibility.
As a parent, these negative cycles may have already developed and gained significant momentum in our children without us even realizing. One of the most fundamental steps to intervention is the ability to identify the warning signs. Early signs include:
· Your child displays a negative attitude towards the subject when asked about it. (Pay particular to your child’s eye movements and body language when you bring it up in conversation.)
· Your child displays poor motivation or shows an increased ease of distractibility when doing homework or assignments.
· You notice a gradual increase in difficulty when it comes to getting your child to do their homework.
· Your child’s school teacher(s) mention that they have noticed any of the above.
As your child grows into adolescence and adulthood, the separation of consciousness tends to widen, as the conscious mind now employs logic to support a lesser burdening belief. In other words, the person’s conscious rationalization for why they don’t like the task has adapted so that it better fits with something they can feel intelligent about.
How You Can Help.
If these negative cycles have developed because your child has essentially ‘slipped through the cracks’ at school, then the most effective means of intervention is private tuition. Private, one-on-one tuition can have a remarkable effect on a young persons attitude, and subsequent performance. Tutoring of course can be relatively useless however, depending on the approach your tutor uses. Things to look out for when deciding on a private tutor:
· In home tutoring. Learning happens best in a familiar environment, as long as that environment is a comfortable one. Because there is no environment as familiar as the home, in-home tutoring is the most effective.
· Your in-home tutor should start by establishing, developing and working with your child’s strengths, including their ‘hidden’ strengths. Personal strengths can be strategically utilized to bridge gaps in existing weaknesses. New strengths are then discovered and developed in the process, whilst weaknesses shrink and fade into extinction.
· A good Home Tutor should identify and expand your child’s passions and interests. By adapting lessons to be more personally relevant to your child’s interests, the learning process becomes more engaging, more fun and more motivating.
· The most important aspect of any good home tuition service is to focus on reconditioning the way your child feels towards areas of schoolwork they have been struggling with. By applying strategic goal setting techniques and redirecting their focus towards progress, the student builds confidence in areas they previously struggled to focus on.
· The other important aspect of good in-home tutoring is to improve the way your child feels towards identifying and correcting their own mistakes, to become a more autonomous and efficient learner.
One of the most common reasons that parents will hire a private in-home tutor is because they are concerned about their child’s grades slipping. As many parents report, this is often because the child has a poor attitude and low motivation towards their schoolwork. With the help of the right strategies, negative cycles can be overcome. Once a child begins feeling enthusiasm towards their school work, their performance will show a massive improvement. Tutors should always remember that it is the emotional impact on learning which has the greatest impact.
More information, resources and articles can be found at the Home Tutors Sydney website.