Navigating Island Parenting
By: Mutryce A. Williams
Navigating “Island” Parenting is a submission of quotes, tips and parenting advice that I have gathered over the years as a source of inspiration and as tools to deal with the daily challenges of parenting. This week’s issue of Navigating “Island” Parenting is Attitude not Aptitude. The hope is that this submission would make the journey of parenting a bit easier or brighter, even if it is for one person.
There Are No Shortcuts
“To quote the exceptional teacher Marva Collins, “I will is more important than IQ.” It is wonderful to have a terrific mind, but it’s been my experience that having outstanding intelligence is a very small part of the total package that leads to success and happiness. Discipline, hard work, perseverance, and generosity of spirit are, in the final analysis, far more important.” Rafe Esquith, There Are No Shortcuts
Excerpt from Six Secrets to Raising a Smart Toddler by Jessica Kelmon:
Research shows that kids work harder and do better in school when parents praise their efforts instead of their intellect. So, while you might really want to say, “My little cutie is so smart,” what you really should say is, “Wow, you must’ve worked really hard.” The focus is on what the child did to produce the work rather than the outcome, and it helps children associate hard work with success. It works, says Cutchlow, because as kids get older, they’ll have what’s called a “growth mindset” (the belief that they can do more if they try) instead of a “fixed mindset” (the belief that what they can do is pre-determined by their innate abilities or IQ). “More than 30 years of study show that children raised in growth mindset homes consistently outscore their fixed-mindset peers in academic achievement,” he says. “Children with a growth mindset tend to have a refreshing attitude toward failure. They don’t ruminate over their mistakes. They simply perceive errors as problems to be solved, and then go to work.”
Attitude not Aptitude
In our culture we place a lot of emphasis on aptitude. A child who is “quick at learning” is immediately classified or labeled as “bright.” A halo is placed on his or her head, the wings are pinned on to his or her back and it’s a straight flight to expected excellence and achievement. Why not? He or she is bright! He or she goes through life with a free pass so to speak or having actions forgiven or even overlooked because he or she is “bright.” He or she is doted upon in the family. We have all seen it. Uncles and aunts, and family friends shower that child with lavish gifts and relentless praise because that child is “bright.” There are high expectations for this child. We hear the remarks, “He or she is going to be somebody. He or she is going to make something of him or herself.” This child eventually goes on to make something of him or herself, and I do often wonder whether it was because of aptitude or the expectations that were had.
A child who is not as “quick at learning” is immediately classified as someone who has a “Hard Head Harry,” labeled dumb, slow or even a numbskull. He or she is considered by parents and I have seen this with teachers as well, “as not worth the time or effort.” I remember a former colleague’s remark, “I am only focusing on the bright children. I have no time to waste with the rest of them. They are just here to take up space and will just be shunted through the system until it is time for them to leave.” The child who is not “quick at learning” goes through life with no halo but rather a dunce cap, no free passes, having no actions forgiven, or even overlooked because he or she is deemed to be ignorant, hard-headed, and “just can’t learn.” This child is a failure in the eyes of his or her parents and to society. This child is not doted upon. He or she is not showered with praise or gifts by aunts, uncles or family friends. He or she is treated with scorn and derision. Again, I note we have all seen this I am sure of it. This child is treated as a failure, so eventually he or she believes that he or she is a failure and instead of adapting the right attitude to achieving, he or she thinks that he or she is doomed to the “dunce corner” or pigeonholed forever.
Society and parents, what if we changed our current way of thinking? What if we treated each child as equal, with the same potential for achievement? What if we instill in our children from an early age that it is attitude and not aptitude that will propel them to success at the end of the day, hence it is very important to try, try, and try again. What if we say to our children, “You may not get the answer on the first try, or you may fail but the important thing is to adapt the right attitude, exert more effort and keep on trying, because you can do it. I know you can.”
I remember scheduling a conference with the parents of a former student whose response was, “Ms. Williams, my head hard I am not going to School X because I don’t want to waste my parents’ money.” This broke my heart because of all my students he was the most determined and disciplined. He grew up in the shadow of a brother who was “bright” or as they say here “gifted.” This young man’s grades were not as stellar, but again the one notable thing that he had was he knew how to persevere. This young man gave his best effort in everything that he did. When I told the parents of my concern, their response was he was never told those direct words but they can now see how their actions and those of family members who praised the older brother could have led him to this conclusion. A few weeks ago I saw his mother who proudly reported the many accolades that this young man has been receiving in his current post, and who admitted that she is still so shocked by all of it. Her words, “We never knew he had any of this in him!”
I also recall a conversation with a mother who in not so very nice words insisted that I stop putting thoughts of college into her son’s head because he was not college material. This was said in the presence of this young man who earnestly wanted to pursue further education, and came seeking information on the college application process. What made it even more cutting, she informed that she had been saving for years and was prepared to sign her property over for the older son, whom she added was “college material” to go to college whenever he was ready, and suggested that I speak with the older brother and try to “light a fire under him.” She informed that she could see the older son “making something of himself” but just couldn’t see that with her younger son, who wanted to go to college because he thought it was the “style.” She informed, “You know he don’t even have enough subjects, which college going take him.” I responded, “Did you know that he has enrolled in classes and will be sitting the subjects again?” Her response, “Well he not going pass them, so stop put college in he head because he and college don’t go together.” I can report that the young man did accomplish his dream of going on to further education and he excelled, graduating with top honours. This is a young man who in all of his primary and secondary school years did not quite make the grade. He told me that he was called a “dunce” and “Hard Head Harry” by family and friends. He was however determined. He embraced discipline. He knew how to persevere. He made it. And you can ask who was more shocked and who is more proud than that same mother who could not view him as a potential success.
I would be the first to note that parents ought to be the ones who know their children best but sometimes I think that this can be clouded by our cultural attitudes as well. As I noted before, the child who is deemed “bright” receives all of the focus. He or she is the “horse to bet on” so this is where we put all of our focus and attention. The child who is not as quick is dismissed. He or she is not the “horse to bet on” so we place no emphasis or effort here. Parents every child can be a success. Every child can achieve. Every child can be accomplished: it however starts with you and your attitude towards your child. View your child as a success. Have great expectations for your child and assist in cultivating them whatever they may be. I have always contended that “brightness” does not equal success. Commitment, discipline, hard-work and perseverance do. I think that as parents this is what we ought to cultivate in our children. I don’t think that they should be classified or marginalized. I think that regardless of what we perceive their aptitude to be we ought to nurture and cultivate their attitude so that they know that with immense effort, dedication, commitment, and discipline that they can achieve anything.
“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” – Carol S. Dweck
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.” – Kirk Mango
“We all need a cheering committee and parents are a child’s most important fans!” – Vivian Kirkfield
“It is not what you leave to your children that matters, but what you leave in them.” – Shannon L. Alder
Perseverance is an important trait to model for your child. Studies show that people who are persistent — rather than those who have high IQs– tend to achieve greater success in life. Let your child see you going the extra mile, whether it’s fixing something around the house or sticking with the same project such as a big book or a painting night after night. BabyCenter Website
Recommended Reading for Children
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson Illustrated by E. B. Lewis