Pippa Bealing is an educational needs specialist who has worked with both adults and children for the last 15 years. She tells Country Child how determination in younger years can disappear as we grow and how we can turn this around for our children.
I’ve always found how babies learn to walk fascinating. Around 8-10 months old, they can pull themselves to stand. Yet with precarious balance, they easily fall back down again. This doesn’t deter them though, and if you’ve ever watched babies learn, they repeat the same action over and over again until they can master it. They are sheer bundles of optimism, never doubting they can achieve. Before long, the baby can not only just hold on with one hand to reach for an expensive ornament, but are soon able to lower to their knees picking up and toy from the floor enabling them to bash the ornament smashing it entirely. Nothing is more determined than a toddler that wants to move. There’s no fear, they don’t care when they fail, they are resilient, they just try over and over again. However, whist the majority of children learn to stand and then walk in the same way, by the time they are 6 or 7 there are significant differences in children’s ability to keep trying when they don’t have immediate success with something at school. Some children keep their resilience; keep trying at maths problems or spellings and source adult help remaining optimistic. Some children will try a few times then get angry or upset, and refuse to come back to it. Some children pessimistically give up after the first attempt, and worst still, some children can’t even bring themselves to try, showing signs of childhood depression.My practice is full of children who freeze and clam up as soon as they imagine they won’t be able to do an academic task, the thought of getting something wrong threatens their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. These pessimistic children can’t try because they have a core belief they are worthless and will never succeed. Pessimism more often than not leads to depression and helplessness. What I also know, is out in the waiting area is often a parent who is confused and scared by their child’s behaviour. They love their child and show their child they love them every day, but still their child feels so bad. The secret is not to worry about how a child got pessimistic, but to focus on how to help them achieve internal optimism. To do that, we have to listen carefully to how children are talking and intervene slightly, whist at the same time modelling the ability to keep trying at something.Listening to how children talk and making small interventions is key. Optimistic children talk about not being able to do something in a local way. ‘I didn’t’ do very well in my spelling today, the words were hard, I need to practice them more.’ Whereas pessimistic children talk about not being able to do something in a global way. ‘I didn’t do very well in my spellings today, I’m bad at spelling, I’ll never be any good.’ Pessimistic children think there’s something wrong with them so it will never be possible. Talking in a localised way, seeing the failure because the task was hard, allows children to understand it’s not them. It’s the task that’s hard and if they want to achieve, they just need to practice more.If you hear your child talking pessimistically, it is important to acknowledge their feelings, normalise them and then remind them that they are learning and that is normal too. For example, if your child is telling you how rubbish they are, try something like this. ‘I bet it didn’t feel very nice when you got your spelling scores. I remember when I was your age, I found some words hard to spell too, I had to keep practising some of them lots of times.’ Also, if your child is sounding pessimistic, every so often tell them about something you couldn’t do first time, and had to keep trying. Tell them how it made you feel and then describe your feelings of accomplishment when you achieved it. It could be things like trying out a new recipe, programming the new TV, finding your way around a new place.The difference between babies learning to stand and 7 year olds learning new things, is the babies don’t have the capacity to be pessimistic. Young children sometimes need more support to be more resilient to failures and ward of this pessimism.
To learn more about Pippa’s service visit: www.westcountrysen.com