5 easy strategies to help your child overcome weakness

I’ve been reading Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky and thinking about my kids’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s also mid-year exams period, so we’ve been working hard with Vera on her Chinese, which I guess along with 70-80% of Singaporean kids, is an area of weakness and struggle.

It’s easy for kids to get discouraged by a subject that seems more difficult than the rest, so I’ve been also trying to be careful with what I say. (It’s hard, sometimes the frustration sets in, and I can get a bit critical or even harsh.)

Here are 5 tips I drew from the book that will come in handy if you’re working with your child on their weak areas too.

Help your child overcome weaknesses with 5 easy tips

1) Dealing with weakness? Start from strengths

If we dwell on what the child can’t do – the child’s inadequacies – those inadequacies will likely proliferate. If we focus on what the child can do – the child’s strengths – these will likely be fortified.

As parents, we tend to focus on our flaws and feel like we’ll never be good enough. We also tend to zoom in on our kids’ flaws and weaknesses, forgetting and sometime downplaying their strengths.

But strengths provide a strong foundation from which we can leap forward, especially as we start to address their weaknesses.

Even in my therapy work with children with special needs, I’m acutely aware of their weaknesses, but I make sure to tap on their areas of strength to help them overcome.

There are actually some simple ways to “start from strengths.” For instance, your child is struggling in the area of Chinese, but is a real foodie. Use his interests to build on his foundation in Chinese. Run simple cooking classes in Chinese every week with easy kid-friendly recipes, or watch Youtube cooking videos in Chinese.

Or if your child finds math impossible, but loves drawing and art…Engage his love for doodling by asking him to draw out the math problem visually and in fun ways (not limited to using models.) Whatever helps him to engage his senses in the task, let him go about it and experiment and have fun. It could even change the way he feels about the subject.

More on using strengths to overcome weaknesses here.

2) Spell out expectations, use levels 1-4 to make them clear and gentle

In her book, Galinsky cites an example of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a non-profit organisation committed to ending generational poverty in Harlem.

The children are being taught how to apply writing techniques to their own essays, and they use a rating system ranked 1-4, where Level 1 simple means an “oops” area that needs more work, as opposed to a D or a fail grade.

Galinsky describes HCZ’s philosophy:

We give children the freedom to make mistakes. We teach our kids that failure is not a way of labeling who you are – it’s just a way of identifying what you don’t know and what you need to put effort into. When kids understand that, they’re not hesitant about trying something, because if they fail, it’s not a reflection on them. That just tells them: “This is an area we need to work on.”

In the same way, give your child more motivation to succeed by saying something like, “You may be at level 1 right now, but with specific help and practice on the difficult or tricky areas, you can progress to level 2 and 3 pretty soon. Let’s go through the test papers to identify the areas you need to focus on most.”

(Here is more information on learning scales.)

3) Emphasize personal best instead of comparing with others

We sometimes subconsciously compare our children to the best examples out there, but imagine what this does to their self-esteem when we actually overtly express it. How does it make them feel if we constantly compare them with an over-achieving cousin or sibling?

Galinsky writes:

Often motivation is defined as besting others rather than besting ourselves. If we’re driven by the desire to do our personal best, practice becomes part of that motivation.

By all means, challenge your child to do better than what he did yesterday. Just focus on him and his past achievements as a benchmark, not other people’s achievements.

 

4) Help children learn to plan and set goals

When children take responsibility for their own learning, ie., become more goal-directed, they automatically become the active engaged learners that nature created them to be.

Guide them in setting SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based.

We can help children build on their emerging ability to plan to reach goals by articulating their goals when they’re small, such as saying, ‘You can trying so hard to stand up.’ When they’re preschool age and older, we can help them form and achieve goals by asking them to make plans, stick to them, and then evaluate how the plans have worked…

 

5) Get her to teach and explain to you concepts she’s learnt

Another useful tip from the book is to get your child to teach you something she’s learnt about the subject. When you teach something, it brings your understanding to a different level.

Galinsky quoted some theories about why this might be the case:

Explaining something helps make their implicit understanding more explicit; leads children to focus on the principles behind what they’re learning and not just the facts…and makes [them] feel more motivated and focused.

 

Overall, Mind in the Making has been a helpful read (although I must say I sometimes get lost within a chapter as there are so many anecdotes and stories in each one.) There are some important gems in there, and is an essential read if you want to find out more about these 7 essential skills for kids:

  • focus and self-control
  • perspective taking
  • communicating
  • making connections
  • critical thinking
  • taking on challenges
  • self-directed learning

To learn more about how you can support your child in his learning journey, read these other posts:

 

Get Organised for Primary School – 3 Essential Skills Your Child Needs

It’s the end of the first year of primary school for Vera. We are thankful that she has done pretty well, and has been able to take responsibility for most of her school work and studies.

There are however still some gaps that I hope to work with her on during the holidays…here are the 3 essential study skills I wish I had taught her earlier.

1) Time management

Time management is a crucial study skill when it comes to exams (both preparation as well as actual taking of the papers) but it’s also important in day to day living.

Since school started, I’ve tried to wean her off my involvement as early as I could, since I felt she is capable enough to take care of her own daily schoolwork. For the most part, I think she’s learnt that homework is her responsibility, and if she doesn’t get it done, she has to live with the consequences.

But she has had days where she would have her lunch, dive into a book and then suddenly realize that she has homework to do in the evening…after dinner.

These little incidents (hopefully) serve to teach her to be more aware of the way she has chosen to use her time. I’ve also tried not to nag or scold her for it (it’s hard, I know. I literally have to bite my tongue to keep from saying “I told you so!)

Ideas on how to teach your child time management during the holidays:

  • Setting up a simple and visible routine and schedule would be helpful for kids starting on their primary school journey. It helped us to set her up in the morning and now I see we may need one for the afternoons too.
  • Use everyday lessons to think about time. Eg., if I choose to watch a DVD, I will not be able to finish my assignment – do I really have that luxury of choice or is it better to finish what I’m doing first?
  • Model time management – if your child sees you always in a rush for time or constantly late, what kind of lessons is she learning? It’s tough that our kids are looking and learning from our daily lives, but I think it also makes us try to do better each day.

2) Money concepts

Money is a great asset if only we learn how to manage it wisely. It’s a good idea for your child to learn how to handle money from kindergarten age. Start small – she wants to buy a bun from the bakery? Ask her how much it is, and give her the money to hand over to the cashier. Then check the change together. Kids are mostly excited to learn such skills and you don’t even need to encourage or cajole them to do it.

Before starting school, sit down and plan how much your child needs for recess. It’s a good time to check the meal prices at the school canteen during orientation. Usually a plate of veggie rice or noodles is about $1.50, but if she needs a drink or an extra snack, it may be safer to budget $2. I give Vera an allowance of about $10 a week. I chose to start off with a weekly allowance so she learns how to budget $1.50-$2 for each day, and not over-spend, but it really depends on you and your child how you wish to structure it.

At the end of the week, she always has some left over for her piggy bank. So it’s a good way to teach her frugality and the value of saving money for something worthy as well.

Tips on how to teach money concepts:

  • Give ample chances to order food at the food court/hawker centre. Check the change together.
  • Let your child accompany you to grocery-shopping and help him calculate the cost of your grocery list. (Start with a short list of 1-2 items)
  • If your child really wants to buy something for herself / a gift for someone, work with her to save money from her allowance. Or if she doesn’t yet have an allowance, you may choose to even give small rewards for household chores that she can do. I sometimes give 50 cents or a dollar when the kids make themselves useful, eg., packing the messy shoe rack, folding the laundry, or washing dishes, or vacuuming the floor.
  • Have 3 small piggy banks in the home – one for savings, one for spending, one for sharing (or giving to a cause). We teach the kids to dedicate roughly a-third of their “earnings” to each piggy bank. (But you and I both know it’s tempting to put most of it into the spending bank…so this is also work-in-progress.)

3) Planning and prioritizing

This is closely related to time management. How much time do you have in total for that English paper? How much time should you dedicate to the different sections to ensure you have sufficient time left for the final few questions? All this is related to being able to look ahead and plan accordingly.

This is also helpful for homework. If your child has 3 different kinds of homework due at different times, ask her, hmm which should you do first? When do you need to hand these up?

Sometimes your child will be able to tell you, “this is more urgent because…” Let them think and verbalize and come to this conclusion by themselves as much as you can.

If your child gets fixated over a particular piece of work, let her experience the natural consequence of that choice. Say she enjoys colouring and drawing, and so spent time on these unnecessary aspects while neglecting to answer the questions of the assignment, then she rushes through the last part and makes a couple of careless mistakes as a result. Use this as a teaching opportunity. Ask questions that will allow her to reflect on her choices: what do you think you can do differently next time?

Ideas on how to teach your child planning and prioritizing this holidays:

  • Work on recipe based cooking or baking during the holidays. Being able to ensure you have all that you need and when you need it is part of that same essential planning process.
  • If you’re going on a family vacation, encourage your kids to be a part of the planning and packing process. For instance, help him to think about what is necessary and what should go into the luggage first.

Vera and I will continue to work on her time management and prioritizing skills as we believe these are essential study and life skills that will serve her well for life.

With these tips in mind, I hope both you and your child will be better prepared for school next year! If you do feel that your child needs specific help to get organised and motivated to learn, you may also want to check out The Little Executive’s upcoming P1 prep camp in December. Happy holidays! 🙂

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Choosing a primary school – let your values lead the way

choosing the right primary school

[Updated on 22 Jun 2017]

We’re entering July soon, which is the time for primary school registration.

Fellow writers have been broaching the subject – from how to choose a school to recognizing that God is in control.

I’ve been wanting to share about how we settled on the school for Vera.

My husband’s alma mater no longer exists, and mine is on the other end of the island, so both options are out.

Over the past year, we shortlisted options A, B, and C. Our choices were based on distance and reputation, so they are all relatively near and relatively good. A is a pretty traditional school, very focused on academics and stressful overall, based on feedback from parents who send their kids there. (I must say that A was initially the leading choice for us, and my husband has been serving as a grassroots leader so that is equivalent to doing PV and should help us to secure a place there in phase 2B.)

B is the new kid of the block, with spanking new facilities and also a reputable principal who’d been moved over from one of the premium schools. It is also the nearest one to us.

C is a Christian girls’ school with a reputation for having a well-rounded focus, and that seems to strike a good balance between academic work and other interests such as the arts and sports.

After some prayer and consideration, we decided to go for C.

Our church affiliation would allow us to get into C via phase 2B. (For more information on phases and registration dates, go to MOE’s website.)

You might be wondering, then what will happen when it’s JJ’s or Joshie’s turn in a couple of years’ time? Well, we were keen on co-ed schools at first, but when we drilled down to the core, I realised that I did not want to allow our decision to hinge upon just the gender mix of our troop. So the short answer is we’ll cross the bridge when we get there. We may end up with Option B for the boys in future, or consider moving to another location that is nearer the Christian boys’ school that our church has affiliation with. (Currently, the latter option is out as it’s a tad too far away.)

While we shortlisted the schools based on distance and reputation (okay, I should add affiliation in the mix too), we made the final decision based on 2 key factors: my child’s temperament, and our family values.

On temperament:

Vera has a bit of an artist’s streak in her; she’s creative and dreamy, she loves to learn new things and ask questions about everything she observes, she likes to take her time to colour, draw, paint, come up with stories, and perform them. While all these does not necessarily mean she won’t be able to thrive in a more traditional academic-focused environment, I feel she’ll really thrive in a place that offers some space to dream and create, and to cultivate other interests such as art or dance or drama.

On values:

Why are values so important? Well, because every family is unique and has its own set of values, largely determined by the upbringing of both parents and their faith or belief system.

Some families value hard work and traditional academic performance.

Some families value creativity and could be more drawn towards a less structured education environment for their children.

Others value freedom (and perhaps a striking example of this would be families who choose to homeschool.)

Ours is a bit of a mix because my husband leans towards the traditional academic route while I much prefer options that offer more creativity, free time, and some breathing space for the child to explore her interests.

I have considered homeschooling, but that option is not the first one for us right now, as I’ve searched my heart and can honestly now say that my ideal life as a mum is to be able to do some writing or work from home, and to cultivate a space of my own.

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So that is how we arrived at our decision. I can’t say for sure that it’s the best choice, because only time will tell, but I am fairly sure that Vera will enjoy her learning and development there. And by God’s grace, we will navigate the primary school years smoothly with our first-born.

How did you decide on a primary school? What factors were important to you?

Other primary school-related articles:

How to cope with primary school stress

Vera turned four this year, and already I’ve started to get questions about where we intend to enrol her for her primary education.

There’s only one word to describe how I feel whenever I get asked.

Stress…

There’s something so unknown and unfamiliar about primary school that makes me break in cold sweat. Plus all the stories I hear about daily homework and what-nots.

I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Fiona Walker, Principal of Schools, Julia Gabriel Education. Naturally, I asked her the questions I had in my mind about primary school education and how to prepare my child for it.

Here’s what she shared with me…

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1. What do you identify as the key sources of pre-primary stress? How can parents prepare ourselves to deal with these?

I think that parents themselves are one of the sources of pre-primary stress. There is an element of group hysteria in the need to make sure children are prepared for primary school and the focus is on academic readiness. Because of this, there is a huge market in enrichment classes and tuition schools who feed on the concern by providing courses and classes, which “prepare” children for primary school.

Very often, once the child enters Primary One and is able to cope with the school work, the worry evaporates. For this reason, first time parents are usually much more concerned than parents who have had other children go into primary school.

To avoid being caught up in group pressure, make sure you find out what exactly are the requirements of primary school. Ensure your child meets those criteria but also keep your expectations realistic.

2. How can parents prepare their children to better cope with the transition?

The move to primary school is a big transition for any child. They will go from being the eldest in their preschool, which is usually in a small nurturing environment, to being the youngest in a large and initially confusing school.

Most children find the level of independence expected a bit daunting. I think that a visit to the new primary school is great. The more familiar they can be with the new environment or new routine, the better. Also prepare your child for buying food in the canteen, by giving them opportunity to ask for food in the food court and handle money when making a purchase.

There is a huge amount of emphasis placed on all the things they must do and remember and this can produce a bit of anxiety, so take the time to talk to your child about your happy memories from primary school. Talk about the friendships you made, the adventures you had and the experiences you remember.

Children going into primary school are six years old – still very young. They must not feel burdened by the worries you may have.

3. Which is more important? Academic preparedness or social-emotional preparedness, or both? Why?

In Singapore, both are important. Our school system requires children to have certain academic skills when they enter Primary One, so it is important they are able to manage the workload.

However a child who has confidence and resilience is more likely to enjoy the experience. Strong social skills and healthy self-esteem will mean they find it easier to make friends and ask questions when they are unsure.

If I had to just pick one though, I would choose social-emotional preparedness because it is generally easier for a child to pick up the academic skills if they didn’t have them than build low self confidence, especially if they have found the experience of a new school and social environment distressing.

4. If you could give parents in Singapore a word of advice, what would it be?

Here are two pieces of advice:

  • You know your child best so have realistic expectations. By all means, shoot for the stars but be fair. It is not fair to expect a child who has no Mandarin exposure outside of his hour-a-day, five-days-a-week in preschool to get 95 per cent all the way through primary school.
  • Remember childhood is short and there is no one out there who is going to protect your child’s childhood other than you. If you don’t carve out time for him to explore, play and dream, no one else will and your child will have been robbed of the most magical time of their lives. You can’t get it back!!

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I hope these insights are able to give us some new ideas in navigating this rather touchy topic.

I really value Fiona’s reminder that we as parents are also guardians of our children’s most precious time of their lives – their childhood…

What comes to your mind when you think about primary school education for your child? How would you like your child to experience primary school? 

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