From the day your teen was born, they started learning. It’s very common for parents (who have the absolute best intentions!) to jump in too early when they see their child struggling with their learning. But rescuing them when they’re stuck isn’t always the best way to help them in the long run. At MyTutor, we were lucky to catch up with author and education expert Prof Guy Claxton last week. He gave a super inspiring talk about how kids learn, and why letting them work out solutions themselves can help them become better learners for life. Below we dive into some (of so many!) highlights from our webinar. Let’s go!
- Give your child time to work it out
- Choose your words
- Make a habit of asking lots of questions
- Don’t put them in a box
- Find support
- Build out from their strengths
1. Give your child time to work it out
If your teen is struggling with a Maths problem, an English essay or even a flat tyre on their bike, stepping straight in to save the day can actually throw cold water on their learning process. But don’t feel too discouraged- Prof Claxton says it’s very common for well-meaning parents to come to the rescue. Kids at every age – even toddlers – want to have a go on their own. They feel a lot of pride in working through a challenge, and they can get a bit grumpy with meddling parents.
Of course, if your child is floundering or in physical danger, you know it’s right to step in. But when it comes to their learning, Prof Claxton recommends being a coach or as he calls it, ‘a guide by their side’. This is all about helping them develop habits which will make them enjoy learning, and do it really well. Like curiosity, adventurousness and creative thinking – tools which will help them push through tricky challenges and enjoy finding new solutions.
But how do you go about being a parent-coach?
2. Choose your words
How you talk about ‘success’ and ‘failure’ shapes the way your teen sees challenges. Prof Claxton tells us, ‘if you say things like, “Whoops! This is a tricky one, isn’t it?”’ then you’re showing your teen that it’s completely normal to make mistakes. In school, they might have picked up the idea that getting the right answer straight away is what really counts, but you can help shift how they think about mistakes at home. If you make friends with mistakes by openly speaking about them, and pointing them out in yourself- ‘Oh, here I go again!..oh I’ll have another go at it,’ – your teen can learn to feel more relaxed about setbacks.
When we’re choosing our words, Prof Claxton also points out that it’s best not to repeatedly tell your child how ‘smart’ and ‘bright’ they are. Though on the surface it seems a really lovely way to boost their inner confidence, it can actually have the opposite effect. Kids often have imposter syndrome, and a fear of getting things wrong. ‘Smart’ can become part of the way your teen sees themselves, and if anything too challenging comes along (and it will, because life is full of challenges!), they can panic and feel like they’ve let themselves (and you) down. We don’t want challenges to threaten children, but to spark their interest.
3. Make a habit of asking lots of questions
Curiosity is a powerful mind habit. Being curious means that you’re willing to take risks with your imagination when you’re met with challenges. Prof Claxton mentions how a lot of big companies today like Google and Deloitte are actually looking for people who are flexible and curious, rather than someone who’s got top grades from an elite university.
As a parent, you can encourage curiosity in your child at home. Prof Claxton suggests writing questions out and posting them on the fridge or on a noticeboard where they’re nice and visible, and then try to work them out together. But also collecting questions – without solving them straight away – shifts the focus of learning from ‘how can I get a quick answer so my homework is DONE’ to ‘ooh this is an interesting problem to work out.’
4. Don’t put them in a box
When your teen shows an interest in something – like fixing the toaster, say – in a moment of pride, parents can jump to conclusions, and make declarations: ‘My daughter’s going to be an engineer!’ Prof Claxton encourages parents to let their teen find their own way. ‘Help support them in their passions, but don’t leap to conclusions’, he says.
The world that we’re living in now is teeming with possibilities and it’s a good idea to let children explore the full range of what’s on offer. Prof Claxton points out that sometimes kids don’t find their way even in their 20s. ‘It’s best that parents learn to live with that, instead of thinking it’s problematic.’
5. Find support
As a parent, you can’t be an expert on absolutely everything. Whether it’s an older sibling, a family friend, a tutor mentor who’s close in age, or a friendly neighbour -it’s great to reach out to others for support when you’re not sure how to help your child. Prof Claxton points out that having someone more neutral involved can take the charge out of a tough challenge. ‘The last thing we want is to add to children’s stress with our own.’ Being a ‘guide by their side’ is all about giving teens the right resources so that they can smash it.
6. Build out from their strengths
Every child is good at something, whether it’s skateboarding, playing football or looking after their cat. Prof Claxton says that to build up your teen’s confidence in their schoolwork, you should encourage them in the areas where they’re doing really well. They’re more willing to take risks in places where they already feel confident. If being a powerful learner is about practicing certain mind habits– like creative thinking, adventurousness and asking loads of questions- then you can use your child’s passion as a channel for nourishing a strong mindset.
We’ve only really scratched the surface of what makes a powerful learner, and how you can coach your teen into becoming more independent and resilient. You can find more inspiring ideas by watching the full webinar here with Prof Guy Claxton.
If you’d like to find out more about how our tutors can help your teen develop great learning habits, book a call with one of our Tutor Experts and they’ll fill you in.