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The Secret to Helping Your Child Excel in School and in Life

The Secret to Helping Your Child Excel in School and in Life

    Is your child struggling in school?  Does your child stall when it comes time to do homework?  Does your child’s teacher often comment that your child is capable, but is just not working to his or her potential? Or, does your child do alright in school, but seems a bit bored or lacks enthusiasm for learning? There is a little secret that you need to know in order to change this.

    We are all born with certain propensities.  We enjoy doing some things more than others and we see the world and experience it from a certain perspective.  Parents can often say, “Oh, Johnny could stay outdoors playing in the dirt all day long,” or “Susie is such a people person”.  At a very early age children show what they enjoy doing and what they are naturally interested in.  Paying attention to this can be very beneficial to parents and in turn, to their children.

    Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, developed a theory called, “Multiple Intelligences”. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults.

    Here is a brief summary of these eight intelligences:

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    1) Linguistic intelligence (word smart) involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively use language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically; and language as a means to remember information. Writers, poets, lawyers and speakers are among those that Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence.

    2) Logical-mathematical intelligence (number/reasoning smart) consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. In Gardner’s words, it entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.

    3) Musical intelligence (music smart) involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms.

    4) Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (body smart) entails the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements.

    5) Spatial intelligence (picture smart) involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas. 

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    6) Interpersonal intelligence (people smart) is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders and counselors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence.

    7) Intrapersonal intelligence (self smart) entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations.

    8) Naturalist intelligence (nature smart) enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment. A number of schools in North America have looked to structure curricula according to these intelligences, and to design classrooms and even whole schools to reflect the understandings that Howard Gardner developed. It takes a commitment though from school boards, administrators and teachers to put something like this into practice.

    Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live.

    Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.

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    So, if your child’s school does not teach based on these principles, how can you as the parent use them to help your child be successful in school and in life?

    Let’s first take a look at how Howard Gardner’s theory would work in a classroom.  Then, we’ll look at how you can use these techniques at home.

    Let’s pretend a teacher needs to teach a lesson about the law of supply and demand. They might read to their students about it (linguistic), study mathematical formulas that express it (logical-mathematical), examine a graphic chart that illustrates the principle (spatial), observe the law in the natural world (naturalist) or in the human world of commerce (interpersonal); examine the law in terms of one’s own body [e.g. when you supply your body with lots of food, the hunger demand goes down; when there’s very little supply, your stomach’s demand for food goes way up and you get hungry] (bodily-kinesthetic and intrapersonal); and/or write a song (or find an existing song) that demonstrates the law (perhaps Bob Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing? Or John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change”).

    It isn’t necessary for teachers to teach something in all eight ways, just for them to see what the possibilities are, and then decide which particular pathways align best with the topic. As well, a teacher should also provide students with an opportunity to discover which intelligence best describes themselves.  After students are aware of this they can take charge of their learning.  When they study for tests they can relate all the ideas to topics that mean something to them.  When they do a project they can present it in a way that most makes sense to them.

    If your child’s school doesn’t work this way then you can still teach this to your child and they can still use the strategy to study and complete projects and assignments.

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    The first step is to go to http://www.bgfl.org/bgfl/custom/resources_ftp/client_ftp/ks3/ict/multiple_int/index.htm

    Have your child take the test that determines their intelligence.  Then describe all eight intelligences to them, in language appropriate to their age of course, so that they will have a clearer understanding of each one.

    Once your child is clear about how they learn and how this is innately what they enjoy, then the next step is to show them how they can use this with their school work.

    When an assignment or project comes home tell them to put the topic of whatever the project is in the center of a blank sheet of paper, and draw eight straight lines or “spokes” radiating out from this topic. Label each line with a different intelligence. Then start brainstorming ideas for learning or showing that topic and write down ideas next to each intelligence. They might just want to do the assignment in a way that aligns with their intelligence, but it’s important for them to know that everyone has a little of each intelligence so they can mix and match too.

    With anything new, this process will need guidance and practice however, you will be amazed at how quickly they catch on and how engrossed in their homework they will be.

    Our world has become smaller due to globalization and it’s also becoming a world where different “traits” or intelligences are needed.  Let’s help our children understand and feel good about themselves. With these two things in place they will feel confident to use what they’ve got to help make their difference in this world.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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