Building Confidence in Your Child

samTwo year old Sam proudly spells his name with letter tiles.

When a child first comes to me for tutoring, often he is struggling to keep up in class. To him, his grades indicate everyone else understands the academic material, and he doesn’t. It doesn’t help for parents to tell their children that they too were no good at math or (insert other subject).  This can lead the child to believe he is fated to do poorly.

So how can you help your child succeed academically? Do you constantly tell him he’s smart, but he still puts himself down. Why doesn’t your child believe what you say? When working with one young student, I paid her a compliment on her singing (yes, sometimes there’s singing during our sessions). When she responded in a surprised tone, I asked, “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that before?” She said, “Yes, my parents, but they’re supposed to say that.”  Please don’t think your compliments are meaningless. You love your son or daughter unconditionally, and they need to hear words of confirmation. However, if you’re constantly saying he is special or smart,  it may lose its intended effect. This is a tricky one, because one child might need your reassurance more than his sibling. Notice the reaction you get, and if the your child shrugs it off, then you need to say less. However, it is better to err on the side of praising your children too often than not enough. As their parent, your words will always have a great impact.

Secondly, speak with sincerity. Look for those things they do well which they can also recognize. A child who is struggling with math may have very good handwriting. I point out to math students how important it is to be able to read the numbers and have them aligned correctly as they work. Any math teacher can tell you that there are points lost on tests due the teacher or the student not being able to read his script. If a child is struggling with reading, notice when they use context clues or recognize sounds within a word even if they fail to decode the entire word. Reassure them that they are making progress, and this will lead to their becoming fluent readers. If your child, who is listening to instruction and giving their best effort, brings home a bad grade, direct them to the fact that they got some answers correct. Sometimes it can be the toughest ones. Congratulate them on not giving up and reassure them that they will improve. You are not simply saying they are smart, but you’re acknowledging their intelligence which will encourage them to keep trying.

Thirdly, allow your child to struggle and to fail some. If you intervene too early or too often, the child will think you have no confidence in him. Believe me, this is a tough one because a little frustration is part of the process but too much frustration can be overwhelming. As a tutor, I’m always concerned with giving the right amount of help. When they ultimately succeed, point out how their perseverance paid off. There is always a greater sense of accomplishment when we solve a challenging problem rather than an easier one. When they fail, review the process, how well did they prepare? Can they manage their time better? Do they need more practice? Let the failure be a stimulus to try a different approach to the problem.

So believe in your children; be their biggest cheerleader. Continue to praise them for jobs well done. The good news is that with a few successes, they will begin to blossom, and today’s struggles will become a distant memory.


How Can I Motivate My Child to Read?

boy reading

Many parents have asked me a variation of this question. These suggestions are mainly for struggling readers who will do anything to avoid reading. Peruse the list; use what you like; the most important factor is consistency.

  1. Set aside time each day as family reading time. If one of your children is a weak reader, but the others are avid readers, then he won’t feel singled out if everyone participates. You choose a time of day which you will be able to keep most consistently, whether it be morning, afternoon, or evening. You may want to start with fifteen minutes and gradually add more time. Let everyone choose his own reading material, the only requirement is that everyone is reading or listening to a story during that time. If your child prefers audio books, have him follow along with a hard copy. This is your excuse to set aside household chores and indulge yourself in a good book or magazine. No devices are allowed during this time, except for audio or e-reading. Make a commitment to do this the entire summer. You may have to miss some days, and some days will not go well, and you will think, “This is not working.” When you reach that point, remind yourself that you are committed to this until school resumes. By August, I guarantee that you will be pleased with the results.
  2. Allow for a variety of reading material. There are  limitless choices. A favorite of mine is magazines. You can find a variety on many levels covering any imaginable topic. Unlike a story, most articles can be read in part, and your child will benefit from improved fluency, vocabulary, as well as gaining knowledge on that topic. Picture books are written for all levels. I like to browse the youth section of the children’s room at our local library to find good picture books at fourth and fifth grade levels. One of my favorite is Rudy Rides the Rails. Other choices for older readers are Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul and devotional books. Some parents have expressed concern to me that their children pick easy books. That’s o.k. because they are still reading. You can try to guide them to more challenging materials, but let it go if they resist.
  3. Popcorn reading. If your child needs help with reading comprehension or decoding, you can incorporate some popcorn reading. You read a page, then he reads a page. This can be modified where you read more, and he reads less, or vice versa. Since you’re reading together, you can ask questions in a more natural way. Do  you think the character is scared? How do you know?  As fluency improves, you can require him to read more. I notice that some children are more willing to read when an adult engages with them. One important suggestion is that you hold off on correcting them. I like to let the child finish a paragraph before rereading the sentence with the mistake. Many times, they correct themselves. If they don’t, I will ask, “Does that sound right to you?” Only at this point do I help if needed.
  4. Make It Fun. As  a family,  you can listen to an audio book. This is great because you can do this on long car trips also. Another fun activity is to turn off all lights and read by flashlight. Young children love to play with flashlights, and this trains beginning readers in tracking text. You  can also use stories as a riddle. Plan a trip to a blueberry farm; the day before read Blueberries for Sal, then ask your child(ren) to guess what activity you’re going to do. You can find other stories to fit any activity. Your children’s librarian is a great resource for ideas.
  5. Record their progress. I notice that children become more confident when they can measure their progress. You can simply keep a chart and use tally marks for pages read. If you want to reward them, you can drop a penny in a jar for each page. Your child will enjoy watching the jar fill as the summer progresses.

What would you like to add to this list?

How Do I Help My Middle Schooler with History? Pt. 2


historyIn part 1, I suggested several ways to get your child interested in the past. Today, I have some advice for learning the material which leads to better grades. History is defined as the written record of man’s past so reading is intrinsic to doing well. Even though your middle schooler can read the words, she may not really comprehend what she is reading. Show her how each unit is divided into chapters, then those chapters are composed of sections and each section may be further subdivided. Help her formulate questions which may be answered in each section.  The goal is for her to connect each subtopic to the main topic and finally to the chapter. This aids in seeing the “big picture, ” and helps put everything into context. Be sure she studies the pictures and maps, and understands their connection to the reading. Have her summarize each section she has read. Putting the material in her own words demonstrates her comprehension.

Once she has summarized the readings, she can begin learning important terms. Many texts will place these in bold font. They are usually categorized as people, places, events, or ideas (i. e. capitalism). I like putting these on notecards for easy review.  A complete definition or description, the importance, context, and date or time period are needed. For example,  Manhattan Project:

  • Secret American plan during World War II to develop the atomic bomb.
  • Began as  as a response to Germany’s nuclear program.
  • Was not used in the European theater, but was instrumental in bringing an end to the War in the Pacific when an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima  August 6, 1945 and on Nagasaki August 9, 1945.

If your child is visual, she may want to draw a picture to help her remember. If she is an auditory learner, she can record the terms and listen to them as a study strategy.

Initially, she may seem overwhelmed, but encourage her to study a few minutes every day. If she knows even some of the material really well, it will result in better grades. Finally, if possible, review returned tests with your child and talk about strategies for making the best use of her knowledge. From my years of teaching, I have discovered many careless mistakes like skipping questions and not reading the instructions or questions carefully.

What suggestions would you add? 

How Do I Help My Middle Schooler with History

There are two different ways to interpret this question: How can I help my child better understand history? And how can I help my child get better grades in history? I will address the first question in this post. Your middle schooler probably sees history as an abstract subject because she’s twelve (a lifetime for her), and she may be studying about people who lived 3,000 years ago. It’s hard for a young person to imagine people living lives so different from her own. With your help, she can see  a connection – history is like a tapestry where people and events are woven together and each have an effect on the other and future generations.

First, you want to engage your child in the stories of the past, make her wonder about life a hundred years ago. As Jurassic Park  author Michael Crichton once said, “If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. You’re a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree.” A  good place to start is with her own family history. The more personal you make history for your child, the more interested she will be. Look at old photographs together, ask her questions about what it may have been like to have been a child during her grandparents and great- grandparents’ youths. Are there any ancestors who have served in the military? I find young people to be particularly fascinated by World War II. Find some published diaries or journals to read at the public or school library.

Aunt Virginia

Aunt Virginia is our family matriarch. She was born in 1918. Her mother survived the flu pandemic and was sick when giving birth. At 97, Aunt Virginia’s mind is still sharp, and she loves sharing family history.

Help her see that everyone and everything has a history. Take her to historic sites to learn about important people and events in engaging ways. You will be walking in the footsteps of those long gone, if there’s a historic interpreter present, you can ask more detailed questions. Some places hold living history events where you can observe pioneer skills in use. Some of my favorite memories are family trips to these destinations. The seed, which was planted, led to my becoming a history major.Your child may not initially be impressed, but if you show interest, chances are she’ll follow. As a college instructor, I witnessed how the older students in my American history classes influenced the eighteen and nineteen year olds. When nontraditional students began to ask questions and give input, I noticed the younger students would perk up and listen more intently, even to the point of joining our discussions.

Relate historic happenings to current events. This presidential election year offers many great comparisons. Immigration is an issue that has recurred in previous elections. Remember the “Know-Nothings” of the 1850’s? They won several state elections on an anti-immigration platform. Discuss Bernie Sanders’ candidacy.  How do his ideas and his presidential bid compare to Norman Thomas in 1932?

Now you know where to start; you’ll be amazed at your discoveries. Next time I will offer some suggestions for improving history grades.

What about you? How have you’ve made history more interesting for your child or student? What do you enjoy most? If you have a question you would like for me to address, send it to