Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's All In The Presentation

Everyone knows a child's fear of the unknown, from the little to the large.  A severe break from the established norm can bring unprecedented terror unless properly introduced.  Telling an only child that they won't be the center of attention anymore after the baby is born can be a traumatic experience, especially if the child is relatively young.  That is unless you make the impending change an exciting and highly desirable event for the child.  The fact that they'll have a new friend to play with cancels out any (or at least most) of the potential fear of losing Mommy to the new kid.

Likewise, introducing new concepts and ideas that differ from what the child already knows can be a battle.  Most people learn something one way and find it very difficult to accept a different method of understanding it.  Kids are no different.  When presented with something new, they either deny its existence or simply state, "It's too hard."  This becomes their excuse for everything new that they're nervous about trying, whether it's new math concepts or writing fifteen words instead of ten.  Getting a kid to accept two simple facts can be challenging.  These facts are: a) You can do this.  b) You're smart enough to learn how.  I discovered today something I've known for a while - presentation really helps.

Case in Point:  Today, I was teaching the 3rd grader 4-digit dividing.  Scary concept to go from three numbers to four in the dividend.  But, knowing this particular child's general aversion to math, I started out by simply saying what we were going to learn and then interjecting "Don't freak out!" in an upbeat, happy voice.  Sure, the child looked at me like I was crazy, but she was laughing as I began explaining the concept rather than crying over the frustration of a "new" idea.  And you know what, she learned it!  

So how does this apply to everyday life?  In too many ways to even begin counting.  Kids have new experiences all the time.  They go to clubs.  They play sports.  They do schoolwork.  They learn how to read.  They make new friends.  They go to new places.  And to all of these things, at one time or another, every child will feel a little apprehension at starting something new.  Something different.  So introduce the latest change with style and fun.  If your little boy or girl is heading off to choir for the first time, reassure them of at least two things: a) how much fun they'll have and b) how much you love them and can't wait to hear all about it.  It always helps (in my opinion) to throw in the "If you really hate it, you don't have to go again."

Most kids don't know what they'll like until they try it, but their fear of the unknown keeps them from branching out.  So parents have to "force" their kids to try new things.  Believe me, it's good for them.  My mother (whom I love dearly) is the queen of making us try new things.  I was a very willful child, and I never wanted to do anything she suggested.  Finally, she just made me go, and I loved every single thing - tennis; softball; swimming; ice skating; volleyball; cotillion; choir.  And as I look back over those years growing up, I thank God that my mom did what was best for me rather than giving in to my whimpering complaints.

Of course, in my case, sugarcoating the new experience didn't really help, although sometimes it nudged me towards lessening the complaints.  But for 9 out of 10 children, emphasizing the good time they'll have and the fun things they'll learn works wonders.  Plus, you can always remind them that you're their mother, and you would never make them do something just because you wanted to make them feel miserable.  If you're excited about whatever changes and new things they're experiencing, chances are that they'll be excited too.  And maybe, just maybe, they'll start to realize that different and new things are good and can be loads of fun.  If you succeed in that, your battles for trombone lessons or baseball practice will probably lessen enormously (although if the kid doesn't like the trombone, find him a different instrument).  Just remember, don't freak out.  Show your kids that they have nothing to fear from the unknown, whether small or large.

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