Monthly Archives: July 2018

Building resilience – it’s ok for boys to fail

In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to protect children from failure in order to safeguard their fragile self-esteem. This seems logical – failure is unpleasant. It tends to make you look bad, you have negative feelings of disappointment and frustration, and you often have to start again.

While this is logical, it actually has the opposite effect. Children and adolescents in Australia appear less able to cope than ever before.

The problem is, in our efforts to protect children, we take valuable opportunities for learning away from them. Failure provides benefits that cannot be gained any other way. Failure is a gift disguised as a bad experience. Failure is not the absence of success, but the experience of failure on the way to success.

The gift of coping

When we fail, we experience negative emotions such as disappointment or frustration. When children are protected from these feelings they can believe they are powerless and have no control over mastery.

The answer is not to avoid failure, but to learn how to cope with small failures. These low-level challenges have been called “steeling events”. Protecting children from these events is more likely to increase their vulnerability than promote resilience. When adults remove failure so children do not have to experience it, they become more vulnerable to future experiences of failure.

The gift of understanding natural consequences

One of the greatest gifts failure brings is we learn natural consequences to our decisions. It’s a very simple concept developed by early behaviourists: “when I do X, Y happens”. If I don’t study, I will fail; if I don’t practice, I may lose my spot on the team.

Allowing children to experience these outcomes teaches them the power of their decisions.

When parents and teachers derail this process by protecting children from failure, they also stand in the way of natural consequences. Studies show children who are protected from failure are more depressed and less satisfied with life in adulthood.

The gift of learning

Mistakes are the essence of learning. As we have new experiences and develop competence, it’s inevitable we make mistakes. If failure is held as a sign of incompetence and something that should be avoided (rather than a normal thing), children will start to avoid the challenges necessary for learning.

Failure is only a gift if students see it as an opportunity rather than a threat. This depends on their mindset.

Children with a growth mindset believe intelligence is malleable and can be changed with effort. Those with a fixed mindset believe they were born with a certain level of intelligence. So, failure is a signal for growth mindset children to try harder or differently, but a sign they aren’t smart enough for children with a fixed mindset.

Praise should be focused on effort

Praise can be used to compensate and help children feel valuable in the face of failure. We see this when children get a participation ribbon in a running race for coming in last.

But research indicates, paradoxically, this inflated praise has the opposite effect. In the study, when parents gave inflated praise (“incredibly” good work) and person-focused praise (such as “you’re beautiful”, “you’re smart” or “you’re special”), children’s self-esteem decreased.

Praise that is person-focused results in children avoiding failure and challenging tasks to maintain acceptance and self-worth. This is because praise is conditional on “who they are” rather than their efforts.

Praise for effort sounds like “you worked really hard”. This is better because children can control how hard they work, but they can’t control how smart or special they are. Children need to be free to learn without there being a risk to their sense of worth.

Tips for parents

So how do we do this well? Here are some tips to help parents support their children:

Protecting your child from failure isn’t actually helpful. Allow them to feel and live it, and let them have the gifts failure brings. Experiencing failure will make them more resilient and more likely to succeed in the future.

By Edith Cowan University School of Education lecturer Mandie Shean

Original article published by the Conversation as Protecting your kids from failure isn’t helpful. Here’s how to build their resilience.

Shared reading – the words are just the beginning

Reading to children is beneficial in many ways. Books offer a unique opportunity for children to become familiar with new vocabularies; the type of words not often used in day-to-day conversation.

Books also provide a context for developing knowledge of abstract ideas for children. When an adult reads a book to a child, they often label pictures, talk about activities in the book, solve problems together and teach them new words and concepts.

Reading to very young children can have long-lasting benefits for their later school success, not only in literacy but also in mathematics. Adding to this, early shared reading particularly helps children from disadvantaged families defy limitations associated with their socio-economic status. So, if there is only one thing you have time to do with your children, it should be reading to and with them.

Read your way to the top

Parents have long been encouraged to read more to their children. There have been many initiatives, challenges, and programs aiming to increase individual reading time and shared reading time between parents and children. These include the Australian Reading Hour Campaign, the Premier’s Reading Challenge, Let’s Read, and others.

What’s still not clear is which specific skills improve while parents read to their children, and whether the benefit of shared reading is due to other things parents do that help their children thrive at school and beyond.

That is: is it really book reading that’s beneficial or is it because parents who read more to their children also provide a lot of other resources, and engage in a range of other activities with their children?

This was what we looked at in our study. We used data from a large scale nationwide study called the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). It has followed the development of 10,000 children and their families since 2004.

The sample we studied consists of 4,768 children from the cohort that was zero to one year old when the study commenced. During face-to-face interviews with trained LSAC interviewers, parents reported the frequency of them reading to their children at the age of two every week.

The LSAC then followed these children until they were four and eight years old. The good news is the majority of parents reported reading to their children at least three days a week. Specifically, 61.6% of the parents reported reading to their children every day and 21.1% of the parents read to their children between three to five days a week.

Read more: Enjoyment of reading, not mechanics of reading, can improve literacy for boys

Our study showed the benefits of shared reading with children during early childhood at two to three years old is long-lasting. The more frequently parents read to their children when they were two years old, the more likely their children had better knowledge of spoken words and early academic skills such as recognising and copying geometric shapes, and writing letters, words and numbers, two years later when children were four to five years old.

What’s more, frequent early shared reading was linked to better performance in NAPLAN reading, writing, spelling and grammar. More surprisingly it was also linked to mathematics even six years later when children were eight to nine years old in year three.

The most encouraging finding is that children from disadvantaged families benefited more from shared book reading. This suggests increasing the frequency of book reading is a viable way for disadvantaged families to support their children’s vocabulary knowledge and general academic achievement.

To address whether the benefits of shared reading are a product of other factors associated with parents and families, we controlled for the effect of a range of potential confounding factors. These include indicators of children’s intelligence, the number of children’s books at home, and home activities that parents engage with children other than reading. These would include drawing pictures or doing art activities with children, playing music together, playing with toys or games, and exercising together.

Even though we controlled for these other factors, the long-term importance of early shared reading still holds.

Suggestions for parents

Read more to your children and with your children. Whenever you get a chance, even if it’s only ten minutes, engage in shared reading activities.

We also suggest parents make a reading session interactive. For example, parents are encouraged to ask children questions, such as if they know the vocabulary and ask them to guess the story and what the story characters will do. Try to make the reading a learning session.

Finally, not all books are created equal. Parents are encouraged to choose the most suitable books for their child’s age to reap the most benefits of early shared reading.

Originally published by the Conversation as “If you can only do one thing for your children, it should be shared reading”

By Australian Catholic University Developmental and Educational Psychology Research Fellow Ameneh Shahaeian  and Charles Sturt University Educational and Developmental Psychology Research Fellow Cen Wang.