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26837 Tanic Drive
Wesley Chapel
United States

Blog

Carefully Select Your Words

Kerri Milyko

At Precision Teaching Learning Center, we see a good amount of students who feel defeated.  They compare their abilities to their peers and quickly see that they are in the “lower” group.  They hear from their parents and teachers, “Just try harder!” “Focus!”  They are ridiculed from their peers for reading slowly or counting on their fingers.  All of this then leads to a deflated student: “I’m not smart.  Why can’t I just be like everyone else?”  This situation is heart breaking, yet not uncommon.  It may be happening in your house and you don’t even know!

There is an inevitable link between academic skill performance, motivation, and self-esteem.  For example, one of our students hit a plateau with answering subtraction problems.  As an intervention, we changed how we praised her abilities through out her session: we used behavior specific praise by finding and celebrating the littlest details in her performance.  She kept on acknowledging how great she was doing and was praising herself!  When we approached her subtraction facts that day, she easily broke through that plateau and answered her facts twice as fast as she did the previous session!  It was a remarkable improvement and she knew it!  We cheered, gave high-fives, gave hugs, and talked about why it was so awesome.

Last December, our staff presented similar data at the International Precision Teaching Conference (a case study from this symposium will be published in the latest issue of Behavioral Development Bulletin, 2015, 20(2)).  In our symposium, we showed data of children who had lacked motivation and as a result, their academic performance was no longer improving at a rapid pace.  Therefore, we increased the frequency and amount of praise and reinforcement.  The performance of these students positively responded and regained their rapid acquisition rates. 

Our children are impressionable, sensitive, and listen even when you are unaware they are listening.  They are little sponges that take in so much of the world around them.  I can’t tell you how many times students have shared with us things they have observed at school: a teacher tearing up an inaccurate assignment; a parent who said, “I just don’t know what to do with you”; a sibling who said, “You’re stupid”; a teacher who said, “If he doesn’t care, I don’t care”; and another teacher who said, “If I had a nickel for the number of times I had to tell you how to answer this problem, I’d be rich!” 

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As parents and educators, what do we value?  Who do WE want to be?  I’m fairly certain that those statements are not in alignment with the parent and educator that you strive to be.  Are these the words you want your child repeating in his/her head, defining his/her self-perception?  We all have moments of weakness; but our children pick up on these moments and allow them to sink in.   For each slip-up of expressed frustration, make sure you give five behavior-specific praise statements to help build your child back up.

When you reach a moment of frustration and feel helpless and defeated, please give us a call.  We enjoy helping teachers and parents to build up children emotionally as well as academically.  We want our centers to be a place of refuge where our students feel secure, empowered, and confident.  We would love to help you build your school and household to function as such a place as well.