Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Background

While oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was added to the DSM in the 1980s, its existence and diagnosis is still hotly debated and somewhat misunderstood among families and educators. Surprisingly enough, ODD is one of the most common behavioral disorders to be diagnosed in children. Furthermore, researchers have also found that oppositional defiant disorder in both boys and girls is often accompanied by a previous ADHD diagnosis.

 

Symptoms

While ODD is a disorder that affects both boys and girls, symptoms are typically known to vary between the sexes. Though this is in no way absolute, researchers have found that boys with ODD display their opposition and defiance in more physically aggressive manners; their frustrations may escalate quickly and in more overtly explosive ways. While girls, on the other hand, are more likely to display oppositional or defiant behaviors in subtle, sneaky, or manipulative ways. For instance, girls with ODD may be deceitful or cunning and interact with others in intentionally uncooperative ways. Again, these are not hard and fast rules; they are simply some of the known observations experts have made between the genders.

 

It is also important to note that symptoms associated with ODD are typically misbehaviors that most children and teens will display at some point during their development. However, the difference between mere misbehaviors or teenage moodiness and ODD is the prevalence and severity of the behaviors. With regard to a diagnosis, ODD behaviors have likely become so frequent that they are deemed as the “norm” for that child.

 

Support in the Classroom

Behavior Support Additional Considerations
Disproportionate anger/frustration/

irritability

  • Provide student with flash pass to the counselor for when tempers flare
  • Allow student to take brief “brain breaks” throughout the day, especially when transitioning between activities or subject areas to alleviate stress
  • Provide student with preferential seating near the door for easy access to the hallway if frustration escalates
  • Provide student with fidget cube or stress ball to channel negative energy
  • Classrooms as a whole can benefit from stress-relieving or meditative practices, but these coping skills are especially beneficial to students with ODD; schools and counselling departments are beginning to focus students’ attention on mental self-care and coping methods to reduce anxiety and stress
Argumentative, uncooperative, defiant towards adults/authority figures
  • Present requests or directives in the form of an “either/or” question. For example, if a student throws paper off the desk, the teacher might say, “Would you like to either pick up the paper now, or pick up all scrap paper at the end of class?”
  • Remind student that his/her defiance is a choice that will result in a consequence; ask him/her if she would like to make a different choice to amend the tone/behavior/attitude
  • Stay calm; you cannot fight fire with fire. As difficult as it may be, teachers and other adults must remember that the ODD behaviors are stemming from a larger issue.
  • Deescalate the tone of the situation by maintaining a calm, understanding, yet firm demeanor. Act with care and be deliberate in your directives toward the student.
  • Remind students that you are there FOR THEM; everything you do is meant to ensure safety and success in the classroom. By reaffirming your desire to help him/her, a defiant student may soften the edge and be more receptive to your requests.
Physical aggression; vindictive, spiteful, or manipulative behavior
  • Physical altercations are never okay; remind students that verbal disagreements should never escalate to physical interactions
  • If something physical does transpire, adults must be sure to document the situation thoroughly. This includes all parties involved, what instigated the issue, and anyone who may have witnessed the altercation. Teachers should also note when and where the event took place so that administration and parents are made aware of the full situation.
  • Teachers can consider activities or brain breaks that either diffuse or expel aggression or anger.
  • Items such as Rubik’s cubes, coloring books, or sudoku challenges help students to come down off of the aggressive moment by occupying the mind
  • Consider creating a small, comfortable, secluded corner of the room where students can take a breath and collect themselves before re-entering the classroom environment
  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help to mediate aggression and manipulative behaviors by helping students to reflect on an incident. Prompt students to think about why they lied, cheated, manipulated, etc. Ask them what they could have done differently that would have resulted in a more positive outcome.

Motivating the Unmotivated

While motivation is often linked to academic achievement, the same is not necessarily true for motivation and intelligence. We are all familiar with the naturally gifted student who fails consistently, not for lack of intelligence, but because of his or her lack of motivation. These seemingly hopeless situations can be difficult for parents, especially when they know that their child has all the potential and wherewithal. But what can be done to boost motivation? How can we inspire and incite action when the foundation is nonexistent?

 

Investigate the root of the problem

Oftentimes, a lack of motivation is the result of a bigger issue. For unmotivated children, there is likely some sort of deterrent or impediment between the child and the task. Sometimes the issue stems from a learning obstacle, such as a disability or cognitive barrier. Other times, unmotivated students have had multiple or severely negative experiences in school that have caused them to be “turned off” or “checked out.” It is also possible that the child simply does not see the value in putting forth effort and exhibiting self-motivation. Whatever the case may be, parents can begin to establish motivation by examining the reason behind its absence. Talk to children about why they truly do not want to try something. Is there a reason that they are so opposed to showing effort or enthusiasm for learning? Pose the questions so that they do not sound interrogative, but instead seek to understand the child’s position.

 

Set longterm and shortterm goals

Even the most unmotivated child has some sort of goal or aspiration. Parents should tap into these interests as a means to foster motivation, both in the immediate and distant future. Ask your child what he or she would like to accomplish tomorrow. Allow that answer to span outside of the academic realm. For instance, if your child is lacking motivation in school, but shows an interest in making the club soccer team, encourage that level of interest first as a springboard. Perhaps tomorrow’s goal is to juggle the soccer ball 30 times without dropping it, but this year’s goal is to make the soccer team. Talk about how these short-term goals are essentially the building blocks towards reaching the long term goal. Hone in on the fact that practicing, strategizing, focusing, and modifying will be key for reaching that short-term goal. And that while failure and outside obstacles are going to occur, resilience and motivation are 100% controllable internal factors. Then, when the topic of academics arises, remind that unmotivated student of the steps and lengths that he went to in order to accomplish the juggling goal. Discuss how you can translate that motivation into effort towards schoolwork.

 

Express excitement and admiration when they do show motivation towards anything

Kids, especially young children, may not fully conceptualize the notion of intrinsic motivation—they don’t necessarily know why they care, they just do. To boost their understanding of building and maintaining motivation, praise their effort when they exhibit it. Acknowledge their focus and drive for whatever it may be that they’re working on—the more you point out this motivation, the more likely they are to internalize this concept of self-motivation and effort.

 

Lead by example

We all know that attitude is contagious; the same can be said for effort and motivation. When children see motivated parents with their own interests and passions, they begin to see that effort comes from a true desire to achieve, create, accomplish, and grow. Passionate people inspire those around them, so parents can certainly boost motivation at home by expressing their own efforts and motivation for their genuine interests.

 

Instruct with positive and negative consequences

Different from bribery, positive and negative consequences ensure that children learn how to take ownership for their actions and level of effort (or lack thereof). Of course, no child will be intrinsically motivated to make his bed. Instead, parents should remind children that failure to complete their chores will result in a consequence—essentially, children will recognize that they’re actually punishing themselves by choosing to neglect their tasks. Thus, they become motivated by the desire to avoid the negative consequence. Consequently, a positive outcome from doing one’s chores can boost motivation and the desire to accomplish tasks in the sense that the child connects his or her effort to the reward or positive result.

Back-to-School Health and Safety Tips for Parents


Heading back to school is an exciting time for families of elementary schoolers. Oftentimes, the excitement and anticipation take center stage, but going back to school can also mean stress for children and parents. Once the obligatory first day photos, school shopping, new sneakers, packed lunch boxes, and orientations are handled, the anticipation dwindles, replaced with questions like, “What now?” or “What have we forgotten?” Below are the nuts and bolts of ensuring a healthy and safe start for heading back to elementary school.

1. Avoid skipping breakfast at all costs. Like many kids, your child may not experience hunger immediately upon waking. This can turn breakfast into an afterthought, which can quickly become a major pitfall if children begin skipping breakfast regularly. If your children are not keen on eating right away, see about waking them a little earlier to allow for more time in the morning before school. Even a measly 15 minutes could be enough time to spur a desire for breakfast. The longer he or she is awake before heading off to school, the more likely it is that he/she will want something to eat. If all else fails, consider stashing breakfast bars, fruit, or drinkable yogurts for the car ride so that your child has an option for last-minute nibbling before heading into school.

2. Those back-to-school shoes may be super cute; however, the blisters that accompany their first wear will not be. Encourage your child to put comfort first when picking out school outfits. We all know that even the tiniest blister can produce excruciating pain. This can make recess, walking around the cafeteria, P.E., etc. unbearable. Consider breaking those new shoes in over the weekend and packing a few bandaids in the lunchbox just in case. Similarly, depending on the school, or even from one classroom to another, temperature can vary drastically. With air conditioning, or the lack thereof, children can become uncomfortable and distracted if they are sweating or shivering all day. Encourage layers to ensure comfort throughout the day and from room to room. However, because of the likelihood that that sweater or long sleeve will come off at any given time in the school day, personalized clothing labels or even Sharpie initials can ensure that lost items become found and clothing makes it home.

3. If your child has a food allergy, no matter how severe, be sure that the school knows about the dietary restrictions. Beyond the school nurse, teachers, paraeducators, building staff and cafeteria aids should be aware of any severe food allergies. Anything from treats shared at school, arts and crafts materials, cleaning products, air fresheners, etc., can contain allergens or may be processed and packaged alongside allergens. To avoid the possibility of a reaction, consider sending a “just in case” email to school to ensure that health records are updated and all staff are aware of the food allergy. Some parents find it helpful to send their child to school with fun “about me” cards with their child’s photo and dietary restrictions listed. These “business cards” are especially helpful for young elementary schoolers. They can also contain any information about epipen use, emergency contacts, and the pediatrician or allergist’s phone number.

4. For children who are extremely sensitive to the sun and prone to sunburn, ask the school if it is okay for your child to pack and apply travel sunscreen for recess, physical education, soccer practice, or any other outdoor activities. Outdoor time can amount to an hour or more, depending on the child’s school; this leaves plenty of time for sun exposure and subsequent burn. School policy will likely prohibit teachers or other school staff from applying sunscreen, so consider purchasing an easy-to-apply option for your child to apply it himself. The roll-on, deodorant-looking sticks work great for quick-drying, easy application.

5. Remind your child to drink water throughout the day. This is an obvious tidbit; however, school nurses report dehydration as one of the major catalysts to most school illnesses and nurse visits. Obviously, water fountains are aplenty in schools, but also ask if water bottles are allowed in class. Having water at hand provides a constant reminder to sip throughout the day to stay hydrated, alert, and focused.

Back to School: Combating the Sunday Scaries

Back to school means a resurgence of the feeling that parents, teachers, and elementary schoolers alike all dread—the Sunday scaries. This alliterative term, while somewhat melodramatic, describes the true sensation of angst or nervousness that begins to bubble up around Sunday evening. Whether the Sunday scaries emerge from the nervousness surrounding an impending due date, upcoming quiz, or just the general apprehension about the school week ahead, we all can relate to that sudden foreboding sense that can quickly turn a calm, lazy Sunday into a frenzied mess.

It’s best to be prepared. Here are some strategies for elementary schoolers to combat the “Sunday Scaries”:

Get organized
For the first few years of early elementary school, organization falls mainly on the parents’ shoulders. However, little by little, elementary schoolers will begin to observe how organizational skills help to mediate stress and maintain order for the school week ahead. Depending on grade level, organization could simply mean that children help their parents plan Monday’s outfit, lay out clothes for P.E. or after-school activities, assist with preliminary packing of the lunch box, or place backpacks and other essentials by the front door. As children get older, the responsibility for getting themselves organized for the week ahead can begin to become theirs alone.

Organization is fundamental for elementary schoolers because it allows them to begin planning ahead, anticipating certain needs, contemplating the order of operations, etc. All of these life skills will become essential as children develop and gain autonomy. For now, parents can begin with something as simple as helping their child check the weather when planning for Monday’s outfit: Might we need an umbrella? Should we pack a light jacket? Will it be too cold for flip flops? These considerations help children feel secure in their planning by showing them what to expect as they head off to school, which certainly helps to ward off the Sunday scaries.

Break out the checklist
Consider the scaries as proportionate to the amount of tasks to be accomplished before bedtime. We all know that feeling—Sunday scaries become increasingly more beastly as the to-do list piles up. To avoid the added stress, families can create a general weekend checklist of items that need to be accomplished during Saturday/Sunday downtime. By creating a checklist, families know exactly what needs to be completed in order to ensure a smooth start to the school week. The checklist also helps elementary schoolers divvy up the tasks throughout the weekend so that Sunday night does not have to turn into the daunting bewitching hour where everything goes off the rails.

Organization comes into play again here with the checklist. Parents can help younger elementary schoolers by helping to prioritize the weekend checklist. For instance, homework or reading assignments should come close to the top of the list, as those items, especially when procrastinated, can become anxiety-producing.

Look ahead
Using a small amount of time on Sunday night to look at the week ahead can help to alleviate the Sunday scaries as well. Oftentimes, stress of the unknown is what creates anxiety for school-aged children. By sitting down and perusing the week’s calendar, families can ensure that a) everyone is on the same page about appointments/events, b) there are no surprises or last-minute to-dos, c) events and tasks are evenly spaced as to not overbook any member of the family.

Laying out the weekly calendar also helps to build independence among school-aged children. They begin to recognize their own important tasks, practices, appointments, etc. This allows them to begin to feel a sense of control over what will go on in the week ahead.

Chronic Health Conditions and Summer Safety

Summer safety is an important topic for all families. However, children with chronic health conditions (CHC) may be more prone to certain accidents or medical emergencies, making summer safety a crucial area of concern. From the most common CHC, asthma, to diabetes, epilepsy and anemia, health concerns can potentially add a layer of complication to summer fun.

See tips, strategies, and considerations below to ensure that concerns about CHCs are covered over the summer months:

  • Since humidity, heat, and poor air quality can awaken asthma symptoms or increase the severity of an attack, parents should keep informed of weather reports, heat index, and air quality reports when families are planning to spend consecutive hours or days outside.
  • Activities such as camping, swimming, hiking, rock climbing, etc. can pose a more significant threat to young asthma sufferers because of the combination of outdoor allergens, heat, and heavy breathing brought on by cardio activities. Some research suggests that only 4 minutes of breathing in hot, humid air can present an onset of asthma symptoms.
  • Parents should make sure that inhalers are full and on hand if needed. Consult your pediatrician if the prescription is expired or dosages need to be adjusted. When growth spurts hit, parents should be especially sure that dosages are accurate for full effectiveness.
  • The pool is a great activity for keeping children cool; however, a lesser-known asthma culprit is chlorine. For some asthma sufferers, chlorine can bring about coughing, tightness of the chest, and other asthma symptoms.
  • Since heat and humidity increase perspiration, monitoring and maintaining blood sugar levels can become trickier in the summer months. Throw in exercise and outdoor activities—and blood sugar level instability increases even more. Parents should make sure that children are hydrating even more than they typically do, as dehydration can cause blood sugar to spike. Sugary, caffeinated drinks are additionally problematic and should be limited to maintain safe blood sugar levels.
  • Insulin storage is another consideration for parents of diabetics. If traveling, be sure to pack insulin in a cooler, but not directly on ice. Insulin should also be kept out of direct sunlight and excessive heat, as that can degrade it.
  • Light-headedness, fatigue, sweating, nausea, and vomiting are symptoms of heat stroke, but they could also be a sign of more. Parents should be sure to test their child’s blood sugar more frequently to ensure that mild signs of overheating are not actually symptoms of low blood sugar.
  • For children with seizure disorders like epilepsy, summer activities like swimming, attending sleep away camp, or traveling can bring about additional concerns. Parents should make sure that children are always supervised by an adult that is aware of the seizure condition when they are in or around a swimming pool or other body of water.
  • For children whose seizures are brought on by certain light sensitivities, parents should be especially aware of the threat that sunlight or glare can cause. Car rides when sunlight is flickering or light reflecting off surfaces of water can potentially trigger an episode. Pediatricians and ophthalmologists can direct patients to specially-tinted polarized lenses to help with light sensitivity issues.
  • In the summer months, eczema can become more than a nuisance for children—it can be downright unbearable. Parents can help children by providing cool towels, refrigerated gels and lotions, light cotton, loose-fitting clothing for outdoor activities, and plenty of water for hydrating throughout the day.
  • Removing sweaty clothing and rinsing sweat off of the body immediately can help keep rashes at bay.
  • Using hypoallergenic skin care products, including sunscreen, wet wipes, moisturizers, and insect repellant can help to skin flare-ups at bay as well.

Summer Camps and Medical Needs: Advice for Parents

An exciting aspect of summertime is the seemingly unlimited options for children to play and explore. For many families, summer camps become a regular routine each year through the months of June, July, and August. And while summer camps offer great opportunities for children to socialize, explore, and engage in many different activities, camp can also bring a host of concerns for parents. This is especially so for families whose children experience medical needs, food sensitivities, or other allergies. In these situations, awareness and knowledge are key to keeping children safe while away at camp.

Ask questions, lots of questions
Choosing the right day or overnight camp can involve a great deal of stress for families dealing with allergy concerns or other medical needs. A parent’s best starting point is to inquire about any and all foreseeable issues that might arise while a child is away at camp. Questions might include:

  • How many nurses or medical staff are on the premises? Where is the nurse’s station or stations and is there overnight staff?
  • How does the cafeteria staff and other camp staff accommodate children with severe food allergies? Are there separate food storage, preparation, and service areas in the kitchen?
  • How are ingredients labeled and stored? How are snacks planned and distributed?
  • Where are epi pens kept? How are children informed of these locations? How many staff members are trained in epi pen injection and allergy emergencies?
  • In the case of a severe emergency, which hospital or clinic is the closest to the camp?
  • How do staff members and camp counselors carry and account for medications when activities take place away from or outside of the immediate campsite? When children are off the premises, who is in charge of handling medical emergencies?
  • Are staff members trained to recognize early signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis, instances of high/low blood sugar, and asthma emergencies?

Plan ahead
Depending on age and onset of the medical issue, many children with medical needs like diabetes, food allergies, asthma, etc., are very knowledgeable about their specific needs. Parents should discuss and review safety precautions with children before they head off to camp. Remind children to be wary of sharing food, utensils, and water bottles. Review your child’s early warning signs and symptoms to be sure that he or she is aware of how an allergy or asthma attack emerges.

  • Check-in with your child’s pediatrician and allergist before camp. Make sure that prescriptions are filled and up-to-date. Double check expiration dates and ensure that dosage is appropriate for your child’s height and weight.
  • Consider a comprehensive approach to informing camp staff about your child’s specific needs. Of course, many forms will account for any specific medical concerns, and nurses are always made aware of incoming campers’ medical needs. However, the more adults that are made aware of the medical issue, the better prepared the camp will be to address any emergency during your child’s stay. In addition to the medical forms collected during registration, parents may want to take additional steps to pass this crucial information along.
  • Get creative. Consider making a “medical baseball trading card” with your child’s photo on it, as well as crucial medical information. Use your child’s most recent school or sports team photo on the card so that all staffers know who your child is. Include player (medical) “stats” like height/weight, preferred pain medication, specific allergies, prescription medications, use of inhalers, insulin, epi pens, blood type, and emergency contact information. Pass the baseball cards out so that staff members, besides the nurse, are informed of essential medical information.
  • Parents can also make rubber/gummy wrist bands with an allergy, diabetes, asthma, etc. alert on the band. Like Livestrong wristbands, a medical alert band is discreet and waterproof, which is perfect for summer camp scenarios.

Finally, parents with severe concerns may want to look into summer camps that specialize in allergy-friendly accommodations. Many camps have adopted policies in which they do not serve or carry the “Big 8”—the top known allergens including milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, and shellfish. These camps aim to provide worry-free experiences for parents, leaving children free to play, explore, and experience all that summer camps have to offer.

Summer Slide, Part II

Incentivizing reading can be a great way to jumpstart young learners’ motivation during the summer. Of course, the larger goal is for children and teens to garner intrinsic motivation for reading and learning down the line, but until that point, parents can encourage the practice with small, consistent incentives.

Here are a few examples to get you started with incentivizing young learners this summer:

  • Set up a tally or sticker chart to track that your child reads something every day. Whatever that “something” might be could vary from child to child. Perhaps it’s the comics in the morning paper, or a cupcake recipe for an upcoming family reunion, or the closed captioning or subtitles of their favorite TV show. Whatever the stipulations may be, holding children accountable for tracking their reading is a good way to begin combatting the summer slide.
  • Camouflage research skills by asking for your child’s help. Depending on age, the research questions can begin very simply, such as, “What is the weather going to look like later tonight during your baseball game?” Or, “What are the showtimes for the movie that you want to see this weekend? Are there better options for showtimes at a different theater nearby?” For older learners, parents can encourage middle and high schoolers to research places to visit, local attractions, events, or summer festivals, or even long-weekend options for a mini-family vacation. Guide their research by providing some critical guiding questions and reputable websites for perusal.
  • Research free educational events, activities, or programs in the area over the summer. In addition to many school-sponsored events and resources, the internet has a plethora of free educational websites that allow students to access digital games, tools, and practices from their living room. School and local library websites are great places to start when combing through reputable online educational resources. Many sites, like Scholastic, Flocabulary, NewsELA, ReadWriteThink, and Edutopia allow students to filter the materials based on interests, grade level, Lexile level, text length, etc. Virtual field trips also provide students with opportunities to see and experience locations that may otherwise be inaccessible.
  • Take learning outdoors to utilize the summer weather and natural surroundings. Simple activities such as planting flowers or herbs, visiting a state park or zoo, or starting a neighborhood initiative is a great way to show children that learning takes place everywhere—not just within the classroom. This also allows learners to take an active role in their learning, instead of the typical passive learning that we often see in schools. For older children and teens, parents can encourage financial competency and budgeting by helping middle and high schoolers begin a neighborhood dog walking, lawn mowing, yard sale, or recycling project. In doing this, children a practicing essential skills and strategies, while gaining a sense of independence and responsibility as well. The cash flow is always a great incentive, too!
  • Encourage literacy skills by providing your child with a photo journal for summer activities and travels. Children might use a smartphone or Polaroid camera to capture important memories or events over the summer. Then they can provide written captions, reflections, and other personal insights to accompany the photos. The photo journal also acts as a great memento for looking back on summer memories.

Summer Slide

For those who are not immersed in the educational realm on a daily basis, the term “summer slide” may conjure up nostalgic memories of sunny afternoons at the pool. For academia, however, summer slide is a dreaded termone that is not associated with a relaxing pool day at all. Instead, summer slide refers to the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of the summer months when students are not in school.

Statistically, summer slide poses a greater threat to students of lower socioeconomic standing, or those considered “at-risk” and most adversely affected by the achievement gap. While research suggests that summer slide is a larger factor for students who may not have access to educational experiences, materials, and books over the summer, the grim truth is that regardless of a family’s income, any student is susceptible to the loss of knowledge and skills while being out of school for the summer months. With some research indicating that summer slide could mean a loss of 20-30% of information gained over the previous school year, summer slide is valid concern for educators and parents to consider.

Fortunately, there are many ways to combat summer slide. For children and teens, summer reading packets, math booklets, and the like are most often met with groans. Summer is supposed to be a time of freedom from stress; it’s a time for adventure and exploration! So, if parents truly want to sell a child on schoolwork during the summer, they really must package it appropriately.

  • Provide an ample amount of what teachers call “student choice.” Children are much more likely to invest their time and attention in a book or learning activity if it involves an aspect of interest. Additionally, a sense of agency and independence comes with children and teens having a say in what they would like to read or participate in.

  • Parents of reluctant readers will want to provide multiple modes of texts as well. Consider purchasing the audiobook or ebook so that your child can listen while following along. If lengthy chapter books bring dread, expand literature options to graphic novels, magazines, or adapted versions of the classics. Again, the more a young reader has to choose from, the more likely he or she is to land on something pleasurable.

  • Plan for activities that relate to or expand upon parts of the curriculum from that previous school year. Children are always surprised when topics or facts from the classroom suddenly apply in “real life.” Parents can check the school district’s website for curriculum materials or email the child’s teachers to review the major concepts, novels, or skill sets that students were to have mastered that year. Then, with that knowledge, parents can select materials or push children in the direction of texts and activities that incorporate those skills. For example, if parents know that their middle schooler read The Diary of Anne Frank over the winter term, they may want to select from sub-genres involving WWII, Holocaust survival stories, or other autobiographical works that feature a strong, young narrator.

  • Getting the whole family involved in summer learning can help to motivate children and teens as well. Consider starting a weekly family book club, in which each member reads the assigned pages and then participates in an informal chat about their thoughts on the chapter or events so far. The key to keeping the momentum and enthusiasm going is to ensure that the book talk remains as informal as possible. Throw pillows and blankets around the living room, set out snacks or use the night as an excuse to have a pizza party while discussing the book. Since a movie night can be a great incentive for children, think about choosing a book that also has its own film adaptation.

  • Connect the reading material to real life experiences. For instance, if a child is starting middle school next year, provide her with YA book options that feature a preteen navigating through middle school. If soccer camp is on the agenda for the summer, find reading materialsnonfiction, fiction, or biographicalthat center around soccer, soccer players, or the history of the sport. The secret to keeping kids reading is to keep the material fresh and relevant.

How to Break the Negative “Can’t Do” Mindset: High School

The “I can’t” mindset can be detrimental to high school learners. The problem with this negative tunnel vision is that it can easily begin to spill over onto other aspects of a teen’s life. For instance, a high schooler that feels negatively about her ability to do math might transfer that fixed mindset to her ability to learn chemistry, physics, architecture, etc. The negativity creates a destructive snowball effect. High school is a time when students should recognize that the sky’s the limitthey have adulthood and independence right around the corner. A negative mindset can cause teenagers to subconsciously impose restrictions on what they believe they are capable of achieving. To combat this cycle of negative self-perceptions, teachers and parents can implement different exercises, practices, and conversations to encourage a positive outlook for high schoolers looking ahead toward their future.

Show teens that intelligence and ability are not limited to certain tasks, subject areas, or capabilities. Very often, students place much of their self-worth on grades and GPA. And while these are important indicators, they do not accurately measure the whole person’s capabilities. Adults can help by shedding light on “lesser known” examples of intelligent, successful people and instilling a sense of value in different areas of academia, the arts, athletics, etc. Remind high schoolers that school is just one realm for learning and that each person has his or her own strengths. A poetic genius may not be well-versed in math; while a musical prodigy might find history or the sciences more challenging.

When possible, provide high schoolers with options and choices, not only for engaging in the content, but with methods of demonstrating mastery. In providing options, high schoolers become more absorbed with the content they had a hand in choosing. Similarly, when students are given choices in what type of product, project, or demonstration to compose, they are naturally more invested in the outcome. Choices also provide students with a sense of agencya chance to connect their own ideas and decisions to the impact that these decisions will have.

Explicitly discuss the psychological and neurological findings behind growth mindset. There is a reason why growth mindset has been touted as one of the recent educational buzzwordsthere is plenty of research and data to support its claims. High schoolers are at the age to truly grasp their learning tendencies and recognize the plasticity of the brain. Simply put, neural pathways develop and strengthen with repetition and practice. When students understand that they can have a certain amount of control over how much they learn and how well they learn it, school work no longer feels like a task to be undertaken, but more like an opportunity to strengthen their skills and hone new strategies.

Encourage the challenge; discourage busy work or the easy way out. For many students, not just high schoolers, the path of least resistance can often be the most appealing. And that’s understandablewhy cause ourselves more trouble or torment in an effort to reach a goal? The answer lies in the methodology behind growth mindset. The more we challenge ourselves, the greater the opportunity to strengthen the neural pathways. When tasks are mundane, simple, or elementary, our brains do not experience the same level of activity as if they do when a process is complex, unfamiliar, or mentally demanding. Explain to high schoolers that, if your goal is to build muscle, you wouldn’t go to the gym to lift 1.5 lb. weights every day. You would increase the weight, reps, and add variations as your workouts progress. It is the same concept when working out our brains. The easy way out may give high schoolers the correct answer, but it does nothing to stretch their limits or develop higherlevel thinking skills.  

 

How to Break the Negative “Can’t Do” Mindset: Elementary

In elementary school, children are just beginning to understand themselves as learners. These are crucial years in terms of building a positive mindset and a solid understanding of education and its significance in their lives. Because of their blossoming ideas and new experiences in school, elementary-aged learners can be especially fragile when it comes to their self-perception.  

One surefire way to turn children off to school, education, and all things learning-related is to allow them to steep in their own negativity. This “I can’t” mindset can be especially detrimental to young learners because the longer they engage in this negative self-fulfilling prophecy, the more likely they are to solidify those beliefs as true. To combat the cycle of negative self-perceptions, teachers and parents can implement different exercises, practices, and conversations to encourage a positive outlook.

Abolish terms like hard, boring, easy, and fun when describing an activity, assignment, or task. Instead, replace those descriptions with words like challenging or interesting. A subtle shift in the adjectives removes the opportunity to equate the school work with a negative connotation. If something is described as a challenge, as opposed to hard, children are more likely to muster the effort and be motivated by the opportunity to try. Similarly, abandoning anxiety-producing terms such as test or exam can also bolster a more positive outlook.

Do away with thinking of education in terms of absolutes. Because of the way that our educational systems are structured, learners often get caught up in the “all or nothing,” “pass/fail,” “smart or not smart” mentality. Cultivate the notion that school, learning, and intelligence are not exclusively yes or no categories. Sentences like, “I’ll NEVER understand this!” are only serving to prove that negative belief. Instead, instruct students to adopt a growth mindset when engaging in self-talk. Examples might include, “This is challenging, but I’ll keep trying.” “The more I practice, the better I will become.”

Stress the importance of growth over perfection. Again, much of our standard ideas of education involve grades, percentages, and correct answers. But to prepare elementary schoolers to become lifelong learners, adults must put the focus on overall growth and acquisition of new skills.  

Present school work and learning in general as a lifelong, continuous process. It is important for children to know that there is not one person who knows everything about everythingand no, you are never “done” when it comes to learning. Remind elementary schoolers that because curiosity is what feeds our need to learn, it is okay, even expected, that we don’t understand everything right away.

Practice routine reflections as an essential part of the learning process. This routine can vary depending on the task or assignment that students are reflecting upon; however, the notion is the samereflecting on and thinking about how we learn helps us to understand strategies that work or don’t work for us in any given task. Elementary teachers may ask students to consider what went well during their learning process. What do they wish they had done differently having now finished the task? What was the most difficult aspect of the assignment or project? How did they use their strengths to complete this assignment? Questions like these allow elementary students to not only reflect on their learning process, but also take deliberate ownership over their work. Through reflection, young learners find value in the challenges and errors, which helps to keep the negative self-fulfilling prophecies at bay.