A psychologist explains a common sense technique to make your child a better learner


Many people come to therapy asking questions about how they can be better parents. They can say things like:

  • “My child is falling behind. What can I do to help them?
  • “How do I know if my parenting style is working? »
  • “My child is fine, but how can I be sure that I am giving him the best chance of success? »

Here, I’m going to discuss a common-sense learning technique that tends to be overshadowed by process-based strategies and a growing tendency to “over-teaching”.

The key to better results is as simple as focusing more on your child’s results and less on learning processes.

One of the most common parenting “mistakes” occurs when parents (and teachers) focus too much on how a child thinks and not enough on whether the child arrives at the correct solution. Let me give you a few examples.

  1. Does it matter how a child solves a multiplication problem, say 4 x 3? Or is it more important that they arrive at the right solution? Certainly, it is the latter. Why? There are many correct ways to arrive at the correct answer (12). You can memorize your multiplication tables. You could draw a picture. You could reduce it to an addition problem. If your child solves the problem correctly, it is proof that he is successfully applying one of these strategies. Whether or not they solve it the way your brain prefers is irrelevant. Their brain is not your brain.
  2. Or, here is a sports example. Let’s say you are teaching your child to play basketball and you want him to improve his free throw percentage. Is it more important to you to teach them the “right” way to shoot a basketball? Or is it more important for them to make 10 out of 10 free throws? Again, the answer is last. Of course, you could say that good shooting form leads to successful free throws, and that’s true to some extent. But let’s not forget that the sneaky free-throw artists of the mid-1900s were just as accurate as modern shooters. Just as there are multiple correct ways to solve a math problem, there are multiple correct ways to shoot a basketball. The right path for you may not be the right path for them.

What does this mean for you as a parent? This shows us that it is more important for you to give your child as many opportunities to practice in an environment where they receive feedback (for example, if they solved a math problem correctly, seeing a balloon basketball to enter or not, etc.) instead of focusing too intently on the specific technique that goes into producing the outcome you would like to see. In other words, have them solve hundreds of multiplication problems and record their results. Or have them shoot hundreds of free throws while keeping track of their hits and misses.

The old adage “practice makes perfect” is almost right. Psychologists would update this to say that “training with feedback (i.e., correct or incorrect) makes perfect.” And, release your tendency to always want to show them the “right” way to do something. It’s best to say something like, “There are many effective ways to get the job done.” You have to choose the one that suits you best.


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