Teaching Children They Can Learn

Is IQ the only factor in a child’s learning? Is a child’s ability to learn something that is preset and fixed? For years, we were taught to accept that fact. Recently, though, a number of books have come out saying something different. If we reinforce our children’s ability to develop learning skills, we can help them develop skills they will use their entire life.

How does it work? It boils down to how we word praise that we give. Saying something like “you got it right” only concentrates on a result, and not what has to be done to get that result. The child cannot transfer a skill, because that child does not know what skill was used. Saying something like “you remembered that when you use the < and > signs, the open part faces the larger number, you worked hard to remember that and now you did” reinforces what skill was used and compliments the child for the effort they put into the learning.

This is an area I am still learning more about myself, as I was brought up more in the “you got 85%, good job”  and “you only got 75%, you should do better than that” mindset than the “you got 80%, I bet if you took his home and worked on the ones that were hard, you could get an even higher mark tomorrow” one. With that in mind, I found this article to be quite informative. It describes Dr. Carol Dweck’s  research on “Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset” :


The article mentions Dr. Carol Dweck. Here is a paper she wrote about how a student’s mindset can affect his/her learning of mathematics and science curriculum:


Her ideas can be used by adults with other adults,say in a work place, and with children.


A way to look at BMI Index values

Having had a recent conversation about how the BMI index can be inaccurate with someone, I have actually come up with a way to demonstrate it that most young people will be able to relate to – the Avengers and Loki. I used the intenet listed heights and weights of the actors that play these roles. This is what I found;
Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man – BMI 25.8 – overweight
(yet his personal trainer considered him skinny, and I certainly do not see him as overweight)
Chris Evans – Captain America – BMI 26.3 – overweight
Mark Ruffalo – Bruce Banner – BMI 23.9 – normal range
(I believe this was before he lost weight for the role)
Chris Hemsworth – Thor – BMI 24.9 – normal
Scarlett Johansson – Black Widow – BMI 22.3 – normal
Jeremy Renner – Hawkeye – BMI 25.2 – normal
Paul Bettany – Vision – BMI 24.4 – normal
Tom Hiddleston – Loki – BMI 22.4 – normal
What this tells us: Since people look heavier on the screen, and none of these people appear heavy when we see them, we would expect them to all be normal or underweight range, excepting perhaps the very muscled Chris Hemsworth, yet they are normal to overweight. These are people who are paid to look and be lighter and more fit than the common person on the whole. These are people who pay personal trainers to keep them in the expected shapes for their careers. These people who look healthy, normal, not fat, well-muscled, and even underweight in some cases have BMI’s that say they are normal and overweight. BMI isn’t very realistic.

Human Communication – 2

This is not something I wrote, but something I found. It definitely seemed worth sharing. I have pasted an excerpt from the original, so that if you like it you’ll go and read the original. I am familiar with this author and found her work interesting. In fact, I am reading another book of hers as I type this. I hope you find this part of the article interesting enough to go and read the original. The site I found it at is: http://people.howstuffworks.com/vsd1.htm

How Verbal Self-Defense Works


In every aspect of our lives we have to deliver or respond to negative messages at times–whether it’s giving an employee a poor appraisal or disciplining a child or defending our political or religious beliefs from attack. But these simple disagreements often degenerate unnecessarily into belligerent exchanges and pointless arguments. Some say that human beings are born to argue and that language is simply another weapon of survival. Suzette Haden Elgin heartily disagrees and in this new book shows how to disarm hostile language and radically improve communication with the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. Readers will learn a variety of proven techniques for conveying negative messages in a clear and assertive manner, but without antagonistic and destructive language.

Lots of people think verbal self-defense means fighting back. Their image of verbal self-defense is a collection of killer smart cracks plus strategies for using language to wipe the floor with their opponents. It’s not an accurate image.

In this edition of How Stuff Works, I’d like to show you a different way to relate to other people, especially when you disagree. Let’s talk about it a minute.

Why Verbal Self-Defense?

It has undoubtedly happened to you. There you are, in the middle of a fierce argument with someone, and suddenly you realize that you not only don’t particularly care about the subject of the argument but you can’t understand how you got into the altercation in the first place!

This isn’t trivial. Hostile language is dangerous to your health and well-being; it’s toxic stuff. People who are frequently exposed to hostile language get sick more often, are injured more often, take longer to recover from illness and injury, and suffer more complications during recovery. As an obvious result, they tend to die sooner than those not so exposed.  What’s more, hostile language is just as dangerous to the person dishing it out (and to innocent bystanders who can’t leave the scene) as it is to the person on the receiving end.

Obviously it’s to your advantage to stay out of arguments in both your personal and your professional life, unless something truly important — something about which you care profoundly — is at stake. Even then, most of us are aware that it’s possible to have intense discussions that don’t turn into altercations. How is it, then, that intelligent people keep finding themselves involved in arguments almost by accident?

The answer is pretty simple, and it’s a relic of the days when humankind dealt with sabertooth tigers at close range on a regular basis. One of the parts of your brain (the amygdala) is on constant duty, and one of its primary tasks is to scan for danger. When it spots an incoming perception that meets its criteria for danger, it has the ability to send a message that provokes an immediate fight-or-flight reaction, and it can do that without first going through the reasoning part of your brain. It can literally short-circuit your thinking process. In the sabertooth tiger days this was a good thing. You saw something vaguely big and furry, and you either left the scene fast or threw your club. You acted first, and then you thought about it, which increased your odds of survival a good deal. This part of your brain can still be a good thing on those very rare occasions when you do face imminent life-threatening sudden peril from tornadoes or terrorists or mad gun-toters. The problem is that it’s just as likely to kick in when the only threat you face is some klutz who wants to argue about whether his computer is more powerful than your computer. If the amygdala thinks the klutz is a threat, it bypasses your reasoning brain — and shortly you’re thinking, “I don’t even CARE whether my computer has more memory than this turkey’s computer! How  the heck did I get INTO this?? And how the heck do I get OUT of it so I can get on with my day??” This can happen to anybody now and then; we all just lose it sometimes. But if it happens often, it’s a grave threat to your well-being. It’s a lot more dangerous to you than most of the risk factors you spend time and money trying to guard against. You need to know how to put an end to this nonsense.

The Basics of Verbal Self-Defense

Verbal self-defense has three basic parts:

  • understanding what’s really going on
  • listening instead of leaping to conclusions
  • knowing how to respond.

Understanding what’s really going on

First and foremost, you need to educate your amygdala. When somebody comes at you with hostile language, your amygdala typically says, “DANGER! RED ALERT!”, and off you go. You need to be able to change the criteria your amygdala has for defining a threat.

Suppose a two-year-old runs at you screaming “YOU BIG MEANY! I don’t LIKE you!” and starts pounding on your knees with tiny fists. Your amygdala doesn’t pay the slightest attention. You know the toddler is no threat to you, you understand what causes such episodes, and you have better sense than to get involved in a fight with the poor little kid. The key here is that you understand what’s going on, and that lets you stay detached and rational.

With verbal attackers, the problem is that we usually don’t understand what’s going on. The dominant idea about such people in our culture is that their goal in attacking you verbally is to hurt you, to cause you pain, to do you harm — and that does of course fit your amygdala’s specifications for danger. However, the idea is all wrong. It’s a myth, just as “Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you” is a myth.

Anybody can verbally attack once in a while. You’re over-tired, you’ve had a horrible day, you’re coming down with a bad cold, somebody says a few innocuous words at you, and you lose it — you go after them as if they’d approached you swinging an axe. But chronic verbal attackers — the ones that keep everybody around them in turmoil all the time, the ones that people will flee into a restroom to avoid when they see them coming down the hall — are different. Sure, they could be sadistic psychotics out to savage you, but that’s not likely (and if they are, there’ll be other clues, such as the fact that they are swinging an axe). Almost always, chronic verbal abusers behave the way they do for one of two reasons:

  1. A small percentage are simply klutzes. They’re ignorant. They know no other way to communicate with other human beings. All they need is education.
  2. As for the rest, they’re desperate for attention and they know that throwing hostile language at you will get your attention.

In both cases, once you understand what’s really going on, your reaction to such people will no longer be, “Danger! Red alert!” Your reaction will be compassion. As in “Poor thing. Desperate to communicate, and that’s the best he/she can do.” Or “Poor thing. Desperate for attention, and that’s the best he/she can do.” You still may not like the attacker and you’ll still find the attacker’s behavior unacceptable, but you won’t have any interest in arguing.

Listening instead of leaping to conclusions

Psychologist George Miller long ago said something so important that I call it Miller’s Law; he said, “In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to find out what it could be true of.” That is, when somebody says, “Hey! My toaster talks to me!”, your proper response is a neutral “Oh? What does your toaster say?” Followed by careful listening, with your full attention. You’re not accepting as true the statement that the person’s toaster talks to him or her; you’re assuming temporarily that it is true, and then you’re listening carefully to find out what the statement could be true of.

That’s not how most of us operate. Most of us use a rule that I call Miller’s Law In Reverse. We hear somebody say something that we react to negatively; we immediately assume that the utterance is false; and we stop listening because we’re busy telling ourselves what’s wrong with the person that explains why they’d say something so unacceptable to us. We leap to conclusions. We tell ourselves things like these:

  • “He’s only saying that because…. he’s uneducated/crazy/drunk/old/sadistic/showing off.”
  • “She’s only saying that because…. she’s an airhead/vicious/on drugs/totally confused/out to get me.”
  • “They’re only saying that because… I’m short/people like them have no manners/I can’t afford a decent suit/they don’t like me.”

The minute we do that, all listening stops. You can’t listen to what someone else is saying and listen to your own self-talk at the same time; it’s not neurophysiologically possible. And what happens next? A great deal of the time, a fight happens. Like this:

X: “Hey! My toaster talks to me!” YOU: “Look, I don’t have time for that kind of garbage! I’ve got work to do!” X: “And I suppose MY work isn’t as important as yours?” YOU: “I didn’t say that.” X: “Oh, yes you did!” YOU: “I did NOT! I just said…”

And so on, downhill from there.

People tell me they don’t have time to listen, they’re too busy. I can assure you, based on three decades of teaching verbal self-defense, that they spend far more time straightening out the messes that result from not listening. Give the speaker your full attention for as long as it takes to understand what’s really being said and why. Even if the speaker is a child. Perhaps especially if the speaker is a child. I once heard a mother answer a child’s “Mom, I wish I was dead” with “Were dead, dear, not was dead.” This is how we end up reading in newspapers that a child has done some terrrible thing “without warning.” This is what’s behind going home one night and finding that your spouse has left you “without warning.” There’s always a warning, but somebody has to be listening to it; otherwise, the person will give up and stop trying.

Knowing how to respond

Our culture teaches three standard ways to respond to a verbal attack:

  1. Attacking back – “How DARE you say that to me!”
  2. Pleading – “I can’t BELIEVE you’re going to start that again when you KNOW how much work I have to do today!”
  3. Debating – “There are three reasons why what you say is ridiculous. First…”

All three are strategic errors, because all three reward the attacker by providing your immediate full attention, often with an emotional reaction thrown in that increases the intensity of that attention. All you do when you use those three traditional responses is encourage the attacker to do it again. After all, it worked.

What you need is a response that doesn’t do this. You need a response that lets the attacker know you won’t serve as willing victim. Fleeing the scene won’t do it; fleeing makes it obvious to attackers that they “got to you”; they’ll be eager to try again. Silently ignoring attackers won’t serve either; in our culture, silence is punishment, and is just another kind of counterattack. Like fleeing, it says, “You got to me. You can push my buttons.”

The verbal self-defense system that I teach includes an array of techniques too large to fit in this brief article. But I can give you two examples here (and you can find more information in my books or at my verbal self-defense Web site, http://www.adrr.com/aa/). Your goal is to respond to hostile language in a way that doesn’t set you up as a victim, doesn’t reward the attacker, doesn’t require you to sacrifice your principles or dignity, and causes no loss of face on either side. For instance….

Again, the site I found it at is: http://people.howstuffworks.com/vsd1.htm

Human Communications – 1

“You are a pessimist. I don’t like pessimists.”

Whoa! Here I am, having a down day. Working to turn my day around, and cheer myself up, and you hit me with this. I feel I have just been judged, convicted, and condemned by you. You have placed me under a label, one that you tell me you dislike. I am expected to respond now . . . how?

I could ask you what gave you that idea, but I hesitate. Already, you are in a negative frame of mind. Your frame of mind, and my being uncertain about what just happened, could too easily become an argument best avoided.

I could just walk away, I’ve done it before, but I have to work with you. By saying the words to me you just did, you have mentally attached a label to me that will from this time forward affect how you will treat me, how you will react towards me. If I just walk away now that would be like allowing your assumptions, admitting you are right, and saying I am allowing you to treat me in a negative manner.

I could allow myself to get upset, start an argument with you by choice, say something along the lines of, “I am not! where do you get off, thinking you can just pass judgement on another person and labelling people like that?” But it would create tensions, stresses, angst, and waste energy that both of us could put to much, much better use.

So, I choose my response. I look you straight in the eye, cock my head to one side, bat my eyes and smile as I say in a silly-little-girl voice, “Aw, gee, you say the SWEETEST things!” Then I turn away as nonchalantly as possible, and walk blithely away, with hopes that my response had diffused the situation.

I wonder why it was so important, at that precise moment in time, for you to say precisely what you did, the way you did. Perhaps it was nothing to do with me, but was instead your own demons rearing their ugly little heads, in which case I truly hope you can overcome those personal deamons and learn to not take out your life on other people that don’t deserve it.

On the other hand, perhaps while I was dealing with the slush my less-sunny-than-usual-moment had created, while I was working to remember butterflies and sunshine and optimism again on a raincloud kind of day, something in how I had expressed myself had come across in a way that shed a light more negatively than I would want my words to. If such was the case, it’s a pity that your response had not been instead with something along the lines of, “Wow! when you said (insert my words here) it came across in a way that seemed rather pessimistic, and I’d wondered if that had been your intent?” We could have discussed what had been said, what might have been said, and both of us could have learned more efective means by which we could communicate.

If you had said something like, “When I heard you say (insert my words here), it came across as rather pessimistic, and I wondered if you had realized that was how it sounded?” and create a fantastic learning moment for us both, as we would discover more intricacies of verbal communications.

Sadly, instead, you choose words that appear to be labelling me, and let me know that now that you have labelled me thus, you dislike me in the same manner that you dislike any other member of the group you have mentally placed me in.

Humans are considered to be above animals in part because of our ability to communicate intricately on multiple levels. You could have risen to the moment and we could together have explored our humanity, glorified in our intelligence. Instead, you chose derogatory comments intended to belittle another person.


What Surveys and Relationships Have in Common Over the Telephone

If someone calls you and you pick up the phone but say nothing, wait silently for a bit, then hang up – the caller doesn’t know for certain what just happened. The caller doesn’t even know if someone hungup the phone, or if there is something wrong with the phoneline. If the caller is polite, they will call back at another time.

If you don’t answer the phone when somebody calls – the caller has no idea why that is so. The most logical assumption, though, is that you either were not home or were unavailable somehow when the phone rang. If the caller is polite, they will call back at another time.

If you tell someone that this is a bad time, but call back – the caller will probably call you back! (If you say you are tied up at the moment, someone wanting a relationship will possibly also form strange thoughts, too!)

If you are talking to someone on the phone and you tell them you have no time right now but call back, or just that you are a little busy right now – your words are suggesting to that person that you might be available to speak to them at another time. If the caller is polite, they will call you back.

If you pick up the phone and a conversation starts, and and your words suggest to the caller that you seemed in no way upset to receive the call, but then phoneline goes deadfor that caller – then the caller has no way to know what just happened and will likely call back.

If someone calls you and gets your answering machine, whether they leave a message or not – they will probably call you back at a later date.

If someone calls you and you tell that person you are not really interested in talking to them, so please don’t call back again, guess what? They probably won’t call you back! Just a few words, yet the caller stops calling you back.

Isn’t it amazing what happens when you just tell someone “I’m not interested, please don’t call back” when that’s what you mean? Communicating – such a great way to deal with unwanted relationships and telephone surveyors, and it takes only about ten seconds of your time.

A Bug Party

A friend who is homeschooling her children commented to me the other day how her son had wanted a bug party, and how she couldn’t figure out how to do one. Knowing how creative she was, I was surprised she did not have answers. That’s why this post exists, for any mothers or child caregivers working with 3 to 8 year olds who might find my random thoughts on bug parties amusing.

First, have it in the summer, so there are bugs handy. Secondly, it can all be based on just one activty, or as many as you like.

1. HOW MANY BUGS DO WE KNOW: As a group, create a list of all the different kinds of insects you can think of. Depending on how many end up on the list, there could be a basis for a single group book, or many small individual books.

2. BUG HUNT: Go to a park, a hill in the yard, somewhere where there is lots of grass, dirt, and hopefully bugs. If it is a hot day and your own yard, run the sprikler for a bit about an hour before you do this. Lie on your stomachs on the hill very, very quietly and see if you see any bugs. Share your findings with the others quietly, and see what the bugs do and where the bugs go.

3. FIREFLIES: If you are fortunate enough to live where there are lightning bugs, have a sleepover. Collect lots of lightning bugs in jars. Sit in a circle and sing bug songs or make up bug stories and tell them to your bug ‘friends’. Let them go before bed so that they can be like stars and watch over you while you sleep (preferably in the bag yard most likely with a tent).

4. IDENTIFYING BUGS: If you live near a park get a book or few like “Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing Butterflies and Moths” by Jim Arnosky or “How to Hide a Butterfly and Other Insects ” by Ruth Heller and see if you can find any of what are in the book(s). Can become a great learning moment for things like how butterflies and bees help trees to make fruit, or how dragonflies eat mosquitos.

5. EDIBLE BUGS: Cut up some fruit into strips and chunks, and have the children use them to create their own bugs out of fruit bits, then eat their bugs as a snack.

6. PAINT BUGS: Fold an oval shaped paper in half. Using some poster paints, and teaspoons, let the children create designs on their paper. They then fold and squish it. Help them reopen then, and set them aside to dry. When it is dry, give the bugs eyes and legs.

7. SPINNERFLIES: Children would use an inexpensive salad spinner for this. Cut butterfly shapes that will fit into the spinner. Children put there butterfly in the spinner, then spatter poster paints on it, then spin madly to create unique their spinnerflies.

8. BUTTERFLY GARDEN: Reading a book like “The Butterfly Seeds” by Mary Watson, as an aid to introduce the idea of butterfly gardens. Discuss the idea of creating ones. Then, using books like “My Butterfly Garden” by Victoria Keys learn about butterfly gardening, what flowers that would work, etc. Plan how you as a group will make your own butterfly garden. Find the seeds you need, and start the garden. Plan ‘butterfly picnics’ for when the garden has grown and the butterflies start to come.

9. FOLLOWING BEES: First discuss how bees are not vicious, but protect themselves, and can be watched and followed safely if you are careful. In a group of up to three children and one adult, take a trip to an outside flower garden with binoculars. Find a bee, and follow it, using the binoculars as much as you can. See where it goes. Can you keep up with it using the binoculars, without damaging the garden, or scaring the bee? Where does it go? What flowers does it like? This could become a journal activity, following different wild animals using binoculars (like squirrels, pigeons, and grasshoppers).

10. RAINWEBS: During a week there is a forecast for a light rain, plan a walk in a nearby park after the rain. You are on quest to find a rainweb. That’s a spiderweb that has been dewed with rain (my word, to help the quest seem magical). When the sun comes out after a light rain, it will sometimes make small rainbows on wet spiderwebs, so that’s why you’re hunting for one. If you find one, don’t touch it, or the jewellike web could get broken, and will be gone. Maybe you will find one, maybe you will not. That’s what a quest is all about!

These are ten activities that could be part of a bug hunt. If anyone out there finds them useable, yay!! 🙂

a nothing, a nobody

Something I learned growing up. The parent that claims their child ‘will do anything for attention’ and ‘makes mountains out of molehills’ is not always, but very often, a parent who is minimalizing their child constantly, whether intentionally or unintentionally. As soon as you hear that, step back and take a good look at the child. do they act like someone who knows they are on stage, a drama queen? Do they act like they want to be heard, be loved? Watch the child with the parent. Does the parent take time to listen to the child and acknowledge the child’s feelings? Does the parent seem to brush aside how the child feels, either with a ‘don’t bother us’ attitude or a ‘you’re just a child, what do you know’ attitude?

If you looked at this honestly and openly, and saw that the parent was not really listening to the child but was excusing how their child was behaving while they avoided helping that child with what concerned him or her, then you have found a parent who is teaching the child not to believe in him or herself. This is a part of the abuse cycle. This is a part of what we have to change to improve our world. People say they do what they do for their children’s sakes. How is it for that child’s sake that you teach them to believe they are a nothing, a nobody?