You know by now, if you’re a reader of this blog, that all of us at Celebrate Kids believe children are smart in eight different ways. So are adults! All of us have all eight intelligences in different amounts. For instance, I’m much more word, logic, and people smart than I am nature and picture smart.

So what do we do when our children appear to have legitimate academic challenges?

We still look for how they are smart. We must know their academic strengths and talk with them about them or they will not know to use strengths to overcome weaknesses.

For example, as I’ve written about before, spelling doesn’t come easily to me even though I’m very word smart. So, I use a thesaurus to look up a word I know how to spell in order to find one I can’t spell. Knowing how I’m smart empowers me to do this. (I can look up “beautiful” to find “gorgeous.” Why is there an “e” in that word??!!??)

Don’t let them think they’re stupid. Help them understand that when something is challenging or hard, it doesn’t mean they are “stupid.” Don’t let them call themselves that and help them carefully disagree with anyone who does. Help them find a satisfying way to express their academic challenges when it’s necessary. I might say something like “Spelling isn’t easy for me because picture-smart and nature-smart are not my strengths.” Or “It’s hard for me to concentrate when reading some fiction because I’m not very picture-smart and I don’t see the action as I read.” Or someone might say, “Math isn’t easy for me because I don’t have as many brain cells in that part of my brain as I wish I had. But, I’ll use the ones I have!”

We can help our children believe they are improving. Many children don’t recognize their own growth. This is especially true when we continue to point out the number of problems or words they got wrong on assignments. For instance, if they got 5 wrong on a math paper with 20 problems, they got 15 right. If in a few weeks a paper has 30 math problems and there’s another “-5” at the top of the paper, it looks like they’re doing the same kind of work. But, this time, they got 25 right. Make sure to point out this progress. (This is one reason I hope teachers put the number right at the top of papers when they can. The “+25” would be very encouraging.)

Talk about the character qualities you see your children use and the ones you want them to use. Sometimes I find children who believe they’re less smart actually believe they’re the only ones who have to correct errors and use qualities like perseverance and effort. They benefit from understanding that no matter how they were smart we would expect them to exhibit excellent character. Show them that children they think are smarter than they are use qualities like diligence and perseverance and make mistakes that must be corrected, too.

Talk about children’s interests and what they enjoy. We shouldn’t only be concerned with academic progress and it shouldn’t always be the first thing we talk with them about. This just adds to the pressure. Let’s not forget artistic and athletic pursuits and other things they enjoy. We may be able to turn these conversations toward academic concerns because they can possibly study and research things they enjoy and are interested in. This can increase motivation and performance. But that’s not the main reason to have these conversations. Our children need to know that we know them, like them, and want to be with them. Sometimes discovering like interests and talking about positive things we enjoy strengthens our relationship.

Do you have one or more children to apply these ideas to? Which conversation will you have first? Look for the teachable moment to present itself now that you know what you’ll do with it. Blessings to you and your children!