Demonstrating Successful Behaviors
Respectfully submitted by Julie Bujtas
Just when you finally start feeling like you’ve gotten your life together, you‘re the most stable and organized you‘ve ever been, life throws you a curve. Congratulations! You’re a parent! Now you have to take all of those bits of world knowledge and organizational skills and teach them to someone else! Naturally, all of the good habits you’ve worked so hard on your whole life will be passed down. Everything from the proper way and times to brush your teeth, to the healthy foods you choose to put into your body, to your daily exercise routine will be carefully demonstrated for and explained to your young pride and joy. Just as important as all of these habits that you practice in taking care of your physical self, however, are the little things you may not even realize you do that help you get through the rough times and function successfully as an intelligent human being. Noted writers/educational consultants Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick have identified 16 of these “Habits of Mind” - common behaviors that successful people rely on when they are confronted with difficulty. And they do need to be taught!
Success is not just about how much information we retain, but how we react or behave when the answer to a problem is not readily available. “Persist,“ “take a risk,“ “ask questions,“ or “try to be flexible” seem like common sense behaviors for many of us. We may not remember how, when, or where we learned and started practicing these skills, but these and many other good problem-solving habits were taught to us at some point along the way. As mindful parents, we should show our own children how we apply them in tough situations, just as we model or demonstrate other good habits for their benefit. In order to successfully handle the problems that life throws at them, our children will need every opportunity to practice these intelligent behaviors. The sooner they are aware of and start using them, the faster these behaviors will become habits. Knowing and using them will make the many transitions children face through their academic and social development that much easier.
Aside from the “common sense” behaviors mentioned above, there are a few identified habits that we probably do as parents, without even thinking. “Responding with wonderment and awe” is a favorite of toddler parents; we realize that what gets us excited can also get them interested, so the smallest act becomes a dramatic event, to create excitement. “Creating, imagining, and innovating” and “questioning” can be brought to the fore at this time, too. Our child’s choice of toy or playtime activity can help him make sense of the world and build upon it, in his own unique way. As they grow from toddler to preschooler, “thinking interdependently” becomes more necessary. They engage in group activities, have play dates, and begin to see the benefits of having someone else their age, with whom they can share ideas. Perhaps most important at this time, we try our best to “find humor” in difficult situations, because we know that our children will react as we do. We often look to diffuse what might otherwise be a tear-filled outburst by showing how comical, weird, or ironic the situation can be, drawing attention away from the source of fear or hurt.
Although these behaviors may seem intuitive, they do need to be identified and reinforced, the ultimate goal being that they will be the first reactions when problems arise. The child can grow to understand that he is in full control over the resulting positive or negative outcome, based on which behaviors he uses to respond. The simple act of recognizing and pointing out these behaviors at home early on can help children learn how and when to consciously apply them. Children’s ability to advocate for themselves and move through life’s ubiquitous difficulties at school or with friends with ease can become almost second nature.
It is probable that these skills are worked into the curriculum of your child’s school in some form or another. Many teachers actually use Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind as a way to set the tone in their classroom. Habits like “managing impulsivity,“ “communicating with clarity and precision,“ “applying past knowledge,“ and “gathering data through all the senses” can help to focus students on the work at hand and maintain a respectful atmosphere. However, the one place children learn more of their behaviors than anywhere else is, of course, from their parents. We model “listening with understanding and empathy” when we listen to them. They notice our facial expressions, where we focus our attention, and how we respond, and they try those behaviors out on the next person they listen to. Our attention to detail in our own work, as we “strive for accuracy and precision,” is also noted and mimicked. If a child comes from a household where every new activity is treated as a learning experience, he or she will no doubt “remain open to continuous learning” throughout life.
These habits are not exhibited in isolation; we often use several at once when tackling a major issue. Costa and Kallick admit that successful adults may have even more intelligent habits than those included in their list. As parents raising our children in the best way we know how, it is our duty to share our positive world views and personal habits with them. The recognition and use of the Habits of Mind offer that sense of stability and organization that are so helpful to have earlier in life. Making our children aware of these and other “intelligent behaviors” as a positive means of tackling any problem, academic or social, can be one of the most useful gifts we can offer them as parents.
External Links and Further Reading:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Habits of Mind Summary. c. 2000
Watts, Graham. Habits of Mind; Developing skilful learners and independent thinkers. http://www.habitsofmind.co.uk/the-habits.html