I am finally ready to blog Chapter 2 of Awakening Children's Minds by Laura Berk--a chapter which is so full of ideas needing time to digest. This chapter alone will take many posts. And, as always, I am impressed at how well Charlotte Mason picked up on some of these ideas without the benefit of scientific research to back them up. First, Laura talks about how the warmth of teachers is vital to a child's education. She wrote the following about a study,
Those who viewed their teachers as warm and as providing helpful learning conditions--by making expectations clear and checking that the child understood--worked harder on assignments and participated more in class. Effort and participation, in turn, predicted better academic performance, which sustained the child's willingness to try hard in the future. In contrast, children who regarded their teachers as unsupportive were more likely to disengage, stop trying and show declines in achievement. These negative outcomes led children to doubt their own ability, which perpetuated their reduced effort (page 40).Charlotte recommended the same thing for teachers, "The teacher's part in this regard is to see and feel for himself, and then to rouse his pupils by an appreciative look or word; but to beware how he deadens the impression by a flood of talk" (pages 178-179).
Laura emphasizes how warmth, responsiveness, and encouragement motivates children: "Children who experience warm adult relationships want to preserve that spirit of affection and cooperation" (page 50). Charlotte recognized the importance of that desire recover that love, especially in explosive, strong-willed children like Guy whose wanted so much to make up with his sweet mother, "At last bedtime came, and his mother; but her face had still that sad far-away look, and Guy could see she had been crying. How he longed to spring up and hug her and kiss her as he would have done yesterday. But somehow he dared not; and she never smiled nor spoke, and yet never before had Guy known how his mother loved him (page 18)."
I want to present two long quotes about how warmth and clear expectations drive competence. Laura is first followed by an example Charlotte gave in habit training. The parallels are amazing!
A major contributor to these favorable outcomes is the fuel that warmth grants to adult expectations. Warm, caring adults offer explanations and justifications for their demands. In doing so, they invite children to judge the appropriateness of their requirements. When children view demands as fair and reasonable, they are far more likely to heed and internalize them. A warm, involved adult is also more likely to be an effective reinforcing agent, praising children for striving to meet high standards. And when children stray from goals that a parent or teacher regards as important and it is necessary to be firm and disapproving, a warm adult has a much great chance of changing the child's behavior than does an adult who has been indifferent or negative. Children of involved, caring parents find the interruption in parental affection that accompanies a reprimand to be especially unpleasant. They want to regain their parents' warmth and approval as quickly as possible (page 51).
Stages in the Formation of a Habit.––"Johnny," she says, in a bright, friendly voice, "I want you to remember something with all your might: never go into or out of a room in which anybody is sitting without shutting the door."
"But if I forget, mother?"
"I will try to remind you."
"But perhaps I shall be in a great hurry."
"You must always make time to do that."
"But why, mother?"
"Because it is not polite to the people in the room to make them uncomfortable."
"But if I am going out again that very minute?"
"Still, shut the door, when you come in; you can open it again to go out. Do you think you can remember?"
"I'll try, mother."
"Very well; I shall watch to see how few 'forgets' you make."
For two or three times Johnny remembers; and then, he is off like a shot and half-way downstairs before his mother has time to call him back. She does not cry out, "Johnny, come back and shut the door!" because she knows that a summons of that kind is exasperating to big or little. She goes to the door, and calls pleasantly, "Johnny!" Johnny has forgotten all about the door; he wonders what his mother wants, and, stirred by curiosity, comes back, to find her seated and employed as before. She looks up, glances at the door, and says, "I said I should try to remind you." "Oh, I forgot," says Johnny, put upon his honour; and he shuts the door that time, and the next, and the next.
But the little fellow has really not much power to recollect, and the mother will have to adopt various little devices to remind him; but of two things she will be careful––that he never slips off without shutting the door, and that she never lets the matter be a cause of friction between herself and the child, taking the line of his friendly ally to help him against that bad memory of his. By and by, after, say, twenty shuttings of the door with never an omission, the habit begins to be formed; Johnny shuts the door as a matter of course, and his mother watches him with delight come into a room, shut the door, take something off the table, and go out, again shutting the door pages 122-123
Laura points out that children who survive severe family adversity and grow up well-adjust do so because "a common element in the lives of such resilient youngsters . . . is an unusually warm, positive relationship with at least one parent or a close tie with an adult outside the immediate family" (page 71). In so many books, I have seen this pattern played out: Ralph Moody lost his father and became a breadwinner at a young age, but his mother's encouragement and warmth guided him from going astray. Laura Ingalls' warm relationship with her father helped her survive crop failures, her sister's blindness, near-starvation one winter, many moves, and poverty. Books like A Little Princess and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm contrast warm, sensitive adult relationships with cold, harsh ones.
In closing, Laura encourages us to,
Communicate with high warmth, using a positive emotional tone and providing explanations and justifications for your expectations. When adult-child relationships are sympathetic and caring, children want to acquire skills and behave in ways that preserve those gratifying ties. They are also more willing to work towards goals that are rational and reasonable (page 73).Now, I know this all seems obvious but maybe not. Let's face it . . . how often do we blow up when our children have forgotten to shut the door for the umpteenth time OR we drag them out of the store after a meltdown over a toy or candy OR we yell over the state of their room OR we question their intelligence in a struggle over math homework. I'll be honest: more than I care to admit.