The Importance of Being Positive When Describing How a Child Learns Child1st Publications
Feb 03, 2016

The Importance of Being Positive When Describing How a Child Learns

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The Importance of Choosing Positive Words to Describe Right-Brained Children and the Way They Learn

Have you ever had a person make a remark about some facet of your character that seemed to you to be a bit unfair? Maybe you are a person who likes to finish the job once you have started even if it means working late into the night. To someone else who does not have that same preference, it might look like you are just obsessing. “You’re so intense!” might be the remark you hear. “Why are you always ON!?” You know in your heart what drives you and why you do what you do, and it can be hurtful to have what you consider a good trait called something negative.

A Lot Depends on Our Outlook

Several years ago, I began to believe that there is a flip side to almost everything and that a lot depends on our personal outlook and how we choose to view life. When it comes to describing people in terms of their character traits, our outlook makes a huge difference. For instance, if I see a person who is very different from me, I can choose to say, “Boy she’s weird!” or I could say, “She’s really interesting!” One is negative, one is positive. Unfortunately, I fear that our knee jerk reaction is to disparage rather than to give the benefit of the doubt.

When it comes to children, all too often we choose the negative rather than the positive term to describe them. The consequences to doing so are monumental. It is so critical how we reflect to a child who he is when he is in a stage of life in which his self-concept is being shaped. The chart below lists both positive and negative versions of character traits taken from Jeffrey Freed’s book, Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, p. 83, (he is quoting Dr. Thomas Armstrong from his book The Myth of the ADD Child). This chart is a great example of how a single character trait can be described as positive or as negative.

Negative Positive
Hyperactive Energetic
Impulsive Spontaneous
Distractible Creative
Daydreamer Imaginative
Inattentive Global thinker with a wide focus
Unpredictable Flexible
Argumentative Independent
Stubborn Committed
Irritable Sensitive
Aggressive Assertive
ADD Unique

Holding up the Mirror

Very active children tend to be the bane of the traditional classroom. Most teachers love students to sit and be quiet and finish their work quickly, but they don’t factor in that some children have to move in order to learn, nor do they take into account that these children must be drawn into learning in order to be able to focus on it. When we as adults speak to young children and use words to describe them, what we are doing, in essence, is holding up a mirror that shows them who we think they are. Children faced with a mirror will believe exactly what they see. Once we show them the mirror, they begin to BE what they see in the mirror. This is how we shape children for good or for ill. I’ve known people who believed that if they praised their children, it would spoil them. So when the children delivered a less than perfect performance, the parents, rather than remarking on what they did well, would point out the part they did less well. While there are some children who have the internal fortitude to rise above the negativity and try harder, for many children, discouragement sets in. Over a lifetime, these children will carry with them the feeling that they are not good enough and will quit trying to achieve.

Mirrors and the Right-Brained Learner

According to Jeffrey Freed, (pp. 17-18) “Most gifted and virtually all children with ADD share the same learning style. Simply put, they are all highly visual, nonsequential processors who learn by remembering the way things look and by taking words and turning them into mental pictures. The teaching techniques that work so well for gifted, right-brained students also work for children with ADD. This is a simple, yet revolutionary notion.

“While our schools have been harping on the deficits of children with ADD, I’ve had the pleasure of unearthing their many gifts. These children can do difficult math problems in their head, remember long lists of words, and are excellent speed-readers. So why do they do so poorly in school? Because educators tend to be left-brained: very detail-oriented, auditory processors who view visual learners as flawed. Our educational system hammers at visual learner’s weaknesses rather than utilizing their greatest strength: an uncanny visual memory. The cost of such rigidity is incalculable, and the lost potential is astronomical.”

About the Left-Brained Teacher

I want to clarify at this point that my purpose is not to bash left-brained teachers. The world would be chaotic were it not for the balance these brains bring to the mix. My goal IS, however, to encourage us all to value differences, truly recognize that not all learners are the same, try new strategies, and prioritize the child more highly than a traditional method of teaching.

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