How to Activate IDENTITY Development in the Early Elementary Years—
Meaning: The successful transition from early childhood to the early elementary years relies on solidly emerging competencies, early formation of self-confidence, and fledgling awareness of one’s own actions and consequences. Important for both parents and teachers to be mindful of the developmental and unique timetable each child is following when it comes to core academic and social competencies such as reading, writing, numeracy, cooperation, and responsiveness. Mastery, even though tenuous and fleeting in many instances, ought to be celebrated, though patience and understanding are essential for mastery to be nurtured toward consistency and further growth.
Actions: Expectation of perfection is not the approach adults should take when it comes to developing mastery in the child. Regard successes as just tiny steps in a long, many-years process, yet cherish the successes we must. Also, expect to see two-steps-forward-one-step-back: Do not ever expect consistent progress in athletics, social, musical, and academics. Slippage, sliding and forgetting on any of these skill sets are par for the journey toward mastery. Just know that each emerging competency is yet another glimmer of joyful identity we can celebrate and enjoy. Whatever the case, wherever the child is on a given spectrum of learning, we adults must never be focused on the outcome, but more so on how your child is striving and progressing.
Learning: Here’s a very good article on helping your kids develop mastery: click on Dr. Jim Mastrich’s site, https://drjimmastrich.com/sports/helping-good-people where he discusses a balanced and sensitive approach to guiding your children toward mastery. Another intelligent look at developing competence can be found on the site, “Confident Parents Confident Kids,” with the relevant article found here: https://confidentparentsconfidentkids.org/2013/04/11/cultivating-a-sense-of-competence/ .
Meaning: Almost always by kindergarten, and certainly during the kindergarten year, the child will be aware of the annual calendar and that important things are happening according to the calendar, like birthdays, holidays, religious events, the countdown to the 100th day of school, and so much more. I call this aspect of their learning “traditions” because the child is learning that he/she is part of a larger community of events and celebrations and popular stories. Family traditions, school traditions, and national or religious traditions are highly identity forming, and their value is that the mind enlivens to a greater purpose, as much as the mind is preparing to appreciate the transcendent and spiritual. Traditions are also be about the stories we read, the foundational stories found in the bible or from mythology.
Actions: These are the years to begin or to reinforce family traditions—whatever they may be. These are also the years to introduce recognition of global events, national holidays, and religious ceremonies and celebration, or even a this-day-in-history exercise. Traditions teach about time, history, community, purpose, the importance of family, and they can even teach about abstract concepts like independence or the lessons about our national heroes.
Learning: The site newkidscenter.com has an excellent article, “Teach Kids About the Importance of Family.” For a children’s picture book on this topic, try My Family Tree and Me by Dusan Petricic. For those looking to start a family tradition, check this: www.mykidsadventures.com/new-family-traditions/ and the article, “6 Family Traditions You Can Start With Your Kids.”
Meaning: Perhaps the most important character trait a child can learn at home and at school is that of responsibility. Nothing is more confidence building, and nothing is more identity confirming, than what a child gains from his/her responsible actions. Young children want to feel purposeful, and they so want to assume the role of helper, of doer, of completing, of furthering, of contributing. Teaching responsibility goes very far to enliven the young mind and inspire further gains as a learner and a community participant. Assigning tasks and chores to young children, whether at school or at home, has unfortunately encountered a backlash among parents who regard menial tasks as demeaning and diminishing. Nothing could be further from the truth—little tasks for children are empowering and supportive of their growth and sense of worth.
Actions: Modeling responsibility is one of the most effective means of teaching this all-important trait. When the adult in the vicinity exhibits care for one’s surroundings–keeping it neat, throwing trash away, putting things in their place—the value of responsibility is beginning to take hold. Devising “systems” of classroom or home maintenance, whereby children take on roles and are assigned duties and responsibility for the details that make way for the next lesson or that get the dinner table ready for a meal—help create the responsibility-centered environment. And when the adult notices the child’s responsible acts by way of verbalizing appreciation, all the better for fostering good habits and mindfulness among children.
Learning: Responsibility is so closely related to all the core traits and good habits we want to foster in children, and for a substantial resource to teach these attributes to younger children in the classroom, consider the series Character Education, by Haley O’Connor, which is a 20 pamphlet set of activities for promoting positive character traits. Some excellent teaching ideas can be readily found on the site https://proudtobeprimary.com.
Meaning: The experts (child psychologists; psychology professors; family therapist) are together on this one: all kids lie. This reality is no reason to be alarmed at this or to throw in the towel. The hard work of modelling and instilling the value of honesty during these early years that will pay off hugely during the tween and teen years, where lying can easily turn dangerous. Most kids in the early elementary years will lie when they are really just trying to be polite, or they are trying to protect someone, or they are trying to get something, or they are trying to get out of trouble. Lying can also be a facetious means to connect with adults in a humorous way. No need to treat every occasion of lying as a capital offense. Building honesty requires an ever-present mindset, a gentle and understanding tone, along with explanations and reasons to be truthful at every turn in order to impart the goodness that honesty will yield. It does take time to inculcate the value of honesty.
Actions: Avoid projecting a punitive or harsh tone when responding to dishonesty. Such a tone will likely fuel further episodes of dishonesty in the child, as fear of being honest will result from stern accusations as well as from a parent’s calling the child a liar. No need to push the child up against the wall with a challenge to the child to fess up. When confronting a child’s dishonesty, calmly acknowledge what you know to be the case, and then go right into an explanation of why honesty is the best choice and why the family will continue to value honesty—its connection with trust and support and safety for everyone. One of the best ongoing approaches is to congratulate the child when they are honest about a matter; as well, modelling honesty will also rub off on the child.
Learning: Great ideas on teaching honesty can be found on the site, http://raisingsmallsouls.com . For those looking for a book to share with children on the topic of honesty, try this one: Teach Your Dragon To Stop Lying, by Steve Herman. Another children’s book garnering excellent reviews on this topic is The Honest-to-Goodness Truth, by Patricia McKissack.
Meaning: When people hear the word stamina, they naturally think about endurance in athletics. Physical endurance is indeed a valuable asset for the growing child, but stamina for our purposes on the enlivenminds site is about increasing time and focus on a given task, such as reading or doing math problems or working on a project. Attention or focus—keeping attention centered on an academic task—sometimes becomes the Holy Grail for parents in their effort to see progress and achievement in the school setting. The frenzy in our society to find ways to bolster attention in the child is at fever pitch. The rush to find solutions has ignited an explosion of drugs and psychological strategies. On these website pages you will find only the more natural approaches to building stamina and strengthening attention.
Actions: Understand that each child is on his or her own pathway and timetable when it comes to the full range of skills and attributes, and I would include ability to focus in this category. I am not going to denigrate the effectiveness of prescription drugs, but rather my emphasis is on what adults and children should be working on at all times, regardless of whether parents choose to medicate their child. There are limitless focus games designed to build attention; setting up a distraction-free environment will help; chop up the big tasks into tiny steps; know the child’s learning style—visual, auditory, kinesthetic?—and play to these strengths. A child diagnosed with ADD or ADHD should never use such a diagnosis as an excuse for doing the natural work necessary to develop attention skills, and maintaining this sense of responsibility is entirely dependent on the home front and determined by the parents’ can-do attitude.
Learning: A superb article with many excellent ideas on teaching kids to concentrate is entitled, “13 Mind-Blowing Tips To Increase Concentration Power In Kids,” by Dr. Shireen Stephen, and can be found on the https://flintobox.com site. Another article containing a wealth of strategies is “Parenting Tips for ADHD: Do’s and Don’ts” found on the site www.healthline.com . One of the seminal books on this topic that helped me tremendously as a classroom teacher early in my career is Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder, by Edward M. Hallowell.
Meaning: We can list dozens of humanistic values underneath this category of “IDENTITY” and they would all make sense, no matter which developmental phase of a child’s life we are talking about. I like to emphasize gratitude because it promotes appreciation for community, feeds the spiritual appetite, and teaches the importance of caring and kindness. Gratitude should be a staple in every school—it should not matter if it comes across as prayer in the classroom. Being thankful for what we have, for the goodness of the day, for the wonders of nature, for the love of our families—thankfulness is at the heart of a healthy sense of identity, and it deserve to be factored into a child’s life every single day.
Actions: Gratitude is perhaps the best way to begin routines at the dinner table. Getting in the habit of saying good things about the day—What made you feel good today? Who can we thank, and for what? What good words or deeds did you come across today? The conversations about the school day will devolve to complaints and frustrations, and this negativity can easily dominate the household every day, if gratitude is not given an up-front priority in how we reflect on our day. Gratitude games can be a lot fun: such as, do a go-around where everyone in the family says something nice about a new person they encountered that day, or someone they saw do something good.
Learning: The essentials of teaching gratitude can be found in the article “10 Ways to Raise a Grateful Kid,” which is found on the pbs.org website. Here’s another clear delineation of the fundamentals of teaching gratitude: “How to Teach Gratitude to a Child – Four Parts of Gratefulness,” by Alissa Marquess, on the bouncebackparenting.com site.