Do you present on mindfulness? SEL? resiliency? self-regulation? grit? empathy? These are common questions I have been asked over the years. And my answer is usually the same, “Yes. No. Well, it depends.” Although I might not tackle the topic directly, I do address the underlying concern. If you have been in education long enough, you know the buzzwords change, but the issues remain the same. The topics requested all have one important commonality – an internal focus. When faced with a challenge or concern, we want our children and teens to look inward.
Unfortunately, it is hard to condition a person to have an internal locus of control when we have so many structures in place stressing the external. From the opinion of others, (What will they think?) to the need for entertainment, (I’m bored!), to our behavioral management systems (If you finish that, I’ll let you have time on the iPad), our kids habitually rely on external factors to dictate their behavior. This is a problem.
Parents and teachers, shift this tide by guarding against a hyper-focus on rewards and punishments. Rather, concentrate on discussion, problem solving and goal setting as the primary means of shaping behavior. There still may be consequences and intermittent reinforcements, but they should not be where we invest our energy. All children have an internal motivational compass; we just need to do a better job of helping them tap into it.