How to Raise Gifted Children: Let there be light

The first man on the moon (in clay)Last week, I ran two parenting workshops. At each one, I told the parents that I had found an amazing formula for raising gifted children and that my goal for the day was to share this formula, or at least the main parts of it, with them.

Every time I run a workshop, I get puzzled looks and parents ask, “How can you share such a thing with us? Aren’t kids either gifted or not?”

Well, no! Kids are gifted. Period. We just have to help them discover their particular gifts.

Imagine that the brain has switches. Kids are born with all the switches turned on. As they experience life, they learn to specialize, to switch some off and keep some on. It is impossible to have all these switches on all the time, so the mechanism of turning some of them off is very healthy and helps people survive. Can you imagine an expert who specializes in biology, art, history, electricity and music? I did not think so. The idea of specializing is that we narrow down our range interests to allow us to delve more deeply into the things we choose.

The first thing God said in the book of Genesis was, “Let there be light”. Parenting and teaching are kind of like being God, because our job is to do just that – turn on the switches and say, “Let there be light”.

Read more about how to get your kids excited

Make a List: Books that have changed my life

Inspiration 365 Days a YearAs an author, I have a strong belief in the written word. The collection of sounds put together in a unique sequence, creating words, sentences and paragraphs into ideas, has an enormous power for me.

I have been an avid reader from the age of 8. I remember that my neighbor friend and I used to ride our bicycles to the library for more than 45 minutes and could only borrow 3 books for 3 weeks. Reading was my sanctuary. School was tough for me, home was not an easy place and reading allowed me to visit new worlds in my own imagination and immerse myself in them.

I have always found it fascinating that a combination of words could trigger such emotions in people. Sometimes, when I read something that was really scary, I had to remind myself that it was just a story and that if I took the same words and put them in a different combination, their meaning would change completely.

Books were my best friends for many years. As a teenager, I spent about 2-3 hours every day reading. When I read a book late at night, the only thought that encouraged me to let go of the book and go to sleep was “leave something for tomorrow”. Our high school librarian would wait for me every day with a pack of books and say, “Ronit, I think you’ll like these”. Books inspired me to be better, stronger and smarter and to keep moving forward.

I think the understanding in the early years of my life of the power of words has made me the author I am today. When I write, I search for the combination of words that would trigger certain thoughts and feelings. My ultimate goal is to write something that will open the gates of the heart and allow people to find love, connection and happiness.

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From the Life Coaching Deck: Troublemaker

Girl with labels projected onto herIan’s parents came for coaching about 5 years ago. Ian’s mom, Lou, booked the sessions as a last resort before she divorced his dad. About two months ago, she sent me an email and said, “Hi Ronit, Dave and I renewed our vows last year on an overseas trip. I want you to see Ian. He’s in trouble at school”.

Kids’ coaching is not something that most parents understand, but Lou and Dave, after making a huge change in their own life through coaching, did not need to ask what it was. When I called Lou and asked what she needed and why she wanted Ian to come and see me, she said, “Ronit, I’m not sure how you do what you do, but I need you to do it for Ian. He’s a great kid, but he’s in trouble at school and it’s affecting his self-esteem. It breaks my heart to see him like that. I’ve tried different things, but he is still in trouble. I’m sure if he spends some time with you, he’ll gain some confidence, just like we did”.

Ian was one of the most beautiful 11-year-old boys I had ever seen. In his first session, I went over some assessments to figure out what was making him get in trouble at school. Although he could read high-level books, thought math was easy and schoolwork was not a challenge at all, his grade average was “B”. Not that I think everyone needs to get an “A”, but all my assessments showed he was an “A” student, maybe even one of those smart kids that find school so boring they stir up some trouble to get some attention and make things a bit more interesting.

Read more about why kids get in trouble at school

Parents are Failing Exams

Girl doing homeworkExams have been a big part of schooling for ages and I think they will be here for years to come, yet every year that goes by, I am more convinced they defeat the purpose they were created for. Teachers use exams to measure the kids’ success, which is OK, but they forget that the kids’ success is mainly related to how successful they were at teaching their subjects.

I am extremely upset with the way exams are conducted. My own children, Eden, Tsoof and Noff, vary greatly in age. They have studied in many places around the world with different teachers and in different school systems, and I have encountered this problem everywhere, so no matter where you live, this post is for you, because parents have the power to change it.

The reason I am extremely upset is that one of my students, a gorgeous girl who came for an assessment, was about to finish 7th Grade and go to 8th Grade, but could not read at 3rd Grade level and was doing very poorly in class. When I did her assessment, I was convinced I was wrong and made some mistake, but she could not read a short paragraph of instructions and failed at 3rd Grade comprehension level.

Now, I have a question for you. What is the point of having tests if a girl is allowed to move from one grade to the next without recognizing she has a problem and without giving her any help?! Her mother was very, very angry. She had sent her precious daughter to private schools from the first day of schooling, her school had complained during the previous year about her daughter’s behavior, but no one ever thought of saying anything about her poor academic achievements, never mind her enormous frustration.

The poor girl had been overlooked for nearly 5 years!

Read more about what parents must do with exams

My School Horror: Lazy Kids

Asa Butterfield - HugoA few weeks ago, I starting writing about horror stories that happen at school when teachers are not aware of how their actions affect the children and when they do not know what is happening in kids’ lives outside of school. The teacher in today’s story is kind, loves her students and does an amazingly great job under tough circumstances, but despite her best intentions, something went horribly wrong.

While my previous post was about events that happened 38 years ago (you can calculate my age now), this event took place just recently at a school nearby.

Sharon was a 6th Grade teacher and tried very hard to make Josh participate in class activities. Josh was just a lazy kid. He did not do his homework, he was rude and violent towards other kids and was a typical troublemaker. Every day he was absent from school was a great day. She tried giving him tasks, helped him and did all the regular behavior management things to get him interested and engaged, but nothing worked. When she thought she had exhausted all her options, she decided to call his home and tell Josh’s parents about his behavior. His parents said, “Thank you for letting us know. We’ll talk to Josh and make sure he never causes any more trouble at school”.

The following day, Josh came to class and was very quiet. It was a summer day, but he was wearing a long-sleeved jumper. Sharon felt something was wrong with that and asked him to stay with her after class. She asked him about the jumper. At first, he said he was a bit cold in the morning, but eventually, she asked him to take off his shirt, just for a second.

Read more about how to help kids learn better

School Horrors: My Torn Notebook

Scared little girlThis week, I had the opportunity to discuss school horrors with 3 of my clients. One of them was a 45-year-old man who could not handle school because he had to “toughen up” at the age of 4 when his father left home. Another one was a 13-year-old girl who was about to start 8th Grade with a 3rd Grade reading abilities and was convinced she was stupid. The third one was a 48-year-old woman who was told all her life she was stupid, never succeeded in her schooling and thought it was an obstacle to finding a job. All three of them described school as a period of horror when they were scared to be there and when teaching was about pumping information without considering their life’s circumstances – teaching out of context.

During coaching, I usually share some of my personal experience with my clients, so it was very natural for me to share one of my horror stories from school. Unfortunately, I have had too many. When I tell them, I re-live them in my mind and have clear memories of them. I remember the names, the places, the settings and the feelings I have had. I shared these stories because I wanted my clients to consider that in spite the horrors of our childhood, we can all make it. In spite of our parents not protecting us, we can make it. In spite of our teachers not teaching us with the right context in mind, we can be very successful. And happy.

All of them just looked at me quietly for a while. One of them started crying (and it was not the 13-year-old). Another one said, “Ronit, you are making this up”. The third one said, “It’s impossible! You look like you’ve been successful all your life”. Then, all of them left their sessions believing they can make it too.

Gal said I should write it down so more people will be inspired, more parents will be involved in their kids’ schooling and more teachers will teach within their students’ context, so here I am sharing with you my first horror story from school.

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State of the Union

clip_image003_thumbAs a parent, a life coach, a business consultant and a former corporate employee and manager, I have become increasingly concerned about morals. Until recently, I read or heard about people doing things that seem obviously wrong to do, and wondered how they could bring themselves to do them.

Now, I believe I know some of the reasons. Better yet, perhaps these reasons can lead us all towards a solution.

Almost invariably, you turn on the news or read the papers and find out about somebody who was caught scheming, embezzling or downright cheating. These people seem to have no regard for other people’s wellbeing, possessions or money. Sometimes, people are killed over what seems like a minor conflict, because the killer values something else – their wallet, their leather jacket or their girlfriend – over their life.

In response to Ronit’s posts on bullying, many readers have shared stories of workplace bullies who abuse their position, physical size or some weakness of their co-workers in ways that hurt them and ruins morale and productivity. Do these people follow a different value system to the rest of us? Given the rise of bullying, probably not.

So what is going on in the world? Has everybody gone mad? Is there nobody who still does the right things?

In his great book, Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely presents a conflict between two modes of living: the “social norm” and the “market norm”.

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Predictably Happy Kids

Little baskeball playerAs parents, we are supposed to do what is best for our kids. One of the biggest choices we all need to make is how to develop our kids when they too young to choose for themselves. Obviously, without being able to see into their future, this could be a case of the blind leading the blind.

But maybe it does not have to be.

In the past few days, I have been reading an excellent book called Predictably Irrational by Professor Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at MIT. In one of the chapters, he describes experiments that show humans are so sensitive to loss they do everything they can to avoid losing even things they could have, but do not actually have. One of these things, he says, is options.

In his description, he give parents’ decision-making about their children’s development as an example of how irrationally expensive it is to keep our kids’ options open. If you do the math, he says, you see that spreading the family resources over 4 different activities each week, say ballet, piano, art and karate, means your child makes 1 unit of progress in each of them every week, as opposed to choosing just one activity, say piano, which would allow the child to make 4 units of progress every week and become really good at it.

I was tempted to agree, and this post was almost about how much his point made sense, but then Eden and I went for our morning walk (it is so great she starts late on Wednesdays) and reviewed her life, the lives of Tsoof and Noff and those of other kids we know, and my view of this issue changed completely.

Read more about how to help your kids succeed

Wonders of Creation

Admiring mother and daughterAre your kids the most precious, amazing and wonderful things in the world?

If you are not sure, keep reading.

Parents, like most people, often view the world in absolute terms – “This is pretty”, “This is wrong”, “This smells good” or “How rude!” Naturally, the way they view their children is similar. They break each child down into separate properties, such as looks, math skills, strength and manners, and assign a rating or a score to each one of these important aspects in each child.

The result is disappointing more often than not, simply because nobody is perfect in every way, let alone kids, who undergo big changes and have not mastered every rule in their parents’ book. This is particularly apparent during the teenage years, when even calm and obedient children turn into full-sized, defiant and opinionated creatures. Many parents of teenagers are so focused on what their sons and daughters are not doing (right) they have a hard time remembering how they behaved last year, when they were still in primary school.

But your kids are the most precious, amazing and wonderful things in the world.

Really.

First, consider the odds of any of them being born at all. Out of thousands of potential partners in your life, you have chosen only one to have each child with. That child would not be the same if you had chosen anybody else.

Out of hundreds of eggs and billions of sperm, only one sperm combined with one egg to produce each child. The odds of having that particular child with those particular physical traits and basic character make winning the lottery seem like a sure thing.

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Reading Skills for Kids

Reading babyMost of the new information kids receive at school comes from reading. Even if that information is on the computer, they still need to read it. So if there is something you need to do well as a parent, it is to make sure your kids read well, that they understand what they read and that they read in order to find and use information.

Kids are not born with reading skills, but they still need them to build their knowledge and understanding. We develop these skills in them by reading for fun or by reading to get information.

Although I believe that reading for fun is very important and can help increase your vocabulary and understanding, I think it is limited, because kids cannot check on their own if they understood the stories or not. Many books have layers of understanding and the young reader cannot tell which layer he or she is reading at and what they might be missing.

School is pretty much the only place where we can check kids’ understanding and help them develop their reading skills and teachers are qualified to tell which level of reading and which reading skill is expected at each age, but as a parent, there are things you can teach your kids at home that will help them greatly with their reading development.

Read more about how to teach kids’ reading skills