9 Strategies to help kids focus better, reach their goals, and develop more confidence (Part 2 of 3)

girls sportsIn part 1 of this series, we shared how the rapid increase in technology and information does not necessarily correlate to smarter, more successful and healthy kids becoming successful, well adjusted adults.  We talked about their increased need to develop disciplines and skills to combat the ever-increasing distractions during this information and technology age.  The first 3 disciplines and skills we talked about were the power of a written plan, tackling difficult tasks by chunking, and the power of prioritizing.  In this next installment, we continue to discuss skills and strategies that, if used properly, will help you be a more effective influence on children, whether you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, or coach.

Strategy # 4- Behavior Modification Programs

Psychological research has shown that behavior modification can be applied in the form of token reward systems to improve the behavior of students and children with ADHD, autism and other behavior impairments.  Behavior modification was first introduced to the world through psychologist B.F. Skinner, during his work and research in “operant conditioning”.  In operant conditioning, Skinner worked on identifying the most basic connections of stimuli and response.  Operant conditioning is a methodology and philosophy of learning that involved positive and negative consequences for behaviors i.e. a positive behavior is rewarded with something positive and a negative or unwanted behavior was treated with a negative feedback, outcome or punishment.  The token system was developed from this simple learning model linking the subject’s behavior directly to some positive or negative feedback.

In a nutshell, a token system using the behavior modification framework allows a child to create or choose their own rewards system.  Then, they receive tokens for acceptable behaviors and they lose tokens for unacceptable behaviors.  When they earn enough tokens, they can exchange the tokens for their self-selected rewards.  The rewards vary in kind and in token costs, larger rewards requiring more tokens and vice versa.  Token systems also work well for children and adults with borderline mental retardation and other mental challenges.  Token systems have been adapted into classrooms to help develop a child’s sense of right and wrong, socially acceptable behaviors, as well as personal responsibility and maturity.  The power of the token system is in the fact that the child chooses his or her list of potential rewards.  They are motivated intrinsically by the rewards they want to earn.  Some teachers use tokens, tickets, or visible charts to track their points or currency that they can spend on different rewards.  They learn that there is a direct correlation between their own behavior, responsibility and their rewards or contentment in life.

Strategy #5- Team mate / Accountability

According to Tim Scholten, developer of the Focus5 success process and author of The Focus5 Advantage, accountability can improve a person’s success chances by up to 10 times!   Accountability is one of the best tools to improve focus and goal achievement, as long as it has a good balance between encouragement and constructive honesty.  Kids need encouragement, but they also need honest feedback and accountability in order to develop a realistic sense of self and their abilities.  If a child never experiences failure in a safe environment, they will develop an unrealistic ability to measure their own success.  When they face challenges and defeat as an adult, they will be more resilient and become more successful problem-solvers if they learn that loss, failure, and handling challenges is a normal part of life.  On the other hand, if a child is constantly experiencing criticism from an adult figure, they can develop a self-defeating self-image and never develop confidence.  Accountability in a loving but disciplined environment is essential for helping children develop into more successful adults.

There are several psychological factors involved in the accountability dynamic, and it depends on the individual which of those factors are at work.  For Tim, being accountable has worked for him and the teams he has developed and led primarily because people don’t want to let other people down.   Based on Tim’s experience and research, we are designed with the inherent desire to please others.  If it is a boss, mentor, teacher or parent or team mate, these are people we naturally want to please.  We don’t want to let them down, so being accountable to them raises our commitment to doing the work and doing it in a quality way to gain maximum pleasure.

As a developing child, having an accountability partner, coach or teammate in your corner can make all the difference.  Kids are developing in so many different ways at once, that having a loving, supportive source of camaraderie and positive feedback, as well as encouragement will give most children a better chance at overcoming obstacles, while developing more skills, self-confidence, and a more realistic, adjusted and stable sense of self.

Strategy # 6 –  Structured Competition will Fuel Faster Advancement

According to Daniel Coyle, author of the “Talent Code”, one of the ingredients of talent hotbeds around the world is “competition”.  When he researched sports and other performance camps where children, teens and young adults were being developed into world-class performers, competition was a regular part of their training.

Competition is an added dynamic that will cause some people to perform worse, and some to perform better.  Practicing one’s skills under the pressure of competition will help an individual to grow and mature in their skill under psychological circumstances that add more social pressure.  Competition magnifies strengths and weaknesses in a person’s skills, making it much easier to identify where a person or student has mastered specific skills, while also making it easier to identify weaknesses or underdeveloped skills, as well as their integrity and character.  By repeated exposure to competition, a child, or any person learning a skill can develop more self-confidence as well as confidence in their skills, helping them to develop at a faster rate because the results of their skills are constantly being measured, giving realistic, immediate feedback.

On the contrary, when someone practices skills in private, there is less structure, less pressure to perform, less scrutiny, and less feedback on the quality of their practice.  During competition, the feedback is immediate as one’s skills are compared to the skills of others.  When scoring, tracking or other metrics is combined with competition, the feedback becomes measurable or quantifiable.  Having measures or metrics that give feedback on the quality of the practiced skills can be charted over time to determine whether the skill is improving, stagnating, or deteriorating.  These metrics can also measure how fast or slow a child is ascertaining certain skill sets.

This kind of feedback can help determine whether the kind of practice is helpful or detrimental to the growth of the skill, and can help one to determine when and how to change the mode of practicing of a particular skill.

Competitive metrics can also help coaches, parents, and teachers better predict the trajectory of a student’s future performance.  While not all future performance can be predicted with 100% accuracy based on current performance, charting these metrics over time can help paint a picture of skill and character development, identify specific needs through strengths and weaknesses, and give a realistic sense of future possibilities of achievement or mastery.

Competition is a great multiplier and magnifier of skill development in virtually any arena.  The power of competition can be utilized in sports, academics, debate, learning trades, farming, or virtually any arena where skill development is necessary and ongoing, and mastery is measurable.  As long as competition is balanced and fair, and does not create an atmosphere of constant defeat or constant victory, it can be a powerful tool for advancement and mastery of nearly any skill set.  Whether a child is striving to be the best beginner guitar player, an olympic skiing hopeful, a successful farmer, or the next Einstein, helping them to develop their skills by placing them in structured, fair, realistic competitions can fuel faster skill development and faster mastery.

About the author: Aaron Schulman is an avid writer, family man, Internet and email marketing advisor and consultant.  He is married with 3 girls.  He and his wife’s first mission in life is to love and support their girls as they develop into loving, giving, caring adults who contribute significantly to creating a better world and society for others.

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