Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 12.02.23 PM

Helping your child transition to preschool successfully

In the life of every parent there comes a point when they must transition their child from home to school environment. For some parents it may be when the child is only a few months old, for those who chose to homeschool it may be when their child attends high school or college. No matter the age of the child, few parents feel ready for the transition.

At Brainy Academy we designed a program specifically to accommodate the home to school transition process (Brainy Steps), but even if you do not have the benefit of a Brainy Academy next door, there are many things that you can take to simplify and ease the process.

Prepare yourself mentally. Often a parent comes into my office and says something like: “I want my child to start going to school. But she won’t leave my side. I know she is not going to go in without me. Maybe she’ll cry.” These statements may be true and accurate, but since you decided that it’s the best time for your child to start school then you have to be positive about the process. Children are emotional sponges – they will quickly pick up on your mindset and your intentions. If you do not believe she will go into a classroom happily, she will not. This may or may not work in your particular case, and she may STILL decide to go into full blown tear mode… but at least you are not setting yourself up for failure. So before you leave that house for the first day in a daycare or a pre-school take a look at the mirror and say to yourself: “Everything is going to work out, this is the right decision for our family and my child will enjoy being in this environment.” And then repeat that mantra on your way to school. At Brainy Academy it is often part of my job to reassure the parent, even before I have an opportunity to meet the child.
Prepare your child mentally. There are many wonderful books available for children of all ages on starting school for the first time. With children repetition is always key so read the books to him for a few weeks in advance of starting school. A lot of parents find that a new backpack together with conversation about starting “big kid school” presented on the first day of classes helps create excitement and not fear. For some children it is helpful to get new school clothes to present to the child the night before (if your child is receptive to new clothes). In general the idea is to create excitement and a positive expectation of the process and the environment. At Brainy Academy a child is given a “Brainy Bag” their first day of classes and shown the prizes they can earn with their Brainy Points.
Stay for the day if you can. At Brainy Academy part of our gentle separation process allows a parent to stay with the student while the child works with a teacher one on one. We find that allowing the parent to be present during the first few interactions set up a positive experience and is especially helpful to children who are experiencing anxiety separating from the parent for the first time. If at all possible, staying for the day in your child’s new pre-school or daycare environment may allow them to feel comfortable with their new teachers and friends.
Don’t sneak out. Sometimes parents think that sneaking out of the classroom while the child is distracted is the best way to help a child acclimate to the class. With a few rare exceptions I have found this not to be the case. Psychologists believe that because young children lack object permanency, if they don’t see you leave they believe you simply disappeared and will never return. For most children it is far better to say a quick good buy before leaving. This way your son or daughter knows you left intentionally and hopefully understands that you intend to come back.
Start part time if possible. An 8 to 10 hour long work day is difficult for an adult, transitioning to full time from home environment is difficult for a child. Whenever possible I recommend starting part time, a few hours a day and preferably 2 or 3 days a week. While this is not an option in every situation we have observed that this kind of transition allows for a smoother adjustment. At Brainy we only run part time programs and often after a 6 month period or a year a parent choses to go back to work and enrolls their child in a full time program. They normally find there is no difficulty with transitioning their son or daughter from part to full time program and the child does not seem stressed. Additionally, from personal experience I find the children who start part time don’t get sick as often, probably because their immunity is stronger with shorter days and less stress.
If possible chose an environment with low staff turn over and small classes. It is often helpful to ask how long your child’s teacher has worked at the center and how many children are enrolled in the program. At Brainy we find that having a low teacher turn over is ideal to help create a stable adjustment process. Ideally you should start off with a smaller group of kids, less children and less initial stimulation will help smooth out the process.
Be patient. Each child is a unique individual and will transition in a slightly different way than any other child. If you are confident with your choice of school, familiar with the teachers and the learning process allow your child to get acclimated to the school without becoming upset if the acclimation is not happening fast. Children will go at their own pace (whether we like it or not). So you may as well learn to like it. 😉
Let it go. In the adult version of the now infamous frozen song a very frustrated Elsa express same feeling that every one of us parents gets on occasion. Often while consoling a new parent who is about to start our (very gentle) transition process I feel like breaking out in a chorus (the adult version). I find myself repeating this sentence like a mantra: Your child will be fine. I swear. They really truly will be. Yes, you may have to make some imperfect decisions. The fact that you took the time out to come to my office/start brainy steps/ask me about this issue/read this article, each one of those things alone shows that you are a good, concerned (if imperfect) parent. You will (I swear) raise a happy/successful/intelligent/good human being if only you lay off the pressure for yourself. If there is one thing I would want to teach every parent is that none of us are perfect, we all have to make some imperfect decision and our children as a result will be wonderful if imperfect human beings who will in turn (and if we are lucky) raise other wonderful and imperfect human beings.

Peace, Love and Frozen

Viktoria Altman

Imperfect mother of two awesome boys

The benefit of laziness

Although few people who don’t know me well would believe it, truth is I am an incredibly lazy person. I am constantly astounded by the amount of effort most people around me put into everything they do. Perfection seems to drive women around me. Perfection at home, with children and at work. When something is done it has to be done right, perfectly, to the best of their ability. It never ceases to amaze me how much harder most of my friends work than I am capable of working. Yet, although I accomplish less in my day to day life than many of my friends this seem to works to my benefit in the long run, and I stress out a lot less.

I have this theory. It starts in my 2 year old classroom. When I look at projects done by my students who are 2 and 3 years old I have no way of differentiating if a certain project was done by a boy or a girl. They are both equally messy, joyful assembly of imperfection. Letters are rarely drawn perfectly, coloring is almost never done within the lines and glue spreads evenly where it is desired and where it is not. However, when I look at work done in my pre-k classroom (where our students are 4 years old) I notice a pattern. The work done by girls seems uniformly neater, handwriting just a bit cleaner. When I look at the work done in our 3 grade ELA workshops and our 4 grade ELA seminars the differences are striking. Girls work is far neater than boys, handwriting is clean and almost painstakingly perfect. The boys work often tends to be far messier. The quality of the writing itself is rarely different, both boys and girls have groups that do well on the common core English language tests, and those who do not. But it seems that when girls don’t do well they put far more effort in then the boys. To them the quality of how they put words together seems almost as important as what they actually say.

I have this theory. It starts early I think. Somewhere around the age of 4 girls learn that they are not simply expected to perform as well as the boys. They are also expected to do it in a more attractive way. By the time they are grown women they are overwhelmed. There are too many balls in the air. They have to look attractive, be neat, take care to be excellent cooks, perfect mothers of course, and don’t forget to succeed at work. If this sounds like a lot of pressure, that’s because it is. And I think there is a very logical explanation of why women earn 70 cents for every dollar a man does. It’s not that they don’t work as much. It’s that they work on wrong things. Men are allowed to be lazy when it comes to far more things than women are allowed to be lazy on. The more balls you have in the air, the harder it is to focus on just one. Aren’t there are men who are just as perfectionist as women are? Perfect homes, perfect image, everything must be done to a t? I’ve met a few, and they are some of the most tortured souls I’ve ever met.

I have this theory. That we should teach our little girls that sometimes good is good enough. That not everything has to be perfect, that nobody has unlimited resources. That you must pick your battles the way little boys do. That focusing on what’s important to you and doing everything else in a “lazy” way can get you far in life. And no, everything can’t be important. Life doesn’t allow us for perfection in every little thing we do. It doesn’t work.

I have this theory we should teach little girls to let go of perfection. And of course, those little boys who struggle with it too. Perhaps it’ll make for more productive adults.

Viktoria Altman
Mother of 2 boys,

president of Brainy Academy

Brainy Academy – Your First Step To Preschool

What is the Brainy Steps Program?

Brainy Steps is a unique program designed to help prepare your child for pre-school. We help your child become comfortable in a group environment, increase their attention span, learn self-control and learn to interact with other children in a positive manner. After the student is comfortable separating from their parent they are placed in our unique Montessori style enrichment classes and can continue to attend the Brainy Montessori program through pre-kindergarten or enroll in a full time school of their choice.

Each of these steps takes anywhere from 0 to 3 private sessions for an average student. Not all students need all steps. Every child is an individual and each child moves at his or her own pace.

Step 1
The parent and the child come in together to explore Brainy Academy. A teacher is available to meet with the child for 20 to 30 minutes and evaluate if the student is ready to start the program. This preliminary appointment is free. If the teacher determines the child is not ready we will make another appointment for you within a month or two at your convenience. If the child scores 8 or above on evaluation they proceed to Step 5, if they are not yet ready to separate from parent they proceed to Step 2.

Step 2
The student works individually with one of our teachers while the parent is also present in the classroom. The parent is present for reassurance only and does not interact with the student.

Step 3
Teacher works with the child one on one while the parent stays outside the classroom. Classroom door is open for student’s reassurance.

Step 4
Child is asked to close the classroom door (with the parent right outside of it). Student and teacher than proceed to work in the classroom without the parent.

Step 5
Teacher asks the child to accompany her into an ongoing group class. Student accompanies the private teacher into the group class and stays inside in the group class for a full hour (duration of the private session). Private teacher is in the group classroom for reassurance and to help student adjust to working with the group. Private teacher ensures that the student is able to adjust to classroom procedures and follow instructions, as well as learn key Montessori skills (rolling mat, putting away materials, taking turns, etc).

Step 6
Private teacher stays with the student in the ongoing group class for 30 minutes and asks the student if she can leave. Student stays classroom with the classroom teachers and the other students for the duration of the session. The private teacher stays outside the classroom for reassurance and will step back into the classroom if needed.

Step 7
Student willingly goes into the group classroom without her private teacher and stays for the duration of the class.

Many children complete steps 1 through 6 within 2 to 4 weeks with twice weekly attendance. Moving on to next step is at the discretion of the private teacher, classroom teacher and the parent.

Sunflowers in Brainy Montessori

I don’t think that there’s anything on that planet that more trumpets life than the sunflower. For me, that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun, but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky; a satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that is such an admirable thing; such a lesson in life.
– Helen Mirren

Although we run our classes indoors, we love to see the smiles on the children’s faces when we bring a little bit of nature from the outside, in. Earlier this year—when learning about the letter “S”—we made our own coffee filter sunflowers, but since sunflower peak growing months are in the summer we were not able to bring them into class… until now.

Bringing fresh flowers into the classroom allows for a multitude of multidisciplinary and multisensory hands-on activities for the kids to partake in. During circle time, we asked our little learners whether anyone knew what kind of flower this was, and to no surprise, most were able to recall that the flower we were looking at is called a sunflower. As we passed the sunflower around, they all had an opportunity to touch, see, and smell the sunflower. This created a forum in which we were able to discuss the colors of the sunflower, explore its texture, and enjoy its fragrant aroma. Our little learners took turns sharing their perspectives and they were eager to see what we would do next.

In addition to reviewing the parts of the flower and discussing what flowers need in order to grow, we engaged in a fun fine motor activity. The children were encouraged to take turns using tweezers (or their fingers) to carefully remove the petals and transfer them to a bowl on the tray we were using. They loved having a chance to count how many petals they took off as well as sneaking in another whiff of sweet-smelling sunflower. Extracting the petals of the sunflower is part of a more long term project in which we will allow the sunflower head to dry out so that the seeds can be harvested. This is a simple and effective way to combine math, botany, and practical life skills to name a few. In part, the beauty of this activity is that this can be easily replicated at home! There are many online resources that describe how to harvest sunflower seeds (such as this one below). Not only is this a fun hands on way to learn, but it can make for a delicious snack!

Brainy Academy’s part time Montessori program
Brooklyn, NY

Happy Father’s Day From Brainy Academy

“Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened as being the caregiver of a growing child. It’s a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body” – Christopher Hitchens

Today we would like to wish happy Father’s Day not only to all of our beloved Brainy Dads, but to also commend those (moms, grandparents, siblings, etc.) who take on multiple roles in the lives of the children around them every single day.

As the kids excitedly prepared gifts for today, they shared stories amongst each other regarding their favorite things to do with the adults in their lives; yet this is not something which is unique to gift preparation or this particular day. Children have a beautifully innocent way of sharing what excites them every single day, whether that is telling us who will pick them up from class, what they ate last night, or what game they hope to play later. In working with children, we quickly learn that no detail is too small, too insignificant, or unnoticed. They teach and remind us that every person in their life functions as a teacher. Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating so we hope that today—and all other days—you remember to take a step back to spend invaluable with your kids; as this is time in which they grow, learn, and create the narratives of their lives. Although they are the authors of their stories, the supporting characters make the content. We at Brainy hope that this content is filled with laughter, joy, shared wisdom, and lots of love!


Happy Father’s Day!!!!!!




How to help your child overcome shyness(part 2 of 2)

How to help your child overcome shyness (part 2 of 2)

This is part 2 of the post, to read part 1 first please click here.

Tip 4:  Don’t speak for your child

This is a hard one for me.  Some days my personality borders on that of a cheerful pit bull which means staying in the background and allowing my child to speak for himself or more importantly allowing my child to choose not to speak means that at times I have to physically bite my tongue.  Yet psychologist after psychologist recommend that you suppress the tendency to speak for your child and allow him or her to respond.  In essence if you are responding for them, they will never do so for themselves.  So the next time a nice grandma in an elevator asks your child how old he is, bite your tongue.  Don’t answer.  Stand there with a big cheesy smile on your face.  Yes, the grandmother is likely to think you got a few screws loose.  But your child is going to figure out eventually that you will no longer be speaking for them.  Which means they must learn to speak for themselves.

Tip 5:  Don’t say he is shy

This is another hard one for me personally.  After all you want to explain why your child is refusing to respond, go into a classroom or interact with a peer.  But to offer this kind of an explanation is a mistake.  If the stranger is a teacher they will already know why your child refuses to interact in a class, no explanation needed.  If the stranger is a child they will instinctively know what’s going on. And if that stranger is just a stranger you don’t owe them an explanation.  By the very statement “She is shy” you are telling your child that this behavior is expected of them. That they in essence have a disability which requires an excuse.  And that they will never learn to interact with strangers.  This is of course not the message you intend to send.  People who view themselves positively accomplish more.  Avoid the temptation to label your child, and bite your tongue.

Tip 6: Involve your child in a team sport

All people fall into two basic categories:  Introverts and extroverts.  Introverts get their energy from interacting with people.  Extroverts recharge their batteries by being alone.  There is a continuum for both personality types, with some people falling very far towards extremely introverted and some are falling very far towards extremely extroverted.  Your basic personality is in large part determined by genetics although nurture also plays a huge part.  Studies show that those children who play team sports from a young age are more likely to be on the less extreme side of the introverted scale.  If you think about it, this makes perfect sense.  After all being on a team means you have 20 build in potential friends.  Being on a team means a sense of camaraderie and a sense of belonging.  From personal experience I suggest not jumping from sport to sport but finding one sport the child enjoys, one team and sticking with that one team as long as possible.  This allows your child to feel as a part of a large, loud group and will help him become less extreme on the extroversion scale. It will also ensure that your child is less likely to end up lonely.

At Brainy Academy we have found that many young children are shy or timid in new environments, especially if they haven’t attended group classes before.  We have developed a unique 6 step process that allows almost every child who comes to us to gently and smoothly transition into the classroom from a primary caretaker (parent, grandparent or nanny).  To learn more about this process please read my next post.

Viktoria Altman
President Brainy Academy

How to Help Your Child Overcome Shyness(part 1 or 2)

Like many parents I wonder at the wealth of differences between my two children.  Same genes, same lifestyle and upbringing, yet the way the two look at the world is almost entirely different.  My older is a complete and total extrovert, makes friends instantly and can downright annoy strangers with his chattiness.  My younger is shy, prefers to stay back in the crowd and takes a while to warm up.  Yet both of my boys have a strong, happy presence, each in his own right.

Like many parents I worry about my children.  I worry if my older one’s love of people is going to lead him to dangerous paths later, when peer pressure becomes a significant problem.  I worry if my little one’s shyness will prevent him from embracing life with missed opportunities and delayed regrets.  If there is one thing I am sure of, it’s that shy people do tend to have a harder time socially than outgoing people.  In the recent headlines an extreme example of a shy, introverted teenager Elliot O. Roger fueled by misogynistic influences created a dangerous killer.  I am not implying that all shy people have the potential to become one, but you do have to wonder if these horrible events would have taken place had he only been more outgoing and had an easier time making friends.  There must be a balance in all things and I place a high priority on both teaching my little one to be more outgoing and teaching my older one to be more aware that not all people may have his best interests at heart.

This is the first part of an article presents some tips on teaching your shy child to be more comfortable in new situations:

Tip 1: Start small:
I like to ask my little one to order for himself in a restaurant, to ask him to pay the check in a diner (where you must bring a credit card and check to the front), to ask the wait person for more water or encourage him to say hello to the bus driver.  Although these daily interactions may not mean much to you and I, it does create the skill in our shy children to help them communicate with strangers. Ask when the child is well rested and in a good mood to help introduce this as a positive, happy experience.

Tip 2: Show up EARLY:
One way in which we encourage shy children at Brainy Academy is by asking the parents to get to the class early.  Ideally 15 to 20 minutes before the class starts the child can come in with the parent, get acquainted with the classroom, meet the teachers and get comfortable.  This also creates a situation where the child is the very first person to be in the class and other children are “joining them.”  The worst thing to do is be a late comer to the class.  Have you ever walked into a meeting 5 minutes late, everyone is already there and as you open the door everybody looks at you (unintentionally)?  You know that uncomfortable feeling of being a newcomer to the group?  Now put that into 4 year old’s perspective.  I think there is something evolutionary about not wanting to join a group in progress.  If a child shows up late to the class unless they are very comfortable already I know there will be a problem.

Tip 3: Introduce new situations:
Part of the problem in my household is that everyone who surrounds my little one is someone he has known practically since birth.  He attends a school I own, a class that was taught by his aunt.  B’s grandmother runs the daycare center where he has spent some of his days off school.  He has been accompanying his brother to the soccer program he is currently attending since he was 3 months old.  So on a recent trip to a Cancun Club Med B was super excited to join the kids club.  Of course as excited as he was to hang out with the other children he ran out of the club after me less than 3 minutes later.  I didn’t push it and we came back early next morning.  We walked around their central premises, talked to the teachers, and acquainted ourselves with the surroundings.  After leaving (brief goodbye, no big scene) I observed him for a while and caught him a couple of times walking with the group around the resort.  He seemed quite comfortable.  It might be easier for me to just hang out with him all day, as he can happily play by himself for hours.  But I believe it’s an invaluable experience for him to come into a new situation and learn to be comfortable with an entirely new group of people.  So if you are going to a resort with a kids club, take advantage and your child may thank you for it.  You can also try a group class he or she has never visited before (we offer classes like this at Brainy Academy).  Even a new park can be a huge change for a shy and reserved child and might be a good way to start opening them to new experiences.

Many more tips to come in part 2!

Viktoria Altman
President Brainy Academy

On how my son lost a soccer ball

Both my boys love soccer.  My almost 8 year old has been playing since weeks before turning 4, hardly ever missing a game or practice.  Given the choice to do anything in the world there is no question what he would pick – soccer with his teammates.  When hiring a babysitter I always have an unusual first question:  do you play soccer and if so how well? Any woman who babysits my children is required to act as a goalie and a passer.  So last summer as both my boys heading out to the local park with the sitter, soccer ball in hand, I was heading off to work.

A few hours later I received a hysterical call from my older son.  At first I couldn’t make out what was going on.  He is a tough boy, rarely prone to crying over physical injuries.  He was whaling into the phone.  I asked him to put the sitter on the phone.  “What happened?”  “There are boys at the park and they stole his ball.”  “So he is this upset over a ball?” was my bewildered response.  This hardly seemed a tragedy.  “Put him back on” I said.  “What happened?”  I asked again.  This time he was able to calm down.  “I was playing with the boys, and I was winning and they got mad and told me I hurt one of them, but I didn’t so they took my ball and stole it and I don’t know where it is.”  Now I got the full picture.  My sweet boy who only wanted to find some friends with whom to play soccer had a prized possession stolen as revenge for winning.  I confirmed the story with the sitter who volunteered that the boys were “mean, nasty and jealous and older than E (who is so tall he normally passes for a 10 year old).” She told my son it was not a good idea to play with them, but of course he chose to do so anyway.

My inner mama bear wanted to leave work, drive over to the park and take those boys on.  I was going to go visit their parents.  I was going to yell at the boys. I was going to make them feel awful about what they done and I was going to revenge my little boy.

I did none of that of course.  In spite of my blood boiling, my heart racing and my breath shallow I closed my eyes and counted to 10.  And then I told my son this simple truth “Sometimes life sucks.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people.  You didn’t deserve that to happen to you.  But guess what.  Those boys, they are mean for a reason.  They are probably not from nice families, their life is probably not nice.  They don’t have a nice mommy and daddy and grandparents who love them and teach them to do the right thing and take them to soccer practice.  So they are angry because of everything you have and they don’t.  So they took it out on you.”

I want my kids to know:  even if life isn’t fair, it can almost always be fixed, if you only look for a solution you will find one.  “Will get you a new ball” I said.  “Don’t play with those boys because when people are mean, and rude you are best cutting them off from your life.”  To the best of my knowledge he has never again played soccer with those boys.  He told me once:  “I saw those boys in the park again. You know the ones.  The ones who’s parents don’t love them. They wanted to play with my ball but I told them ‘no.’” I opened my mouth to correct him and then closed it again.  Perhaps their parents did love them.  But what a great way for him to look at a person who does you wrong:  with pity, and with lack of contact.

Have you had a similar situation?  Let me know how you’ve handled it in the comments below.

How do we instill a sense of gratitude in our children?

As a little girl I spend a lot of time waiting for trams. Some of my earliest memories are waiting in the dark, freezing Saint Petersburg mornings with my mommy for the tram to arrive. I remember that the best way to keep warm is to jump from foot to foot and to hit your feet against one another. It is best to never stop moving. Just to give you an idea of how cold it was, Saint Petersburg is one of few major cities in the world which is so far north the sun doesn’t go down for 3 weeks in the summer.

As you can imagine this makes for some dark winters.

My children have taken public transportation probably a dozen times in their lives. Usually because we wanted to give them the experience of going into Manhattan by train.

It boggles my mind some days when I think about it. How different my children’s childhood is from mine. I got my first Barbie at 13. I got my first pair of jeans at 9. I used to treat car rides as my children would now treat a trip to the zoo, a Broadway show, a dinner at Dave and Busters and a trip to Toys r Us combined.

Don’t get me wrong. I am proud of my family, I am proud of myself, and I am proud of my community. I am proud of how far we have all come. I am glad, eternally so, that my children will never know the “joy” of waiting 40 minutes in the freezing cold for a tram to come.  But each time my children reach out and grab one more luxury of American life, without even thinking twice, my heart twinges just a bit. How to make them aware? What to say, what to do, to show them how lucky we are?  That riding in cars, and having nice things is not a right but a privilege earned for us by the hard work of our parents and of us? How to make them understand the risk our parents took all those years ago to bring us here so that we  could enjoy the privilege of doing what we want when we want it. How to make them understand that a pair of jeans was, once upon a time my most valuable possession? They have always had jeans, as many as they need. Can they really understand? And if they can’t understand, will they appreciate? Will they feel the joy I feel each time I look at my life? The gratitude, that comes from knowing how far you’ve come, how blessed you are. Does gratitude only come from knowing the many alternatives?

I took my oldest son to Morocco for his 7th birthday. We stayed in the finest hotels in the country, we ate in the finest restaurants. Just outside one of our hotels, an updated 19th century palace now turned into a Sofitel we saw a bunch of boys playing soccer. My older son, a soccer fanatic asked to join them in the game. He doesn’t speak a word of Arabic or French and they didn’t speak a word of English.  But the boys recognized his skills and gladly accepted him into the game.  He played with them for hours, until it grew too dark to see.  They even managed to strategize, all in that magic tongue of young boys who don’t need to speak each others language in order to understand. As we walked back into the privilege and safety of our hotel I asked him “Did you see how none of those boys were wearing sneakers? Most were playing soccer in flip flops and some were barefoot. Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know” he looked up at me “Why?”

I looked at him. It’s true, he just couldn’t fathom the reason. And this in itself was a good thing and a bad.

“It’s because they don’t have sneakers.” I said to him. “All they have is flip flops. That’s all their parents can afford.”  He stared at me for a while.

I think he got it.

Viktoria Altman
Mother of 2 boys
President of Brainy Academy

On the connection between self esteem and a loop bracelet.

At a recent NYC gifted and talented symposium I had the pleasure of listening to Carol Dweck, a psychology professor who studies success. A short, energetic woman in her 50’s, the kind of professor that radiates that rare combination of both brilliance and great speaking skills Professor Dweck had an auditorium full of parents, educators and leaders grasping on her every word.

Her topic was one many of us spend time considering, and few have a solid notion of how to achieve. How do you raise successful, resilient kids? There are many theories on this topic of course. Some believe the best way to raise a child is by controlling their environment and allowing their child to flourish much like a flower in a hot house (this may be known as helicopter parenting in certain brooklyn brownstone circles). Some believe the best way would be by allowing your child to have total and complete freedom, to allow them to chose their path whatever that may be (free range kids). Some believe the best way to succeed is to push their children towards a brighter future, whether or not the child has any interest in that future (tiger mom anyone?). And certainly every family comes up with their own formula for success. Some formulas are less successful than others. Most use a combination of these methods and a million other parenting techniques.

But the good doctor had conducted some real serious research and found that many have one thing in common. A family that tends to produce successful, resilient children is a family that tends to praise the PROCESS and not the RESULT.

Do you remember the high self esteem movement in the 90’s? I guess its not quite over yet. The theory goes like this: “you take a child. you praise them (not just the things they do, but the actual child). You say things like: “Wow, thats brilliant! Great job! You are SOOOO smart!” The emphasis is on teaching the child they are naturally smart, brilliant and beautiful and no matter what they can succeed and do anything at all. Theory goes that a child who believes he or she can do anything due to their natural brilliance is actually able to do anything. Sounds great doesn’t it? It did. Before we did research. What we found out is that actually all high self esteem leads to is well… low self esteem, and low ability to accomplish complex tasks.

How’s so? It turns out a child who believes they are naturally smart also believes everything should come naturally easy to them. They work to reinforce this idea “I am smart.” If something doesn’t come easy to them, this means they are not smart. Which means they are unlikely to take on challenges or attempt to do things that are hard… because that would disprove their natural brilliance. Its a self perpetuating cycle. I am smart so I must be able to do math easily. I can’t do math easily. I am either not smart or math is stupid. Whichever option the child chooses they lose. So whats the solution? Its certainly not to walk around telling children they are stupid (we are not arguing for 1800’s child rearing here). The solution is to tell to catch and encourage perseverance and “sticktoitness” For instance: A child that works at a problem for a while but still doesn’t get it is a child that should be praised for their hard work, and when they do get it eventually (even with help) praised for “sticking it out until you got it.” (you are praising the process and not the result). And you are not saying they “got it because you are smart.” Thats something you really can’t control (the results are often out of your conrol). You are saying “you got it because you worked hard.” This is something you CAN control. Anybody can word hard. That is a method that builds true confidence. Next time a child comes across a problem they are struggling with they are likely to persevere and therefore to eventually succeed.

The truth is the people who succeed are not always the smart ones. Its the ones who have that deadly combination of smarts and work ethic. We all know that brilliant high iq person who is forever stuck in lower middle management, and that not so brilliant person who is a high powered player. Maybe the difference between them is more than a few IQ points. Maybe one gave up. And the other didn’t. S

So how is success connected to those bracelets all our kids are currently obsessing with? I have a 7 year old who has spent the last 2 hours replaying the same youtube video and struggling to replicate the instructions to construct a “special” loop bracelet. I let my kid watch youtube on the ipad for 2 hours and I don’t feel the slightest twinge of guilt. In fact I feel an inordinate amount of pride. I wonder what professor Dweck would say.

Viktoria Altman,

Mother of two boys

President of Brainy Academy