Friday, January 9, 2015

New Year = New Opportunities

Here we are entering a New Year. We didn’t get snow for the holidays but hopefully many of you enjoyed, none the less, days where you snuggled by the fire, didn’t get out of your PJ’s at all, or retreated into solitude with a good book. The best gift of the holidays, I think, is simply time for oneself.

Just before the winter break, as I mentioned in my last blog, I was struggling with what gift to give my grown children for the holiday. Besides their wish list, my husband and I agreed to take my idea of the gift of financial literacy, and really make it happen. Sunday nights, once a month, we will be having family dinner followed by a brief lesson in aspects of financial literacy and responsibility...sort of a New Year’s resolution and holiday “gift” rolled into one!

As most of you reading this blog have younger children, I want to invite you to a more age-appropriate opportunity for imparting wise financial habits. The next CommonGround lecture: Financial Literacy -- Helping Children Understand Money & Credit (Panel Discussion) is on Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 7:30 – 9:30pm (note the new date). Our very own middle school teacher, Tori Pinciotti, will be speaking on the topic of educating teens in this practical life skill so crucial for independent living. Tori recently completed her Montessori Secondary I training and had lots of valuable instruction on developing this important life skill. We are sure to all walk away with important reminders, ideas, and inspiration.

As I searched for tools to teach financial literacy, it made me realize that so many of the traits we strive to instill in our younger children in a Montessori environment also apply to financial responsibility later in life. Research continues to confirm that the ability to delay gratification, exercise perseverance, demonstrate resilience, and practice self-reliance are key to many of life’s challenges, not the least of which is managing one’s finances. With these skills, children tend to do better academically and tend to be able to regulate their own emotions and improve behavior, which sets them up for more success in life. So how do you, as parents, help your children develop these attributes?

As a related article in the Journal of American Psychology points out, before children can gain traits and good habits, they have to have experiences. We can’t, and shouldn’t, always save our children from disappointment, challenges, and struggles, for these are opportunities for building up inner strength and true self-confidence. In addition, below are the three top suggestions from "A Strategy for Teaching Delayed Gratification" [Journal: Developmental Psychology/ American Psychological Association, Year: 2000, Volume: 36, No. 6]

Build in time for reflection. When children learn to reflect on their actions and choices and are coached to be forgiving but honest with themselves, they learn to make more mindful choices the next time.

Model "grit" for your children. They may not always listen, but they are always watching and absorbing what you show them about how to face adversity.

Actively coach children in healthy strategies. Through suggestions and guidance, we can intervene, in the moment of crisis, to educate our children on what it actually means to delay gratification, make a good choice, or deal with disappointment. For this one, I’m giving the example cited in the study.

When a young child is frustrated, often a parent, does one of two extremes - either leaves the child to deal with the frustration alone or rushes in to remove the frustration. This study suggests that in these situations the optimal response may be to help the child develop strategies for dealing with the frustrating situation, either by modeling distraction such as acknowledging the child’s distress but then asking the child to engage in another activity.

As an example, imagine this situation: A child is getting frustrated waiting his turn for a swing on the playground. 

"Saving the child" parental response: The parent may ask another child to or a sibling to give up their swing. 

"Sink or swim" parental response: The parent lets the child get increasingly frustrated, most likely resulting in a melt down. 

"Optimal" parental response: The parent goes over to the child and says something like, “Let’s go play in the sandbox while you wait”. Depending on the child and the child’s age, the suggestion may be taken.

Helping a child develop appropriate strategies for dealing with frustration will enable your child to build on those skills as they mature. Whether you are trying to impart financial literacy or good social skills, these tips and insights aid us in helping these precious little ones in our care. Happy New Year!