Sometimes when I'm helping my children with their schoolwork, I find that they need something a little more than the knowledge that x=5. (That is the only algebraic formula I know. It works for me.) Sometimes when my children are struggling for the answer, the problem is not understanding. The problem is exercising the brain enough to figure out the answer. After all, education is not just a matter of learning facts, but of reasoning through and thinking through things in order to come to the right conclusions.
So sometimes when my children come to me with a problem, I point out the page where the answer is and tell them "it's in here somewhere. Find it." Many times I get a despairing look. The look is all I get because they know better than to whine. That's never gotten them anything in our house. The look doesn't get them much either, but I will tell them, "You're smart. You can figure this out." I try to tell my kids they're smart often. They blossom under the positive reinforcement. Plus, if I say it often enough, maybe it will really happen. : )
Nine times in ten the affirmation-receiving child will figure out the answer. They're in a kind of catch-22. After all, if they come back a second time looking for the answer, it's like they're admitting they're not smart. It ends up being a challenge to them to prove that I was right about their intelligence. They succeed in finding the answer, they prove they were smart, they feel really good about themselves. It's a process that works.
Just recently I was on the receiving end of the process. It's not quite so pleasant from this side. I think I've mentioned before that I work in an auditing office. Most people that know me find it amusing that my job involves working with numbers since math was never my strong suit. (I really do believe x=5.) When I started the job, almost a year ago, I enjoyed the sensation of being the "new kid". I worked at learning the job, but there are a lot of details and variables in the work. If I didn't know something, no one faulted me for it because I was new. Plus, being low woman on the totem pole, most of the work I got was grunt work. In all honesty, I didn't mind a bit. I enjoyed coming in and accomplishing something and then going home and forgetting I even had a job. I did whatever was asked of me, and I did it to the best of my ability, but still I wasn't actually responsible for anything except the assignments I was given. I wasn't working the job in order to fulfill anything other than our pocketbook.
Well, all that changed a few months ago. One of my bosses declared that I wasn't being used "to my full potential". So I was given new duties. Duties with responsibility attached to them. Bear in mind that this is governmental auditing. There's not supposed to be any mistakes. One of my new duties involved proofing all our reports and making sure there were no mistakes before they were sent out. Part of that job wasn't so hard. Misspelled words and incorrect grammar seem to jump out at me from the page. On the other hand, I was also put in charge of making sure the content was correct based on the findings of the auditor. Huh? There were so many details and variables I was sure I would never get it. It didn't get any better when they explained to me that these 3-4 pages of content were the heart of the report. All else was necessary, but these 3-4 pages were "what we get paid for doing". Okay. So no pressure here at all.
I balked and dragged my feet a little bit. I expressed doubt as to my ability. I even whined just a bit. (Don't tell my kids!) My boss's answer? "You're smart. You'll figure it out."
Well slap me upside the head. As much as I didn't want this duty, now I had to take it. I couldn't admit I wasn't smart. This is a very frustrating position to be in.
I still use the phrase with my children. I still believe it motivates them. But it's aggravating to have the same techniques used on me. I think now I'm going to have to be smart enough to think up new ways to motivate. Maybe I'll go with the "Nobody is that dumb" negative reinforcement. Set the bar a little lower.