At a recent holiday gathering, a family member said his son “must go to one of the top 10 schools” to do well and have options in life. Like many well-meaning parents, this dad arranged a robust early reading and math instruction regimen, enrichment activities, and daily homework to build discipline. I was asked to troubleshoot why his 3-year-old son (hereafter called Baby Genius) couldn’t sit still at the desk for 45 minutes to concentrate on homework. While there are many advice to be given for this situation, including redirecting the emphasis to sparking a child’s curiosity to learn and teaching Baby Genius how to problem solve and discover, mainly, I want to focus on the role of environment in a way that sets children (people in general) up for success as we bid farewell to 2023 and gear up for New Year’s resolutions.
How do you get a 3-year-old to sit and independently work on spelling and math homework for almost an hour? To create success, aA behaviorist might approach with the following steps.
1. Assess Appropriateness:
Check if the goals align with the child’s skill level and age. Unrealistic expectations are a common recipe for frustration. Remember, it’s about the child’s capabilities (scientifically observed baseline), not just parents’ wishful thinking. On a separate note, building flexibility into learning is powerful. Learning doesn’t only take place at the desk. In fact, comprehension and information retention often improve when you incorporate more senses in the learning process. For example, when my daughter repeatedly struggled with orders of multi-digit multiplication, I made a hopscotch multiplication game so she would physically jump to where the numbers needed to go.
2. Equip with a Success Toolkit:
Ensure the child has what they need. It could be a drink and snack before starting homework, a quick jog or round of BrainGym to shake off excess energy, or creating a quiet environment without TV or other distractions in the background. Build time in between activities for transitions.
3. Show What Success Looks Like:
No mind is alike, so Define what success means clearly. Whether dealing with kids or a corporate audience, success is more likely when criteria are well-defined and demonstrated.
4. Do it together:
Back to our example, Tiger dad could sit down with Baby Genius for 45 minutes to work on this homework together. Kids might not sit down quietly to trudge through homework for an hour just because you tell them to. They might not do it even if you yell at them or bribe them. But they will if you sit down and do it with them. We are social creatures, and attention is one of the strongest drivers of all human behaviors. Children want your attention. They will reliably repeat whatever behavior got your attention. Unfortunately, our society often rewards bad behaviors with coveted attention rather than good. See this part of my interview with Dr. Marc Lanovaz on reward vs punishment here.
From when my kids were 18 months old until they were nine, I read to them for an hour a day. We stopped for a few years when the reading material got too complex, and life got in the way. However, I found that this wonderful shared experience (modeling of desired behavior) can be adapted for all skill levels. I evolved from reading Berenstain Bears and the Magic School Bus to reading Siddhartha and A Tale of Two Cities before bed as a family.
We often know what needs to be done but somehow fail to do so. That’s why I spend a lot of time thinking about motivation and implementation because I’m not immune to the problem. Sometimes I look at my fitness and get slightly frustrated. I’ve gone from working out five days a week to twice a year!!!! What happened? My favorite yoga studio shut down two months into COVID, but with a long list of teacher training in yoga, TRE, and aerial, I can do yoga on my own–I shouldn’t need a studio to practice. Or do I?
Gosh, darn it. It felt and maybe still feels like I do. When the kids were doing school from home, no amount of drishti could get me to block out sibling fighting, cries for help, complaints about the wifi, and the pets chiming in. Distractions aside, just like Baby Genius, I also need someone to do it with me.
Amidst a plethora of experts and how-to guides, the missing link may not be creating the next cure-all parenting course or anxiety relief intervention. Instead, it could be the hands-on support, coaching, and deliberately created opportunities to practice that people truly need. That’s what CuraJOY has been working with kids, parents, and a team of therapists to create. We combine Ai/machine learning with proven behavioral health interventions in a way that not only helps people learn skills but keeps making good decisions and doing things that help their families, careers, and health. Professors, clinicians, teachers, students, parents, and dreamers came together and volunteered to build this product because they have sought other resources or know what needs to be done, but all desperately need more. MyCuraJOY has been designed to work with the entire family so each member can better support each other’s growth.
The environment is crucial in shaping our lives, leaving lasting imprints. For instance, children of highly educated parents are more likely to pursue higher education, while those raised by musicians tend to develop musical inclinations. Conversely, mothers without access to quality childcare face limited career options. Additionally, children exposed to parental substance abuse may follow a similar path. When employees experience burnout or depression, seeking help becomes challenging, especially if it jeopardizes job security.
Developing appropriate and supportive environments is a prerequisite for lasting change. What if we can use technology to change factors that define the social determinants of health? Change will still be hard, but I’m excited about MyCuraJOY. It’s the most comprehensive and promising solution to date. We’ve made it together with our community for ourselves and each other.