Don’t confuse fearlessness with self-confidence. Children who lack the confidence to learn and conquer new words, could be missing out academically and socially. Here are three confidence killers in word learning, and how to combat them.
As adults, most of us have developed hang-ups over which words are hard to learn, and which are easy to learn. It makes us prone to segregating the vocabulary we believe is too advanced for children, in favour of words which are supposedly easier.
It means that children miss out on useful words, even though they’re more than capable of learning them. Research from the IBM Watson laboratory, for example, showed that children as young as four can learn to use words such as camouflage and arachnid fluenty, if they’re paired with humour and visuals.
That doesn’t mean children won’t stumble or stall even now and then. But if age isn’t a major limiting factor, what stops some children in their tracks when it comes to learning certain words? Attention disorders, dyslexia, and other physical conditions can of course be a root cause, but so can a lack of self-confidence.
Self-confidence is what allows children to tackle the words and subjects they’re learning, and to question the world around them. Without it, as you might have experienced, words go unlearned — they get skipped over.Here are three things which kill word learning confidence, and what you can do as a parent or educator to help combat them.
Confidence killer #1: Lack of motivation
Motivation is a product of self-confidence. Without self-confidence, children lack the necessary motivation to learn a word, or to remember it, or to use it.
Often that lack of motivation is linked to pressure. Specifically, the pressure to learn or memorise an unreasonably large chunk of words all at once, or by a set deadline.
Writing in 2014 for the Harvard Business Review, Rosabeth Moss Kanter said, “I know how often leaders say they want to tackle BHAGs — “big hairy audacious goals.” But having only enormous goals can actually undermine confidence. The gap between a giant goal and today’s reality can be depressing and demotivating.”
With regards to word learning, it means approaching words in logical groupings, in numbers that are achievable for a single session, or a single day. For some children, that means one or two words a day; for others, it might mean five or six.
Quality trumps quantity in vocabulary building, and when the words children learn stick (because they’re being taught in manageable chunks), motivation increases and confidence grows.
Confidence killer #2: Fear of failure
Children reasonably assume that if they do something wrong, they’ll be punished. This includes school work, and the belief that getting a question wrong, or misspelling a word, will result in them being told off.
The result is either a child who cheats, or one who skips over words, avoiding them at all costs through fear of being told off.
This is obviously a huge confidence killer, and perhaps the easiest to remedy. By telling, or better yet, showing children that it’s okay to fail, to not know something, you’ll teach them a valuable life lesson — that failure isn’t only an option, but an inevitable part of the learning process.
Take a word such as gargantuan. It’s not a word many children will instantly know how to read, or how to pronounce. Fear of failure, or fear of being reprimanded might make your child hesitant or even reluctant to tackle it at all. By letting them know, ‘Hey, let’s try and figure this word out together,’ you’ll remove the tension, and increase their confidence.
Confidence killer #3: They keep forgetting their words
If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language, you’ll know what a blow it can be to your own self-confidence when you forget the words you’ve learned, in the middle of a conversation, or when trying to order an Orangina.
It makes you feel like you’re not trying hard enough, that you’re not cut out for French, or Finnish, or Mandarin. But deep down, you know that’s not true.
It comes down to practice, and to using what you’ve learned. Little and often, looking for as many opportunities as you can to use your new words. The same is true for a child building their vocabulary from scratch.
If your child keeps forgetting the words they’ve learned, it could be affecting their confidence. They won’t think that the reason they’re forgetting their words is that they don’t use them enough. They’ll just think that they’re not smart enough.
By encouraging them to use their new words in everyday life, you’ll boost their confidence, and help those words to stick. If you have a Mrs Wordsmith pack, try sticking the daily worksheets on the wall, or on the breakfast table, and encourage your child to construct a sentence using that word.
Remind them of that day’s word when you’re out and about, and if they use in a sentence, or even attempt to use it one, reward them. Even if they get it categorically wrong, reward the effort, and use it as an opportunity to explore that word further, and all the ways it might be used.
You are the key to your child’s confidence
Your child might have no worries about scaling the tallest tree, or wriggling down the deepest hole at the end of the garden, but don’t confuse fearlessness with self-confidence.
Self-confidence with regards to learning new words, starts with you showing them the way. Show them that it’s okay to fail, and that while there is structure to their learning, what they’ll learn will come one day at a time.
So, start by learning a new word together, and repeat it throughout the day to help build that healthy habit and boost their word learning confidence.