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HOW DO CHILDREN LEARN ?
By Felicitas Kort
Education is a complex art. Children require protection but not suffocation, training in diverse skills without overwhelming, becoming self-aware and sensitive to others, and acting with self-efficacy and cooperation.
Learning occurs in different ways.
This kind of learning is by simple imitation. While observing behaviors and emotions of others a child will repeat what is seen or heard. New behaviors can occur sometimes immediately when there is a person who acts a behavior which is easy to imitate.
Symbolic modeling refers to watching models in videos or movies, and “in vivo” modeling is observing a live person acting or a friend, relative or parent who act behaviors which the child wishes to imitate.
Furthermore modeling combined with guided practice requires a lot of stimulation, yet it can be very successful. A typical example is participant modeling in the case of a dog phobia.
For example, the therapist and the child hold hands while the dog is 15 steps away.
The therapist asks the child to walk 5 steps toward the dog while holding hands. Then they stop. The therapist asks the child to remain with the eyes closed and relax as much as possible while standing. Then, the therapist asks the child to look at the dog while the therapist walks toward the dog and touches his head. These scenes are repeated a few times until the child walks towards the dog and touches his head.
At all times the child can choose to terminate these approximations to the dog.
Also, the therapist continuously reinforces the new approaching behavior with words such as “good”“you’re doing fine”. “continue” “you can do it”
It is better to vary instructions instead of repeating them over and over again. The latter makes learning rigid and boring. Attention is necessary for the learning process, so is memory. Common styles of attention are:
Selective attention is the ability to discriminate a positive stimulus vs. a negative stimulus, this style of attention is needed for all kinds of learning.
Overexclusive attention refers to the reactions of a small child who pays attention movements and novelty.
Overinclusive attention occurs when children go to school and are exposed to multiple
stimuli which will help to cope with the environment.
For example a distracted child can be guided to pay attention using the following steps:
- Place the child in the appropriate posture.
- Let the face and superior part of the body face the parent/teacher and the stimuli.
- Teach the child to keep the hands next to the legs while a story is read and while a group is singing.
- Teach the child to raise a finger to express opinions or ask questions.
Designing contingencies – consequences- for reinforcing positive behaviors at school, at home, at social activities is essential.
Positive reinforcement refers to a natural need for approval and follows the pleasure principle. Three tpes of reinforcing appropriate behaviors are:
- tangible reinforcements ( stickers, stamps, happy faces, small gifts)
- verbal or non-verbal social approval
- making statements of approval about what the child is doing
Measuring behavior helps to understand later whether or not you want to change a
behavior in the direction you want it to go. For example, a parent can keep track marking on a calendar or phone the number of toys picked up each day at bedtime:
Monday 5 Tuesday 7 Wednesday 8 Thursday 5 Friday 7 Sunday 8
At the end of the week a child gets a positive consequence for picking up toys depending on his age and the parent’s criteria of what the child likes.
This approach aims to promote children’s development and behavior in a constructive
and non-hurtful way. Good communication and positive attention help to develop children’s skills, makes them feel good about themselves, and less likely to occur behavior problems.
Small children need a safe play environment, a safety proof home means putting dangerous things out of reach, using gates to block entry to hazardous parts of the house.
A home with good supervision and interesting things to do stimulates children curiosity as well as their language and intellectual development. It also reduces the likelihood of misbehavior.
Problems arise when expectations are too high or too soon. For example, children have to be always polite, always tidy. Children make mistakes and do not have to be perfect. This also applies to parents who should avoid to be a perfect parent since this will only leady to feelings of inadequacy and frustration.
To develop a positive relationship with your children have conversations about things they are interested in, show physical affection (holding, cuddling, kissing, tickling), notice and praise good behaviors, provide engaging activities and spend quality time a few times a day, rather than longer periods of time.
Parenting does not mean that children dominate their life, although it is important to be patient, consistent and available, parents need time for time alone, recreation and companionship.
Felicitas Kort is an author , professor and experienced clinician of Behavior and Cognitive Therapy in Caracas, Venezuela, Central University at the Postgraduate Training in Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology, http://www.felicitaskort.com
Felícitas Kort has published in Spanish the following books:
- Manual of Emotions (Manual de Emociones)
- Introduction to Behavior and Cognitive Therapy ( Introducción a la Psicoterapia Conductual y Cognitiva) ,
- Behavior Therapy for Children (Psicologia del Comportamiento Infantil)
- Behavior Therapy Techniques ( Técnicas Terapeúticas Aplicadas a la Conducta) ,
- Clinical Behavior Therapy (Psicología Clínica Behaviorista,.
- Group Psychotherapy (Psicoterapia de grupo) (5th edition)