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Strategies for Guiding Children Towards Self Direction

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"One evening, I was watching the interaction and listening to the conversation between my husband and my daughter. She was only five years old then. She had taken a story book and was flipping the pages and trying to read it. Not long after that, she sighed, looking sad and putting the book aside. I could see that she was feeling disappointed. Clouding around her was a sense of self defeat and acceptance that she could not read.

My husband saw her situation; in his wisdom, he quietly came along side and gently put her on his lap. He reached out, selected an interesting story book with big words, and suggested to our daughter, “Let’s read together.” With a smile, he started. Soon, my daughter encouraged by her daddy’s enthusiasm started reading. When they finished reading, her daddy with absolute joy said to my daughter, “Carina, you can read. There are some words you still have to learn but you can read. You are a reader!”  My daughter was delighted, from her expression, I could see that she was amazed at the realization that she could read. It was a pivotal moment for my daughter, within minutes there was a transformation of the mind from “I cannot read to I can read”."

In all my years in education, “Aha!” moments like this whether it is at home or in preschools truly excites me. This is where my daughter or a child has an enlightened moment that changes her attitude towards a challenge. In Carina’s situation, it was from “I cannot read” to “I can truly read”. It was life changing for her. Today, because of this moment, she has become an avid reader.

My husband as a father provided encouragement and love. Early childhood, it is all about these “little” meaningful experiences in life. The above scenario is what we call direct guidance for children towards self-direction. For Carina, it was from a negative attitude and behaviour to a positive attitude and behaviour identifying who she was, a reader, and building her self-esteem. Direct guidance means the physical, verbal, and affective techniques used to influence a child’s behaviour and self-esteem. The goal is to help the child become self-directed and to become a happy, competent, fully functioning individual who can make decisions. As parents, we hope to guide our children to be resilient to challenges and to make wise decisions. Though being aware of our children’s challenges we as parents and educators can guide our children in a systematic way. The underlining reason we have early intervention in guiding and leading our children is because we care. We love our children. Loving our children is the basis for guidance. It must be real and sincere. Believe it or not, a child can instinctively tell whether a person truly cares and loves them.  Using the story above, we can illustrate the guiding technique as follows:

Physical guidance: physical guidance involves any techniques that employ physical contact or physical proximity to influence the child’s behaviour. As my husband saw Carina’s situation, he was observing Carina’s distress and needs. In his mind, because of his love and care for Carina, he developed a technique, individuality in guidance, and a personal goal for Carina. He wanted to encourage her, realizing that she had difficulty in reading the book she has chosen. Understanding the situation, he chose a book which is more appropriate for her age and ability, he lead and demonstrated. Also instead of criticizing or disapproving, he came along side quietly and gently put her on his lap. This physical gesture and body language demonstrate his love and care. Children need to feel love physically. In the book “How to Have a Smarter Baby” written by UCLA Professor Susan Ludington suggests that babies and very young children suffer distress and in extreme cases die because of lack of loving touch and contacts.

Verbal Guidance: verbal guidance means using words to influence the child’s behaviour. The marvel of communication is not the quantity but the relevance. The sentence that my husband said, “Let’s read together” has a multitude of meanings and guidelines. It is simple, short and directive yet loving. It also implied that daddy was there for her and they could do it together. For very young children, the following guidelines may be helpful in guiding children verbally.

  1. Listen carefully
  2. Make eye contact as you speak
  3. Use short and simple sentences so that they can understand you
  4. Apply positive guidance through authoritative approach as oppose to either authoritarian or permissive approach
  5. Use positive directions, telling the child what to do instead of what not to do
  6. Give directions one at a time
  7. Give necessary directions
  8. Make it clear whether the child has a choice or not
  9. Teach the child problem-solving techniques
  10. Keep motivating the child through helping her/him set new personal goals for achievement

Affective guidance: affective guidance is the interaction between the adult and child wherein the adult expresses emotions or feelings to influence the behaviour of the child. Affective guidance helps to develop the child’s positive self-concept. It is a reflection of a genuine feeling which includes a smile, affection, attention, gentle words, praise and approval. As above, Carina’s father shows love and care through his quiet and gentle gestures, through words of encouragement, and through affirmation and approval.

 Parents can always help their children at home by taking time to observe and understand the needs of their children. People often talk about quality time, but what is important is also available time for our children. Moments like this, there are spontaneous and incidental. As parents, we seize these teachable moments that change our children’s lives.
I encourage families to take time together and collect “Aha” moments as “gemstones” in your family treasure box. Indeed, our children are our wonderful gifts of “love, joy and hope” for us from God. Treasure them with love and care. I am thankful for all my “little” treasures in life.

by Mrs. Seemun Suparno, B.A., M.Sc., M.Ed. Man.
Founder Director of Kinderland Preschools and Ichthus Schools, Jakarta - Indonesia.
Frist Published in Anakku Magazine – July 2009

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