A young girl recently told me this in counseling: “The biggest frustration in my life is my brain is too small. When I say something in class, it doesn’t matter. When someone else says something, it’s important. I’m not seen as smart.”
“Mmm,” I mused. “I’ve already noticed that you are smart. I observe it in the way you talk to me. How would you like to do an exercise that will prove to you that you are sufficiently smart to do well in life?”
The teenager awaited my explanation.
“I’ll give you 20 questions and answers on flashcards as if you’re going to have a test on them tomorrow. You’ll study them for 10 minutes. Then I’ll watch you flash the cards to yourself, and I’ll give you a dollar in coin for each question answered correctly.”
I poured out $20 in coins on the table near her mother in the lobby, and I handed her the flashcards. She studied them by the method I had shown her.
“Start with two cards, and when you are sure you can remember them, add a third. Repeat the three until you are sure you can remember them, add a fourth. Do that until you get through all 20 cards. You’ll be finished studying for your test in 10 minutes, and you’ll earn $20.”
Ten minutes hadn’t passed before she said, “I’m ready for the test.”
With coins at the ready, I said, “Hold out your right hand and use your left hand to take off the cards from the pile and say the answers aloud.”
Each time she answered a question correctly, I dropped a dollar coin into her palm.
“How fast can a hippopotamus run? 30 mph.” Cha-ching!
“How far does the leaning Tower of Pisa lean? 13 feet.” Cha-ching!
“What is the inside diameter of a basketball hoop? 18 inches.” Cha-ching!
“In what city and country is the Eiffel Tower? Paris, France.” Cha-ching!
So it went until she earned $20, getting all questions correct.
I congratulated her and said, “You’ve learned that you are plenty smart, that you can easily memorize and that you don’t have to spend a whole evening studying for a 20-question test. You’ve also learned a quick method of studying. In addition, you have a handful of money, and coming to counseling has been fun.”
Parents, grandparents, guardians, do what I did. Have faith in children. Show confidence in them. Be gentle and encouraging. Teach an easy method of memorization. Incentivize achievement. Make learning fun.
See w hat happens if you follow my example with a child or grandchild. Tell him or her, “Here are the flashcards to learn your nines in multiplication. Here is how to use them. I’ll give you 10 minutes to study them, and when I test you, I’ll press a dollar bill into your palm for each correct answer.”
I use nines as an example because many children don’t learn their nines. That’s because someone shows them how to do it on their fingers. Just memorizing is better, since recalling is instant when doing chemistry or physics problems or taking the SAT test.
Just think, mentors: Your child is only about 10 minutes away from learning each set of the multiplication table. Isn’t that great news?
I get a little pushback from incentivizing kids. Some say, “You are bribing them! You shouldn’t have to bribe them!”
But we’re all incentivized. Adult employees are told that if they work responsibly, they will receive hundreds of dollars in two weeks in the form of a paycheck. With those dollars, we incentivize companies to loan us money for homes and cars, cover us with insurance and provide services.
I stopped giving my children allowance when I realized it was better to teach them to work for their money. I thought it realistic to pay $20 for each A on the report card, $10 for each B and $5 for each C. If one got all As,” he or she received $140. In addition, there were select chores for which they were paid.
An added benefit is that my children learned to manage money while they were under my supervision.