Education expert Cynthia Tobias discusses the primary ways we learn, how we process information, and how parents can motivate children by recognizing and cultivating their individual learning styles. (Part 2 of 2)
John Fuller:As a mom or a dad, youmake a big impact on your child’s ability to succeed at academically andit does take some observation on your part.Here’s our guest on the last “Focus on the Family” broadcast, Cynthia Tobias, with a challenge for you.
Mrs. Cynthia Tobias: Focus on strengths. What’s good about your child? What do they do well? Where are they? You don’t have to be an expert to know what is their learning style? How am I gonna figure it out? Just be the observer that you are as a parent. Where are they happiest? When are they most successful, when they’re playing and when they’re relaxing? And how can we transfer strengths like that to the tasks that they’re gonna have to learn to do in school?
End of Recap
John: We’ll help you answer some of those questions about your child today and help you navigate some common school year scenarios. We want to help you position your child for success this year. And our host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, here at the start of the school year, we do want Focus on the Family to be a place for you to come and get that support that you may need and we want to be a resource for you to help you raise spiritually and emotionally healthy children. That’s one of our core goals here at Focus and we want to provide you with some of those ideas on how to achieve that, especially in this academic arena.
And last time we started a great conversation about how our kids learn and Cynthia Tobias is the best at this. I mean, I love her and she is wonderful at helping us better understand how our kids are thinking. If you missed any part of the program last time, get a copy of it. Contact us here at Focus on the Family and we’ll get that off to you.
John: Yeah, we also have a quiz so you can discover your learning style.
Jim: Oh, that’s good.
John: And that’ll be at the website, as well. That’s www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. I might mention that Cynthia is the author of a great book that is kinda foundational for this conversation. It’s called The Way They Learn: How to Discover and Teach to Your Child’s Strengths. Let’s go ahead now and hear the second part of that conversation. Jim, we were gathered, a small assembly, some friends of Focus on the Family and you and me and our guest in a little conference room in a hotel in Seattle and I thought it was an engaging conversation. Here’s Cynthia Tobias.
Jim: Cynthia, it’s great to have you back at Focus on the Family.
Cynthia: Well, thank you. It’s always wonderful to be here.
Jim: Cynthia, we talked about the styles. Let’s hit those again real quickly. What are the learning styles of children?
Cynthia: The three pieces of the puzzle for remembering: the auditory (needing to talk about it, needing to hear the sound of your own voice), the visual (the needing to picture it or to see it or to be shown something) and the kinesthetic (needing to do something with it, needing to put things into action).
Jim: Is it possible that a child possesses more than one?
Cynthia: Oh, almost always and especially adults. We almost always have a couple that are bigger and one that’s not so much. It’s because they’re really puzzle pieces and even though you possess one in a big way, you know, you have all three. And so, you can kinda go back and forth. In fact, in a way, it’s good to kind of encourage stretching out on purpose, stretching out of your comfort zone to do the other.
Jim: And in addition to the learning styles, you also talk about how we process. There’s [sic] two unique ways that we process. Talk about that.
Cynthia: Right. the cognitive process, which means how your mind interacts with information and that is, when the information comes in, the more analytically wired person, the analytically wired learner is wired to focus on detail. Details are important; focus on specifics. The other 50 percent of the population, wired more what we would call “global,” big picture learner wiring. So, it’s very important to the global learners, instead of before we focused on specifics to get a whole picture. I want to see the whole forest. Where are we? What are we doing? And how do I know how it applies to anything I care about or know about?
And so, those two are equally intelligent, but they’re at odds with each other sometimes, especially in a school system. If you’ve got a highly global child, the chances are good that you’ve got a child who struggles in school. And it has nothing to do with intelligence. [It] has nothing to do with capabilities. It has everything to do with how my mind is trying to figure out information that’s given in a way that’s opposite to how my mind is wired.
Jim: So, sometimes as a parent, if your child is struggling in school, look to that, because that could be a process issue, not an intellectual or capability issue.
Cynthia: That’s right. We can take down a lot of lines of first defense. And if you think about it, you know, who gets to decide what’s normal, right? I mean, what if we’re medicating the wrong kids all along? In a way, you know, you think there are neurological and physiological learning disabilities, but for every one of those, I’m more convinced than ever after 25 years doing this, I’m more convinced than ever that for every one that is legitimate, there might be eight or nine kids who, well, they just talk too much or they kinda daydream and because they ask too many questions and they just kinda didn’t get it, ‘cause we didn’t give ‘em enough context. And informally talking to special-ed teachers, often I find that 80 percent of a lot of those special-ed classrooms are global.
Cynthia: And so, even if they do have a learning disability, if we could just help reach them with the way that their mind is wired, we’re gonna have much, much more success.
Andone of the things that we don’t do in education is, make them want to keep coming back. And if you teach them in a way that they understand and makes sense to them, then the rest of their life they want to keep on learning. But if learning is just,you have to sit and do it a particular way that never has made sense to you, they can’t wait to escape.
You know, I work with corporations, as well as schools. And adults in the workplace will come up and say, “You know, I know I’m stuck in a boring dead-end job. I’d rather stay here forever than ever go back to school,” ‘cause they remember how uncomfortable they were, how stupid they felt, how unvalued they felt. So here we are. We have this whole workforce, sometimes of incredibly intelligent adults who never felt in school that they were very smart or very capable.
Jim: Let’s talk about how we perceive and order information. You touched on it a little bit, but how is it? How do we perceive and order the information?
Cynthia: Well, you have two or three different models that can kind of overlay each other. There’s this aspect of the analytic, who is perceiving and ordering information in an organized way.
Cynthia: Andso, sometimes it’s in a very concrete way, saying here’s what it is, black and white, no doubt. Sometimesit’s in a more abstract way. If you have an analytical mind, it’s very abstract, it’s not so obvious. You read between the lines. There’s more to it, much more concept than actual practice. Whereas, the concrete person wants to go, “Yeah, yeah, fine; just tell me what to do. The more abstract one is going, wait a minute; wait a minute; wait a minute. I can’t do it yet. I don’t understand it.
And again, that correlates just a little bit with that analytic global kid, going, well, I don’t know how I’m supposed to do it without understanding it. And the concrete person says, look, if you knew it, you’d get an A. Just do it. And then, as far as organizing it, you know, there’s the sequential part of a person that says, “I need things in order.” You got one, two three. And then there’s the random person who goes, “As long as we get it done, why does it matter?”
I mean, I’m very random and I’m very global and some of my analytic friends are very horrified that on good mystery books, a lot of times I’ll read the first couple chapters and then just read the last one to make sure I like how it ends. Because I will go back (Laughter) usually and read.
John: That’s wrong.
Jim: That’s called “cheating.”
Cynthia: I know it. I know.
Jim: That’s just cheating (Laughter) right from the “git go.”
Cynthia: But you know and for instance, Disney’s movie, the Eight Below, the one with the dogs, you know. I could not watch that movie in Antarctica. I could not watch that movie till someone could tell me how many dogs die. I don’t need to know who they are or how they die. I just need to know in my mind ahead of time, how many died? Two, okay. I can deal with that then and as I’m watching the movie, I can enjoy it more, because I have a context and I got out of order. So, that the analytic and sequential people are going, “You can’t do it out of order.” (Laughter) You can’t do it out of order. And I say, but life is full of things that are out of order. I mean, you gotta realize that there are jobs, of course, that being a random and a global person is ideal for. And other jobs that you could never survive if you were that. You have to be more analytic and more sequential.
And again, we go back to this idea that, well, you do it my way, because I know what works and this is how I am and I’m the parent. I’m the boss. I’m the one in charge and we forget to value and to recognize those strengths could also get to the same bottom line, but in a most incredible way.
Jim: Okay, now, the question. I mean, I think this might be the million-dollar question.
Cynthia: Oh, good.
Jim: And I mean no disrespect to anybody with this question, especially the Lord. Why did He wire us this way? (Laughter) I mean, it would’ve been much easier if we were all wired the same way, don’t you think?
Cynthia: Well, you know, maybe, but it would be really boring, don’t you think?
Jim: It would be boring, but it would be efficient, sequential.
John: It’d be easier though.
Cynthia: Yeah, but don’t you (Laughter) think that from the very beginning, I bet Adam and Eve were not the same.
Jim: Oh, I’m sure they weren’t.
Cynthia: ‘Cause she was supposed to be a helpmeet, right? But it would be really boring if you’re the same, you need a right hand and a left hand. You can’t get anything accomplished with two right hands or two left hands. In fact, if you spend your whole life trying to get the right hand to do what the left hand does, even if you succeeded, then it would be unnatural.
I think God created us to be complementary to each other. And He gave us each our own things to do and our path to find that has to do with our strengths. And the more we discover that, the more confident we can be. Now that doesn’t mean that your kids don’t have to learn to do things that are difficult. But I’m fully convinced that as we teach our children what they need to know, we need to be teaching them how to learn what they need to know.
In other words, so, if I have taught my child about his strengths and they’re different than others, he can go into a classroom or a situation, look around and go, “Uh-oh. None of this matches me, none of it.” So, then he has a choice though. He can say,” I quit” or he can say, “Uh-oh, this is not gonna work. I better study in the morning and I better get a study buddy.” I mean, he can go through his head the list of things he knows about his own learning style and figure out, “If I’m gonna succeed, this is what I need to do.” Now if we can do that for our kids, it doesn’t mean that life’s gonna accommodate you. It means that nothing in life will defeat you if you know what your strengths are and how to use them and I think that’s a key.
Jim: Let’s get to the other big question. Let’s talk about how these things apply to the strong-willed child and the compliant child, because those are the two big buckets generally that our kids temperamentally typically fall into. So, let’s talk about that strong-willed child.
Cynthia: Well, let’s think about this. You’ve got a strong-willed and a compliant child and I tell you this is how you need to do it. And you’re the compliant child and that’s really not your way, but you want to please me and you want to see if you can’t accommodate, then you’re probably gonna try harder. You may have a lot more stress, whatever.
But if I’m the strong-willed child and you say to me, this is the way that you do it and this is how you need to do it and none of that makes sense to me, the chances of my doing it without arguing with you are almost zero. ‘Cause I’m goin’, Uh-uh.” Well, I don’t get it. Well, why can’t we do it this way?” Well, this works too, and so, as the strong-willed child, I’m gonna constantly push you on the “What’s the point?”
If I already know what the rule means, why do I have to follow it exactly if I (Laughter) can get to the same point, right? Andso, I’m gonna fight the system more sometimes as a strong-willed child and I will not usually suffer silently. Whereas the compliant child may suffer silently and in a way, that’s worse because they may never tell you that they suffer.
Jim: Talk to the parent that has perhaps one of each or both. I think in our case, we have one of each.But you can lose hope in either direction, because with that strong-willed child, you probably go to bed exhausted, thinking will this ever improve? Speak to that parent about, yes, it can improve. Here’s what you need to do.
Cynthia: Right, choose your battles. You know, choose your battles. And when it comes to homework for example, homework’s a big issue and I think more parents fight more often about homework than anything else. And it’s exhausting. I’ve already as a kid, I’ve been in school for six or seven hours already. And as soon as I get home, the next thing you want me to do is to do another two or three hours of school at home. How is this fair?
Jim: You’re sounding like my kids right now (Laughter).
Cynthia: And when you think about it, what’s the point of homework? Well, the point is, you can’t get grades, well, as a strong-willed kid I go, “Well, what if I don’t do homework? Who cares? I’ll get a C, big deal.” And then the parents go, “Oh, you can’t get a C, because then you can’t get a scholarship,” but you’re saying all these things and as a kid, I’m goin’, “I just don’t want to do it.” And I don’t see ahead. I can’t see down the road. So, again, you know, you go back to some of the questioning techniques saying, you know, “What would make it easier for you to do homework?” for example.
Cynthia: You know, again, when you have different kids in the home, the more analytic kid like my Mike, he needed quiet and he needed to work by himself and he needed a concentrated amount of time. Rob, who’s a lot more like me as a global, If somebody’s having more fun than I am, I can’t do homework. (Laughter) So, if I’m distracted and what we found with Robert is, if all of us could just use that concentrated time. Okay, you work, too. You don’t have to do my work, but you read your book or you do your homework and if everybody’s working, then as a global kid, I’m so much happier and I can get through it faster. I mean, we can fight it constantly or we can actually ask our kids, “What’s gonna make it easier for you?”
John: Yeah, I appreciate so much the wisdom that you’re bringing to this conversation. Our guest is Cynthia Tobias on “Focus on the Family.” Our host is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and we have covered a lot thus far. If you’d like, stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio where you can find resources and if I’m not mistaken, Cynthia, we’ve got kind of an inventory that you can take as a parent, so you can better understand just how your child does learn.
End of Program Note
Cynthia: Right. There’s a free and copyright-free profile you can get.
Jim: And how many questions is that?
Cynthia: Well, I don’t remember (Laughter). I don’t [know]the exact amount of questions. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, there’s context here.
Cynthia: That’s right.
Jim: ‘Cause I’d like my kids to take it--
John: What is the point of that question, Jim?
Jim: --buy if it’s over 10, they’re not gonna do it.
Cynthia: Why does it matter? (Laughter)
Jim: Just right to the point, isn’t it? Cynthia, let’s talk about some practical advice. You’ve been really good at delivering that, but let’s get down to it where some parents are really strugglin’. Let’s say their little guy, you know, he is getting that poor grade. He’s a bright little boy. You know that he can do it, or little girl. You know that they can get the work done, but they’re not responding to your techniques.
Jim: What can a parent do to get ahold of that? Because now it’s moved from kind of yellow into the red zone, where there is worry, because it’s been consecutive semesters where they’re getting D’s and maybe even a couple of F’s and they’re not motivated anymore. What should a parent do, steps one, two, three?
Cynthia: Well, as parents, we tend to get a lot more wound up than the kids do about it obviously. But one of the things that you can do right away is just back off for a minute and take a deep breath and do some observation. And one of the things you can figure out right away about your kids is, listen to how they talk and how they ask questions.
For example, your auditory child uses a lot of words like, well, can I talk to you for a minute? Well, can I just say one thing? Well, let me just tell you this. I mean, a lot of auditory words, you’ll hear them say that. So, you’re thinking, okay, then I need to give them a chance to talk. Let’s talk about your homework. Here, I’ll quiz you back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Now your visual kids aren’t gonna say, “Can I talk to you for a minute?” They’re gonna say, “Can I see you for a minute? Could I just show you? Would you look at this for just a minute? Well, I just can’t see that happening.” I mean, they’re gonna use a lot of visual words.
And one of the things we do is, we tend to communicate with other people the way we want them to talk back to us. Now they’re doin’ the same thing. So, if we don’t actually stop and on purpose tune in, then we’re never gonna get to the level playing field.
Your kinesthetic, well, it’s not so hard to figure out them, but they’re gonna say things, well, let’s just do it then. Well, let’s just go. Well, so what then? Let me just try it. I haven’t even talked. Listen, we’ve got a lot to talk about here before you can try this. Uh! The kinesthetic is gonna use a lot of action words and so, as a parent, you back up and you think, okay, okay. So, how are we gonna do this?
And just listening and just observing and asking. You know, from your kids from about 3rd or 4th grade, you can actually ask them those questions. What would the ideal study spot be for you? And if I could be, you know, in a hot tub and you go, well, nice try. That’s not gonna work, but let’s think of something else. And you know, you can deflect some of the outrageous things. And pretty soon, when they realize you’re serious, they go, well, I hate studying at a desk. I wish I could just study, you know, on my bed. You go, okay, you know. If you can prove that, that works--
Cynthia: --and you will prop your laptop up, like that’s what I do when I’m working. I can prop my laptop up, you know. My husband would fall asleep if he was doing that, but I’m the opposite. So your kids are that way, too. And just asking and exploring some ways, saying, well, if you had a choice, if you could do anything, where would you study? What time of day would it be? And just asking some of those questions can take down again, the lines of first defense. What if I’m too cold? What if I need to eat or drink? Well,there might be some really small detail things.
Jim: Cynthia, I’m also thinking of that 15-year-old boy or girl who is really struggling. She might be or he might be with the wrong crowd at school. There’s a lot more going on there than just the things we’ve talked about the last couple of days, emotional issues; they’re feeling detached from mom and dad. It’s possible dad’s not even in the picture with the number of households in America today that are experiencing that. How do you go beyond the simple learning styles and what you’ve seen and experienced and your expertise? How does a parent with that kind of situation, begin to unravel some of that emotional tension? That probably started with the concepts that we have talked about--
Cynthia: That’s right.
Jim: --children becoming distant from mom and dad because of their styles and now it’s much further down the road and it’s careening down to a horrible situation.
Cynthia: Well, No. 1, of course, you and I both know is prayer. I think supernaturally God has to really help us with the grace and wisdom. But No. 2, you know, you focus again on strengths, even if you could find the smallest one. I mean, if you think about, where would you rather hang out with? Somebody who keeps pointing out what you’re not doing well and what you need to improve in? Or somebody who says, you know what I like about you is …?
I mean, as a kid and as a troubled teenager, I’m gonna go where I’m not constantly hassled with all the things that I’m inadequate about. I want a parent who says once in a while, wow, that’s one of the things I like best about you. If you could start with that. ‘Cause if you don’t understand me, I’ll find somebody who does and that’s the issue.
Jim: That’s the issue right there.
Cynthia: That’s right.
Jim: And that’s what kids are seeking, is acceptance.
Cynthia: And yeah, just to be valued and understood for who you are. Like a lot of times we’ll say, you know, awareness is half the battle and there’s nothin’ wrong with sayin’ to me, “I know this was hard for you. I know this is so frustrating, but …” and then just your recognizing that it’s frustrating for me, encourages me and helps me want to do it more, because at least you recognize and you appreciate and you value who I am and that it is difficult, but that I’m trying.
John: Practically speaking, in light of what you’ve helped us understand about learning styles and such, let’s say Jim and Jean, they’ve got a handle on this now for their oldest. How actively should they be managing that homework process? Because I think one of the biggest challenges a lot of parents, particularly of early teens, struggle with is trying to continue to manage that homework load and not letting the child own that themselves.
Cynthia: Right. One of the things I recommend especially to middle school parents is, the reminder that, you know, your kids always need you, but how they need you changes. And so, now they don’t need you to hover and to constantly monitor, but they still do need you to monitor. And it becomes more of a question of, how do we teach them responsibility? How do we keep them accountable?
And there are times when you can’t do the homework for them and when you say, do you think it’s gonna be worth getting a D by not doing the homework? And then as a kid, I’m gonna have to say, yeah, it’s worth it. Or no, I guess not.
But then, you shift as much responsibility as you can, because they’re learning to be a teenager and then an adult and they have to figure it out more than just, if you don’t get the homework done, this doesn’t happen and this doesn’t happen and this doesn’t happen. Well, that doesn’t actually help me.
But as a kid, if I understand why the homework is important, even if I think it’s stupid, even if my parents think it’s stupid, they say, you know, I know it seems like it’s pretty pointless, but the bottom line is, if you don’t get this part done, you probably won’t get that A. Is it important to you to get the A? You know, just to shift that responsibility makes a difference.
Jim: Cynthia, as we wrap up, this has been wonderful, No. 1. It’s just been great. I’ve really enjoyed it. I know you have, too.
John: I have, too. I’ve been writin’ notes furiously.
Jim: Furiously right there and I’ll get a copy of those later.
John: Yeah, I’ll share them.
Jim: But Cynthia, the way that we think, especially again in Western Culture and as Christians, we value rules and we value doing things correctly and we value performance in that regard. These are high standards that we have. Speak to the parent who is struggling with that, because they can see when they lay their head on the pillow at night and they have pillow talk with their spouse, they’re sayin’, “I’m worried. I’m worried about our little boy.” I’m worried about our little girl, because they have all these expectations and it’s coming through their relationship with their child. And the child feels it. But speak to that parent about turning that around tomorrow morning when they get up. How would they do it?
Cynthia: Again, you go back to, well, I would start the first thing in the morning, asking your child, “Do you know what I like about you?” And they almost always will say, “What?” And then you think, what? I mean, surely you know. And your children know that you love them. Do they know what you like about them? Do they know what you have actually focused on that says, this is a strength of yours? I understand that it’s hard for you because it doesn’t match this, but I love this part so much. I wonder, how can we use that to help you overcome what’s frustrating you in class? So that you start again with what God has given me, with what strength I have and whether or not it matches, valuing it. Because I truly believe that the greatest compliment you can give your child or any human being is that of being understood and valued and saying, “Knowing the Creator and Designer the way I do, He made an awesome person in you. How can we figure out how to get you where you need to be?”
Jim: Boy, being understood, that sounds just like what Jesus would say and express that empathy and that desire to know you.
Cynthia: That’s right. That’s kind of where I learned it, how about. (Laughing)
Jim: Yeah, that’s good. Cynthia Tobias, thank you for being with us on “Focus on the Family,” your book, The Way They Learn: How to Discover and Teach to Your Child’s Strengths, it’s been wonderful to have you with us. Thank you.
Cynthia: It’s great to be here. Thank you so much.
John: Well, I hope you’ve been inspired to take a more active role in your child’s life this coming school year by learning more about their learning style and helping them along. You’ll get some great information in Cynthia’s book and the CDs of our conversation and the instant download, as well, all of this and more help at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Here at the close, John, I want to share a comment we recently received from a teenager. She shares this. “I’m age 14 and e-mailing you from Arizona. Thank you for all that you’ve done. Your broadcasts have brought me closer to God. When I was in 5th and 6th grade, I didn’t really believe in a God that could forgive me for all that I’ve done. By 6th grade, I was introduced to very sexual terms by my peers in school. I used those terms a lot and offended so many kids and adults with my behavior. But for Christmas that year, I got my first iPod. My parents told me to listen to a podcast called “Focus on the Family” and I did. Within the first episode, I fell in love. Now I’ve accepted Jesus into my heart and I’m studying the Bible intensely.”
Jim: Wow, John! I love that. I mean, is that amazing?!
John: Yeah, we’re not counting on 14-year-olds listening.
Jim: What a wise little girl, a young lady really. I mean, that is wisdom speaking through her and I’m so appreciative of that. And I want to say thank you to all you who pray for us and support the ministry. Together we have touched this young girl’s life and I think probably hundreds, maybe thousands like her. And it encourages me. I hope it encourages you, as well.
John: And I trust you’ll want to make a donation to the work here. You can do so online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And today when youmake a generous donation of any amount, we’ll send a copy of Cynthia’s book, The Way They Learn and it’s a great resource, especially as we head into the school year.
Well, we hope you have a great weekend and be sure to be back here on Monday. You’ll hear from a man who has struggled with a number of labels--OCD, ODD, ADHD--and you’ll hear how his family came alongside him.
Mr. Nathan Clarkson: I’m really lucky to have grown up in a house that didn’t look at me as a person who is inherently disordered. They looked at me as a person who’s inherently designed and maybe these things that can cause trouble and that are hard, actually can be used for good.
End of Excerpt
John: I’m John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. Join us again next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
Featured Broadcast Resource
Receive Cynthia Tobias' book The Way They Learn for your donation of any amount!Give Now (Available to U.S. residents only)
God made everyone different and understanding how your child is wired is an important part of preparing him or her for a successful school year.Read more
Good parents aren't perfect. And that's okay. There's no formula to follow, but there are ways you can grow every day. This assessment gives parents an honest look at their unique strengths, plus some areas that could use a little help.Read More
Cynthia Tobias offers this guide for parents to describe their individual child's strengths and preferences to the child's teacher.Read More
Carpool. Homework. Bedtime! The first day of school is just around the corner.Read more
Recent Focus on the Family Broadcast EpisodesGo To Most Recent Episode