As a child I was always interested in watching my dad drive the car. It looked pretty easy to me so I would often ask him when I could have a turn. Of course the answer was “when you’re old enough”, but that was a frustrating response to me. Occasionally he let me sit on his knee and steer on an old dirt road with no one around and, although I could steer the car where I wanted, dad controlled the accelerator and the brakes.
It wasn’t until I finally took that first drive on my own when I got my ‘P plates’ that I felt fully in control and fully responsible. Driving on my own I realised that the speed I go, the power I use and the direction I steer were all decisions I made and I needed to be prepared for the consequences if something went wrong.
I easily understood the analogy of the car when I learned about ‘Choice Theory and Reality Therapy’ in my early years as a teacher. Psychiatrist William Glasser uses the car to explain what we have choice over, or what we can control in our lives and what we can’t control. Let me use this diagram to explain:
Put simply Glasser says that our feelings and our physiology are things that we can’t really control in a situation. These two things give our car its power. How emotional or angry we are will determine how hard we put our foot down on the accelerator. These back wheels are rigid. They don’t turn or steer. They just give our car its power and they follow the direction of the front wheels.
What we think and how we act are the front wheels of the car and they take our car one way or another. Glasser argues that we can control our thoughts and our actions no matter how strong our feelings are or our physiology is, we can alter how we think about a situation and we can choose what action we take.
When students face a difficult problem – the seemingly insurmountable English essay, a Math test that takes on epic proportions, social struggles that leave them feeling frustrated – it can be tempting for them to give up and resort to the four words: “I can’t do it!” Their feelings can be a powerful force and can drive them down deep into a hole that is difficult to get out of if they let their thoughts and actions take them there.
As parents and teachers we need to help our students to stop and ‘think about their thinking’, or in one word, ‘Metacognition.’
The Child Mind Institute suggests that we can train our children to be proactive with metacognitive techniques to help them steer their car moving from the statement “I can’t do it!” to the question “How can I do it?”.
Metacognitive questions for children can help them think in a more reflective way. Questions should be:
- Open-ended. Give your child some space to reflect on their thinking: “Can you tell me more about why you think that?”
- Non-blaming. It can be hard to stay open when children are acting out, but asking them to think about their behaviour can help them learn to manage difficult situations in a better way: “Why do you think you got so upset when dad changed the channel?”
- Solution-focused. Encourage them to think about how they can use their understanding to change things in the future: “How could you handle that differently next time?”
- Process-oriented. Ask questions that help your child get a better idea of how their thought process works: “How will you know when this drawing is finished?”
Teaching your child to drive is difficult (so I’ve been told). Even though you may have spent hours and hours talking to your daughter or son, problem solving, listening, asking questions and practising over and over again, I am sure that handing them the keys for that first solo drive is a nerve wracking experience.
The same technique is employed as we raise and educate our children from childhood through the teenage years and into young adulthood. Over the years we may see some ‘accidents’ but I am also sure we will see wonderful success stories and enjoy the journey together.
One of the benefits of being teachers at Cedars, and for myself as the Principal, is supporting and helping our parents as you teach your child to ‘drive the car’ of life. Our sub schools have been developed in a way that helps our students to develop that metacognitive process, to keep ‘thinking about their thinking’ as they mature throughout their schooling and growth into young adults.
Ultimately our children will ‘take the wheel’ of their own lives and, as they are ‘handed the keys’, we can all breathe a bit easier knowing that together we have helped them develop their thinking processes to make the choices that will ultimately bring them success and fulfilment in their lives.