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3 Phrases That Hinder Your Child’s Learning

Illusory Truth Effect

When something is repeated often enough, our brains tend to associate that as the truth. This is known as the illusory truth effect. Phrases repeated to or by children can have a great affect their learning potential. Here are some suggestions if your child happens to repeat these phrases often:

Phrase 1: "I Don't Know"

It is understandable that your child won’t know a lot of things. So it is perfectly normal for them to say that they don’t understand something. However, saying “I don’t know” repeatedly places the child in a passive learning mentality. It also creates a defeated mindset.

I once taught a child who said “I don’t know” so much that he would say it even before reading the questions! He said it so often that it had become a second nature to him. Such situations cause parents and educators to rush in and render aid to the child. They feel that it is their duty to fill in every crack of uncertainty as soon as possible.

Rendering aid to the child immediately isn’t necessarily a good thing. Curiosity is born in the realm of the unknown. Firstly, whenever we give a child easy answers, it conditions the mind to be less curious and persevering. Secondly, it tells the child that we accept their state of mind – the “I don’t know” state.

We can change this by simply being intentional in our communication.
For starters, we can correct the child by simply teaching the child to swap these phrases.

  • ‘Can you help me?’ 
  • ‘Can you teach me?’

This simple change in phrasing moves the child from a defeated mindset to a seeking/learning mindset. It also negates the illusory truth effect upon the child. This phrase “Can you teach me?” helps the child build their self-esteem, especially if the child had done poorly in the past.

Instead of saying

I Don't Know

Replace with

Can you help me?
Can you teach me?

Phrase 2: "I Can't"

The cousin to “I Don’t Know” is “I Can’t”. This phrase is very similar to “I don’t know” in the sense that it leaves the child in the defeated mindset. We often hear this phrase when a child is tasked to try to do something new or unfamiliar. It is perfectly normal to be fearful of the unknown. The best counter to such fear is familiarity. 

As parents and educators, we have to adopt an encouraging posture when dealing with such fear. After all, the word encourage means to give courage to someone. 

We can help a child by firstly correcting the phrase. So instead of saying “I can’t”, have the child say:

  •  “Can I follow you?

 Secondly we need to give the child something to grasp – something familiar. When you allow your child to shadow you, the child gains confidence and momentum to stepping into the realm of the unknown. Pretty soon, your child will switch from saying “I can’t” to “I can!”

Instead of saying

I Can't

Replace with

Can I follow you

Phrsase 3: "I Forgot"

We forget facts. Kids forget facts as well. We often hear the phrase “I forgot” when a child is trying to remember something. However, kids have a greater ability to memorise and store information than adults do. So for a child to say “I forgot” repeatedly usually means that they aren’t concerned or it isn’t important to them. In the long run, this creates a nonchalant attitude towards learning. 

Your child can learn to rephrase “I forgot” to:

  • “let me try to remember”

The effects won’t be immediate but it pushes the child to persevere and dig through their memory bank a little. This then creates momentum for the child to be enthusiastic about learning.

Instead of saying

I Forgot

Replace with

Let me try to remember

In conclusion, you can use the illusory truth effect to your advantage . By having your child rephrase their difficulties, they can develop better self-esteem and confidence. This in turn places them in an active learning mindset where they will develop their curiosity and perseverance. 

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Illusory Truth Effect

The illusory truth effect (also known as the validity effect, truth effect or the reiteration effect) is the tendency to believe information to be correct after repeated exposure. *source: wikipedia

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