An Interview with Dona Matthews, and Joanne Foster
1) Dona and Joanne, you have just written another book, entitled Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids. Briefly, what is it about?
In Beyond Intelligence, we reveal secrets for parents who want to nurture their children’s gifts, talents, and creativity, with a focus on raising kids who will grow up to be happily productive adults. We discuss the nature of intelligence and creativity, and provide practical strategies for parents who want to encourage these qualities in their children, We describe the changing demands of parenting as children grow from infancy into childhood, and then into adolescence and early adulthood. And in what our readers describe as a reassuring manner, we make recommendations that allow parents to help their kids thrive in the changing world around them.
We include lots of anecdotes about children, families, and teachers we have worked with over the years-illustrating problems that parents encounter, as well as solutions. We wrote Beyond Intelligence for busy parents, so we’ve also included quizzes, checklists, and quick summaries that readers are telling us make it easy to navigate and refer back to.
In a nutshell (and as we say on the first page of the book), “we show how parents can transform everyday circumstances into opportunities for their children to develop and activate their intelligence, and to apply their efforts successfully and productively.”
2) Let’s talk about the issue of personal responsibility-How responsible do parents need to be in cultivating and nurturing their children’s intelligence?
In Beyond Intelligence, we emphasize findings from the neurosciences showing the plasticity of brain development, so we don’t see intelligence as limited. From our perspective, there’s lot that parents can do to help their kids develop their abilities. By demonstrating good work habits, for example, parents become powerful role models in time management, effort, and perseverance, all of which are critical to high achievement in every area. And by encouraging their kids to find and follow their interests and passions (and doing the same themselves), parents give their kids a head start on being happy and productive adults.
We take a strongly developmental approach. It is an optimistic perspective because it rests on the belief that intelligence develops with the right kinds of attitudes and learning opportunities. This places considerable responsibility on parent’s shoulders for supporting the development of their kids’ abilities and overall well-being. In Beyond Intelligence we offer practical strategies for use at home, school, and elsewhere.
3) Teachers are typically concerned with academic achievement and test scores-so who helps children develop social skills?
Social skills, including friendship-making, co-operation, and other interpersonal skills, are best learned at home. Especially in the early years, teachers often help children develop social skills, but that is rarely as effective as the social and emotional learning that happens at home. Parents who want their kids to succeed at school (and beyond) help them learn how to get along well with others. The children who arrive at school knowing how to take turns and share, and who are able to listen and act kindly, do much better than others, both academically and socially.
4) Kids seem to be emotionally stressed with all this testing and emphasis on standardized test scores. How can parents help their kids in this realm?
Unfortunately, teachers and parents are also feeling stressed these days about standardized testing and test scores. There are lots of reasons for this, and that makes it doubly hard to help reduce the stress that children are feeling. One way to prevent or address performance anxiety is to cultivate what psychologist Carol Dweck labeled a growth mindset. By understanding that ability develops with opportunities to learn, even a failure can be seen as useful information rather than devastating proof of incompetence.
Parents who want to help their children feel less stressed need to start with their own attitudes. Not surprisingly, parents who hold a growth mindset themselves are far more effective at helping their kids cope with difficult circumstances than those who fear failure and see it as indicating a lack of ability. Other good ways to prevent stress include striving for a healthy balance of day-to-day activities, including lots of time for free play (preferably outdoors), and learning to make choices that lead to schedules that are manageable and not too rushed.
In Beyond Intelligence, we describe how to cultivate a growth mindset, and we offer many suggestions to help parents and kids get through stressful times. We’ve also written several blogs and articles on this topic, and they can be found at www.beyondintelligence.net.
5) Let’s talk about being “happily productive.” Take a child who gets C’s and B’s but is involved in sports, his or her religious institution, has some hobbies, does some reading on their own—is this better than a child who makes straight A’s and is on the Honor Roll?
Neither of these situations is necessarily better than the other. It depends on the child and his interests; both of the situations you’ve described could lead to a child feeling happily productive, or not. What’s important for happy productivity is a combination of many factors, including that children feel respected and listened to, that they find activities that engage them, and that they’re given opportunities to explore and develop those areas. Beyond Intelligence is full of secrets of happy productivity, so it’s impossible to mention them all in response to an interview question. We can say for sure, however, that a child’s school grades don’t indicate one way or another how happily productive he is today, or will be as time goes on.
6) Some kids have strengths in creative endeavors, others in musical/artistic talent etc. Do parents have to parent differently?
Each child is unique in her interests, strengths, temperaments, experiences, and challenges, so parents have to parent differently with each of their children. Thoughtful parenting depends on being attuned to these differences between kids. There are some universals, including nurturing, listening, and being responsive, and ensuring there’s a good balance between challenge and stimulation on the one hand, and time for reflection and play on the other.
When children are curious and interested in something, whether it’s artistic, academic, athletic, or something else, parents can encourage and support the development of the child’s ability in that area. Throughout Beyond Intelligence, we discuss how parents can do that, and we provide examples at all age levels and in different circumstances.
7) Who publishes this book and do you have a website?
Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids is published by House of Anansi Press in Canada. Interested readers can find out more at www.beyondintelligence.net
8) Can you tell us what would be found on the web site?
If you go to www.beyondintelligence.net, you’ll find information about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, including reviews, the table of contents, and endorsements. You`ll also see more about who we are, other books we`ve written, links to our blogs and articles, and lots of resources for parents interested in supporting the development of their kids` intelligence, talents, creativity, resilience, and more.
9) What have I neglected to ask?
Nothing. However, we welcome questions from our readers, and will try to respond to them in future blogs and articles.