I wanted to share a few key concepts that have made a big difference in the way I think about feedback with children. These ideas come together to form the framework I use for talking to kids about their testing results:
- Feedback starts before intake
- Building a shared language
- Surprises suck!
- Parents continue the conversation
I have been using this framework in conjunction with The Brain Building Book to bring everything together for kids and parents, though I am hopeful these tips will be helpful for you with or without the book!
1. Feedback Starts Before Intake
There’s a concept in the assessment literature that “feedback starts at the intake interview.”
However, for children, the first interview is not the first conversation about testing.
The first conversation about testing happens with their parents, before they ever set foot in my office.
The language parents use to describe the assessment and the reasons they give for “why” the child is being assessed will affect the entire assessment process – including the feedback session.
To set parents and kids up for success, I started offering parents a handout with specific language to help them talk to their child about testing as a brain-building, collaborative discovery process.
This language sets the frame for the work we will do together, so that kids come in curious about understanding their brains.
This curiosity will help us identify our assessment questions, which will in turn drive our feedback session.
2. Building a Shared Language
Solving problems starts with understanding the child’s perspective. In the context of assessment, this may look like asking them, “What questions do you have? What would you like to learn about yourself?”
However, many young children simply do not have the language to talk about their experiences. In addition, there is a big emotional barrier to talking about stuff that’s hard!
To help, I started introducing some basic, brain-based language at the beginning of the testing process. I found kids love talking about the brain!
Using this language, kids started asking questions about the brain in general, which were then easy to tie back to their own experiences.
- What parts of the brain do you need to play video games?
- How does your brain figure out a new rock climbing problem?
- Which parts do you use when you read?
From here I started introducing a “roads and construction” metaphor for development and learning.
Every child has been in a car, every child has been stuck in traffic, and every child has watched construction build something new. It’s a great place to start!
While most kids are able to talk about their highways, or strengths, talking about challenges is harder. I often had kids tell me that they didn’t have any challenges – or that everything is fine now!
To get kids talking about what’s hard now, I started asking what used to be hard but isn’t anymore. What roads have they already built?
From here, it is much easier to talk about what they want to build next.
Whatever the child identifies as their “next construction project” becomes the basis for their assessment question, which will in turn be the focus of our feedback session.
3. Surprises Suck!
This is probably the mistake I’ve made the most over the course of my career. There should be no “big reveal” at the feedback session!
I can get very excited about my “brilliant discoveries” about their learning challenges; however, I’ve learned the hard way that if I haven’t brought my patient along for the journey, chances are that a) I’ve missed something or b) my client will be too overwhelmed to process anything I am saying.
This is especially true for children, who will likely be nervous about what we are about to tell them, or may simply have difficulty processing information.
I’ve addressed this problem by writing down my observations in real-time, throughout the assessment process, using the child’s words, in collaboration with the child.
Using the construction metaphor, we identify their highways (strengths) and their construction zones (challenges.) We talk about what they’ve built over time and what tools helped them get there.
In this way, we lay down the building blocks for talking about their results or diagnosis – without any surprises.
If I do share a diagnosis with a child, it’s simply another way of explaining their experience. This sentence frame has helped me to this end:
4. Parents Continue the Conversation
Helping a child understand how their brain works does not happen in one session; it is a conversation that evolves over time.
A big part of my work with the child is documenting our shared language for parents and caregivers, so that they know exactly what to say to their child the next time a challenge comes up, using the same strengths-based, growth mindset language we used throughout the assessment process.
When I’m planning my feedback session with children, I use a simple organizer that I share with parents as a quick reference for the language that we used. This outlines the child’s highways and construction zones, as well as the tools they will need to build their skills moving forward.
Bringing it All Together
While all these pieces have been helpful individually, I have also been working on a way to bring them together to create an empowering, engaging, and personalized experience for every child I work with, without needing to spend a ton of extra time.
The Brain Building Book was built to serve this purpose. It is designed to:
- Provide empowering language to talk about learning and development
- Document strengths and challenges throughout the assessment
- Give kids a finished product they can be proud of
- Give parents a way to keep the conversation going over time
Parents and teachers can also continue adding to the book as new ideas or strategies come to mind. It’s a living, breathing document of how the child’s brain is growing!
Thank you to everyone who supported the Kickstarter campaign for The Brain Building Book. I’m excited to say that with your help, we reached our goal and the book will be published!
Kickstarter also designated The Brain Building Book as a “Project We Love!“
Thank you for all you do to help kids understand their amazing brains! Please let me know if you have any questions about the book, or if there’s any other way I can help!
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*The following sources have been highly influential in helping me learn the most effective ways to talk to kids: Collaborative Proactive Solutions, Therapeutic Assessment, TEAM-CBT, and Feedback That Sticks