If You Change the Way You Look at Things, the Things You Look at Change

Psychologist Wayne Dyer uttered the wise words above many years ago, and I love his point. This technique of being able to see a person or a situation with new eyes is so helpful to both struggling readers and their parents. How?

When a child has dyslexia or otherwise struggles to read, write, listen, do math, etc., that child’s daily ruling emotion is fear. They constantly wonder things like, “Why can’t I learn/do this thing? What if I never can? What if I’m stupid? Why can other kids get this and not me? What if there’s something so wrong with me I can never be good enough?” And fear also rules the parent: “What’s wrong with my child? Aren’t they listening? Don’t they care? Are they lazy? Is there something I’ve done wrong, or something I should have done differently?”

But point of view means everything when dealing with language-based learning disabilities like dyslexia. I remember a vivid illustration of this in a book called The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. A psychotherapist and orchestra conductor, respectively, the authors of the book focus on twelve lessons, each of which helps the reader change the way he or she looks at things.

A street sign type sign with an arrow at one end says the word "Rethink" against a background of blue sky, white clouds, and green grass.

The authors tell a story of two shoe factory salesmen exploring new markets in Africa. After assessing the situation, both send telegrams:

SITUATION HOPELESS. STOP. NO ONE WEARS SHOES.

GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY. STOP. THEY HAVE NO SHOES.

“To the one who sees no shoes, all the evidence points to hopelessness. To his colleague, the same conditions point to abundance and possibility,” say the Zanders. “How often do we stand convinced of the truth of our early memories, forgetting that they are assessments made by a child? We can replace the narratives that hold us back by inventing wiser stories, free from childish fears, and in doing so, disperse long-held psychological stumbling blocks.”

While there’s a lot more to helping a struggling reader than positive thinking, changing from a fear-based point of view to a point of view fueled by a sense of possibility and curiosity is the best foundation for changing the life of a struggling reader. The Zanders get to the heart of Dr. Dyer’s ethos by reminding the reader that when we compare ourselves to others, nothing good can happen. Instead, they encourage readers to ask this question:

How will I be a contribution today?

Two sets of hands rest in each other over a background of rippling water shaded in pastel tones. The picture is meant to express kindness.

The Zanders continue, “Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, ‘Is it enough?’ and the even more fearful question, ‘Am I loved for who I am, or for what I have accomplished?’ could both be replaced by the joyful question, ‘How will I be a contribution today?’

“Naming oneself and others as a contribution produces a shift away from self-concern and engages us in a relationship with others that is an arena for making a difference. Rewards in the contribution game are of a deep and enduring kind, though less predictable than the trio of money, fame, and power that accrue to the winner in the success game. You never know what they will be, or from whence they will come.”

I love how this principle applies to language-based learning challenges: “Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and . . . new opportunities appear.

“Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. If we were to apply this visionary concept to education, it would be pointless to compare one child to another. Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of each child’s developing skills, mastery, and self-expression.”

A woman crawls out of a small cardboard box, illustrating the principle of thinking outside the box when helping children with language based learning difficulties like dyslexia change their point of view from one based on fear to one based on curiosity and a sense of possibility.

How can you help your struggling reader focus on their contribution rather than their perceived deficits? It’s simple, but it’s not easy. You can choose to see their challenges in a new way, through the lens of possibility. Enlarge the box. Model that for them. Use the practical tools scattered throughout my dyslexia blogs and resources. Show them how proud you are of their efforts by being generous with your words of praise, support, and the time you spend together reading and doing other activities. As you do, just watch how the learning challenge that you both once so feared can change.

For a thorough discussion of the social and emotional support needed for children with dyslexia, read my award-winning book, Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know, available in softcover, hardcover, eBook, and audio.

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the new CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators.