Help a Dyslexic Child Develop a Positive Mindset

We all know how difficult it can be to develop new beneficial habits (or to ditch bad ones). Fortunately, a behavioral scientist from Stanford University can teach us a mind-blowing amount about how to do this. This information works for everyone, but these brain-hacks are going to be especially powerful for those of us—young and old—who struggle with dyslexia. Successfully making changes has to do with a person’s mindset. And parents can help a dyslexic child develop a positive mindset that will help them develop good habits.

B.J. Fogg, PhD, founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, wrote the very accessible book, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. In this book, he walks us through the science of creating positive change.

It’s Not Your Fault

Fogg states, “Over the last twenty years, I’ve found that most everyone wants to make some kind of change . . . but there is a painful gap between what people want and what they actually do. They blame it on themselves for the most part. They internalize the cultural message of ‘It’s your fault! You should exercise more, but you don’t! Shame on you!’ I am here to say, it isn’t your fault. We are not the problem. Our approach to change is. It’s a design flaw, not a personal flaw.”

Here are some gems that I especially appreciate as they relate to dyslexia or the struggling student:

  • “If there’s one concept from my book I hope you embrace, it’s this: People change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.”
  • “Emotions create habits.”
  • “Once you remove any hint of judgment, your behavior becomes a science experiment. A sense of exploration and discovery is a prerequisite to success, not just an added bonus.”
  • “The easier a behavior is to do, the more likely the behavior will become a habit. This applies to habits we consider ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ It doesn’t matter. Behavior is behavior. It all works the same way.”
  • “The essence of Tiny Habits is this: take a behavior you want, make it tiny, find where it fits naturally in your life, and nurture its growth. If you want to create long-term change, it’s best to start small.”

Removing judgment, and then approaching a situation with curiosity, discovery, and a sense of exploration are all keys to helping the struggling student. (Or anyone desiring new behaviors). Only this model allows the struggling student to cope with their situation and optimize their strengths. If you can help a dyslexic child develop a positive mindset, you give them the tools they need to develop that sense of exploration and discovery.

7 Steps to New Habits

Let’s do a practice run with Fogg’s model.

Let’s say I’m a kid who needs to do his homework.


Step 1: Clarify the Aspiration.

I need to do my homework, but I’m dreading it because it’s hard. I’d rather play video games.

Step 2: Explore Behavior Options

I could go ahead and play video games, or take a nap, or ride my bike, or get on social media, or actually get my homework done.

Step 3: Match with Specific Behaviors

Since I really need to get this homework done, I need to get all my books and assignment sheets and pencils and paper together in a place I can do the work. I could also ask for help, have a snack, or turn on some music that helps me concentrate.

Step 4: Start Tiny

I’m putting one book on the table and sitting down.

Step 5: Find a Good Prompt

Since I have to sit at the table, I’ll use that as my anchoring prompt. After I sit down, I will open my book and get started. I’ll use this same prompt every day to cement the habit in place. Sitting at the table = time to get stuff done!

Step 6: Celebrate Successes

As soon as I sit down and open my book, I’m going to raise my arms in victory! I’m making a good choice and I’m gonna get this done! Yay, me!!! And the crowd goes wild!!!

Step 7: Troubleshoot as needed

If I get distracted, I may need to focus on an easier item on my homework list. I may need a snack or a drink of water. I may need to turn the music on or off. Or if I’m feeling resistance to starting the new habit, can I just pick up a book? Can I then just put it on the table. Yes and yes! Then all I have to do is sit down. I can do that too. Then it’s celebrate the win, open the book, and begin!

The Power of Celebration-Feeling “Shine”

What I really appreciate in Fogg’s outline is the celebration of successes, and the positive effect that has on shaping new behaviors and mining human potential. Fogg calls this moment in the process “feeling Shine.”

He states, “You know this feeling already. You feel Shine when you ace an exam. You feel Shine when you give a great presentation and people clap at the end. You feel Shine when you smell something delicious that you cooked for the first time.”

He continues, “By celebrating, you create a feeling of Shine, which in turn causes your brain to encode the new habit. If I could teach you Tiny Habits in person, I would start by focusing on celebrations. I would help you find celebrations that are natural and effective for you. We would practice them together and it would be a blast. I would train you in celebrations before teaching you about the Fogg Behavior Model, or the power of simplicity, or Anchors, or Recipes for Tiny Habits. Celebrations would be first—because it’s the most important skill for creating habits.”

The Power of Celebration in Helping a Dyslexic Child Develop a Positive Mindset

As a guy who grew up with very little in the way of support for my dyslexia and who struggled daily at work as an adult, I didn’t do much celebrating. But I invite you to put celebration—Shine—on your map, and that of your child. We’re overdue for some celebration, and that positive reinforcement can move mountains. So parents, use those small celebrations to help a dyslexic child to develop a positive mindset.

Here’s what Fogg has to say in this regard:

“Celebration will one day be ranked alongside mindfulness and gratitude as daily practices that contribute most to our overall happiness and well-being. If you learn just one thing from my entire book, I hope it’s this: Celebrate your tiny successes. This one small shift in your life can have a massive impact even when you feel there is no way up or out of your situation. Celebration can be your lifeline.”

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.

And to learn more about how every student best learns to read, I recommend Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, by reading specialist Faith Borkowsky.

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 CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.

One Comment

  1. bwalker1123 says:

    Fabulous article that gave me lots of insights to help my son get through his homework.

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