Change does not come easily for any of us. Think about how deeply ingrained our personalities, habits and proclivities are. Fundamentally, we are who we are.

Parents spent a lot of time trying to change children and I sometimes find that their efforts may be a bit too ambitious.

Rather than go for large change, a “compound-interest mentality” may help as an alternative.

With compound interest, our finances grow in small increments. Interest is paid on top of interest paid – an improve product is improved in little steps. With compund interest our money grows over time.

Using this approach with children can be enormously helpful.

Let’s say your child has great trouble putting papers away, keeping track of assignments, knowing where to find materials, clearing out book bags, etc. In short, your child has moderate to severe problems with basic organization skills, otherwise known as “executive functioning.”

Trying to get your child to improve in this area can be overwhelming (for the parent and the child), and often leads to frustration.

Having a compound interest mentality is a slower process, but the hope is that smaller, incremental change can occur over time.

To think in compounding terms, come up with a handful of skills that you think would represent real improvement in your child. Write down this list of specific skills. 

Focus on one skill for a period of time until you think that skill has been internalized and mastered. A “skill of the month” approach can help move this along.  For example, April can be “Put-Your-Homework-in-the-Right- Binder-Month.” Practice this skill and acknowledge  it when it is done right.  (Postive reinforcement helps, but don’t lay on too much syrup, as kids see though that and then don’t respond.) 

Once the skill of the month has been internalized, this would represent a form of “interest” that has been paid, so to speak. The next skill that is practiced will be on top of an already improved product.

The key to the compound interest approach is having patience and recognizing small, incremental progress.

Takeaway Point

Change does not come easily. The more we embrace this truth, the more patient we will be with children. Targeting and isolating specific skills and practicing them to the point of mastery helps to lead to small, incremental improvements over time.


Adapted from “School Struggles,” Richard Selznick, Ph.D. (Sentient Publications, 2012)