It’s mid-summer, and for many kids, this means a well-deserved break from school. If you look closely, a typical school day involves hundreds of expectations! Think about all the things your child has to do from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, pack a backpack, get to school on time, pay attention in classes, raise hand before speaking, get along with peers and teachers… and that’s only a sampling of the first half of the day! There are lots of opportunities for your child to struggle or experience success. As many of you know, some kids have an extra hard time with the day-to-day demands of school. And with COVID-19 impacting the school environment, there have been even more stressors for students to navigate over the past year. Has your child struggled? Let’s look at some strategies you can put in place now that may help reduce those struggles when school starts up again in the fall.
Look Backward for Clues. What school-related things were hard for your child last year? Think back, and make a list. You will probably be able to identify predictable patterns of things your child had difficulty with. Did they struggle with attending class? Or maybe they attended, but they struggled to participate? Maybe there were certain subjects they had a harder time with. Perhaps there were a lot of arguments about math homework. Maybe they had meltdowns whenever there was a science test. Or maybe it depended on the type of assignment. Maybe writing and reading went well, but they struggled with group projects. Or perhaps the schoolwork was fine, and the social aspects of school were hard for them. Did they struggle with making or keeping friends? Was bullying an issue? All of these clues can help us understand common sticking points that might come up again next year. When you’ve clearly identified them, you will be able to make a plan to address them before they come up again!
Plan Ahead. Make a point to talk with your child about school-related issues before the year starts. Work together to identify ways to reduce those issues before they happen. For example, if your child struggles to focus on that math homework, sit down and talk about it together. Ask them what makes it hard to focus on it. Listen with empathy (see #5). And then together, figure out a way to make it easier to concentrate during homework time. What would help? What are their ideas? Working with your child to build a plan is a great way to empower them, and it can be great for your relationship!
Think about Skill vs. Will. At Think:Kids, we believe all young people are doing the best they can with the skills they have at any given moment. To navigate day-to-day situations, kids (and all humans, really) need the kinds of skills that help us communicate, focus, adapt, handle our feelings, and interact with others in a positive way. Challenging behavior, such as skipping school, having meltdowns at homework time, getting in fights on the playground, or talking out of turn during class, are all signs that a child is struggling with these kinds of skills. The behavior is really just the tip of the iceberg. Try to look beyond it and instead focus on the day-to-day situations that lead to the behavior, remembering that if they could do well in those moments, they would. That mindset alone can help! Talking collaboratively with your child will help build those skills!
Consider Going Beyond Rewards and Consequences. Let’s say your child struggles to get any grade higher than a “B.” Does it help if you offer them a reward for every “A” they earn? If so, that’s great! But if not, you may need a different strategy. It’s possible that all the rewards in the world won’t bring the grades up because earning the grade would require skills the child doesn’t currently have. Sometimes this means we need to adjust our expectations a little bit. It also means we need to help differently. Olympic athletes want to earn gold medals, but just wanting the gold isn’t enough to ensure they’ll get it. They need coaching, practice, and support. They need help working on the hard parts. When rewards and consequences aren’t working, they can actually backfire by decreasing motivation, making kids feel like failures, and causing them to give up. But when kids are provided support with things that are hard for them, they tend to feel more successful, more understood, and more capable.
Remember, Every Child is Unique. One size does not fit all. Different kids need different things. Sometimes this means adjusting expectations accordingly. Perhaps one of your children is very ambitious about school and feels ashamed when they don’t get perfect scores. Meanwhile, your other child says they don’t care about school and refuses to study at all. The needs of these two children different, and so to provide the best support, you will need to approach them differently.
Listen with Empathy. In Collaborative Problem Solving, we find that empathy is not agreeing or disagreeing with someone; it’s about understanding where they are coming from. Listen and validate your child’s point of view, even if it’s different from your point of view. Let’s say your child struggles to participate in art class. Perhaps you think art is fun, so attending art class should be easy. Why can’t they just do it! But for your child, art is really stressful, and the class is too noisy, and the assignments are confusing. Listening and treating their concerns with value will do wonders for the parent-child relationship!
Here’s to a relaxing, collaborative summer!