I hear this so often from parent:
“My son is so lazy he never does his homework. I wish he would just apply himself.”
“My daughter is so smart but she does not put in any effort.”
I know in a lot of these situations parents will try to persuade their kids to improve themselves by saying:
“You just need to try harder”
“School is very important. You need to take this seriously!”
“You can do this. You are so smart!”
Unfortunately this does not motivate kids to do better in school. Most kids are putting in a lot of effort. Deep down they do want to do well in school. Kids who are struggling, struggle because they might have trouble understanding a concept or they might be missing some vital information. They are actually working much harder than their average peers. They might see their friends succeeding effortlessly at a task that is difficult for them and they become even more discouraged. Their schoolwork suffers as a result.
The best way for us to help our kids through their struggles with school is to deliver empathy and accept their feelings of frustration, discouragement and anger.
Kids want to hear:
“You sound frustrated with this work…”
“This math homework seems a bit tricky to you…”
“Something about school is bothering you…”
“You sound like you would like a little more help understanding your history assignment…”
It can be tough for parents to talk to their kids about their schoolwork because it is so important to us. But once we learn how to do this we will see that our kids will be less stressed and more cooperative. They also might open up and give us some insight into the kind of help they might need:
“Yeh, spelling is so hard for me. I can’t seem to remember all the letters in the big words.”
“I understand multiplication but this long division is too hard.”
“I don’t know how I am going to remember all the dates for my history class!”
We can use this information as clues. They can indicate to us our children’s academic weaknesses. We can then use it as a springboard for discussions with our kids and guide them to take the steps they need to get help.
“Oh, so you are having trouble with the big spelling words. Hmm, maybe your teachers have some ideas on what could help.”
“Did your teacher give you any tricks on how to make long division easier for you?”
“I know Uncle Mike was a whiz at making up mnemonics. Would you like to give him a call?”
If their problems persist we obviously would want to arrange for more serious interventions.
Empathy is the key to helping us help our kids manage their troubles at school. When we are empathetic we help kids feel understood. Then they will be better able to manage the big and little challenges of their academic lives.