It’s been a common theme in my practice over the past month or so. Parents come in frustrated that their kids are no longer doing homework, or following through with practice, or seeming to even try at school. In truth, I typically see this trend starting in about October or November for our gifted and 2e kids. After the shine of a new school year wears off, and they’re faced with the same day in and day out type of assignments, they appear to care less and less. Behavior problems might increase. Homework struggles ensue. Teachers set up meetings to inform us that our kids “aren’t meeting their potential.” And we’re left wondering what happened.
A bazillion and one reasons could be the culprit under these school struggles. And we adults often try to figure it out ourselves and try to solve the problem ourselves. We negotiate. We setup reward systems. We make threats. We handout punishments. We tediously explain why our kids just need to get the homework in. We try to empathize and explain that we understand the work might be too simple, but we tell them we often have to do things we don’t want to do, too, and they just need to suck it up buttercup and git ‘r done. And all of these approaches tend to fail. Or they work for a minute or two and then they fail.
Why do they fail? First of all, we’re trying to solve a problem without one of the key stakeholders. We need to get the child’s input to figure out what the problem actually is. This will take curiousity and exploration on our part. We need to question and probe deeper to get at the root of the problem, and listen without judgment. If they say “I just don’t wanna do it.” With open curiousity ask, “What about it don’t you want to do?” or “Why don’t you want to do it?” They say, “Because it’s stupid!” We say, “What makes it stupid?” They say, “Because there’s no point to it. I already know how to multiply, why do I have to do more worksheets on what I already know?” Or they say, “I don’t see why I’ll ever need to know the chemical composition of table salt to survive as an adult.” Or they say, “Because I have the story ideas in my head and it’s just hard to get it out on paper.” And here we thought they just were being lazy or defiant.
Secondly, we need to validate their concerns. Truly validate them. We often minimize what our kids tell us. We briefly agree with them (“yes, Billy, I know you know how to multiply”), but then quickly brush it aside (“but, it’s just what you have to do to get through 3rd grade”). How disempowering. Instead, what if we offer to problem solve with them? What if we brainstorm alternate solutions? What if we agree to go in to school with our student and discuss it with the teacher? What if we explore alternate education options?
Kids do the best they can. They genuinely want to please the adults in their lives. If they aren’t, it’s a sign that something bigger is going on. Help them learn how to express it clearly and be solution-finders. Be willing to show them how to advocate and to advocate alongside of them. Just knowing that you’re on their side and understand their perspective can do wonders.