This is a very popular question, even as summer approaches! The general question you are all asking, is how to help your children without getting into a power struggle. I really think this is important. While discipline and schedules are effective, as soon as they turn into power struggles they do little to improve academic achievement or discipline. A parent that wins in a power struggle promotes only obedience. Later, when the child can no longer obey, because they are out there in the big wide world, they have to re-learn motivation and self-imposed structure. It is much better, in my view, to promote a student’s motivation, and their own inspiration to learn, starting when they are about three or four years of age.
The challenge, with this model, is not the student who co-operates and enjoys a schedule for when they do their work. It is the student who does not want to do homework at all, and who will fight you, tooth and nail, until you feel exasperated, angry and concerned. This student, although undoubtedly intelligent and strong-willed, is as yet unmotivated. Parents naturally react to this child by imposing structure and expectations. If this doesn’t work, the power struggle begins. And now, if you truly believe that power struggles will not promote motivation or inspiration, it is time to try something new. And that is, the back seat.
Taking a back seat to a child’s learning is fraught with anxiety and worry. We want to prepare our children for the future, with rigor and excellence. Taking a back seat to the learning of an unmotivated student, and allowing them to choose to be the kind of student they want to be, however, is not to be mistaken for neglect. If a child decides not to do their homework, their teacher will not be happy with them. They will compare unfavorably to other students. They will begin to feel poorly about themselves. In this place, a child can discover their motivation, and the parent, sitting in the back seat, can come forward and assist.
Forgetting our anxiety, and tolerating the grey zones where our children have yet to discover their own excellence, is not easy. I have worked with a number of families, however, where tolerating the anxiety and worry during the process of sitting in the back seat led to fabulous results. Children start to beg their parents to drill them in math, to help them complete the homework and to do extra credit assignments. That is what we wants.
Dr. Kalman Heller, speaking to a large group of parents at the Thurston school this winter, talked about the importance of supporting our children to be well-adjusted “B” students. His focus was on their happiness. If a child is not interested in academic achievement, it does not mean they will do badly in the world. It is when they adopt the feeling that they are failures that they don’t do well. Parents can help their children by helping to promote in them the feeling they are successful, by communicating confidence, trust, and following
Creating a motivated student means coming to terms with the terrible reality of seeing an unmotivated student. I really made sure I could accept that my daughter would perhaps not go to Harvard, as I had, and prefer instead to find other things in live to feel good about. Once I let go of my expectations, and let her emerge as she wanted without criticism or disappointment, fully embracing her own interests and motivation, she surprised me by emerging into what I had always wanted. I can guarantee that if you just watch your children grow, that alone will help them find their own excellence.