Q. I know you don’t believe in consequences, but is there ever a circumstance where a consequence is effective even when knowing the root cause of the behavior? Example: My 10-year-old son expressed this morning that he wished he didn’t have to go to school. He was moody and angry. I did some digging and turns out he hates music and it’s his first class of the day. I get it. I said missing school isn’t an option and asked if he could think of anything to make the day bearable. He was super angry and wasn’t open to hearing me and started to call me vulgar names/swears. I told him that calling me names is unacceptable—something I’ve told him many times. He stormed outside to ride his scooter for a bit, and I was left wondering if he should lose YouTube after school. Will it make him remember or think twice when he is in the red zone swearing at me? Is it just a thing parents do to feel in control when the situation feels so out of control? Can I do both? Does it make sense to say, “in our home when you call me vulgar names you lose privileges”?
My proposed solution is simple: don’t waste a lot of time and money pushing kids in directions they don’t want to go. Instead find out what weirdness they excel at and encourage them to do that. Then get out of the way. ~ Seth Godin
Q. What is the best way to respond to my 12 yo son who refuses to go to school? It started after he had 2 teachers who focused on the things he couldn’t do. We eventually pulled him and put him in private school but that only worked for about a year. We pulled him altogether last year on the advice of his therapist. Virtual school was a nightmare, and we were taking care of my dying father in the house too. It was too much. He really hates school. He is super smart but has dysgraphia, ADHD and anxiety so he really struggles.
A. I imagine there are a lot of kids this pandemic has pushed to the surface who were falling through the cracks pre-Covid. The silver lining of this struggle may be that you have come up against a dead end with traditional school before serious problems arise for your son in high school. This is a tough problem but one that needs solving sooner rather than later.
I know I’m not alone in thinking this school year would be sort of back to normal. But it’s not over yet and many believe it won’t ever be. We are in a new reality that we first believed temporary. Our kids are going back to school but this year with no option for remote learning. In some parts of the country that may seem fine, but in other parts parents feel like they’re throwing their kids to the wolves.
What kids care about is their own experience. Navigating masks and relationships back at school can be tricky for kids wondering where they stand. Friendships are likely shifting leaving hurt and unhappiness for many. Some kids are fine with masks and forget they are wearing them. Some are hypervigilant and feel unsafe if others are unmasked. And some are sensitive to masks or are simply resistant. Some worry about getting exposed. Does that mean quarantine, missing school, bringing Covid home, getting sick, ending up remote?
While they have their own physical and emotional responses to the situation, children are highly influenced by their parents’ reactions and responses to this year’s new and changing protocols. All of which affects how they manage their experiences.
While you’re probably, and rightly, thinking about everything you should be doing, it’s also essential to think about the things you shouldn’t be doing, and the things you need to avoid.
By Cassidy Webb
When I started using drugs at 15 years old, I thought my parents had no idea. I was positive that I hid it well,but I was wrong. I thought that because I was still playing basketball and making good grades nobody would know I was abusing drugs and alcohol.
My parents had always planned to move to a small town in Arkansas when I graduated high school so they could build a big beautiful home for retirement, so it came as a surprise when they abruptly told me we were moving the summer before my junior year.
Instead of being honest and telling me we were moving early in an attempt to drag me away from the group of friends I was getting involved with, they told me we were moving because they got a good deal on a piece of land to purchase. I didn’t find out until after I got sober that they were grasping for straws to save my life.
When we moved to Arkansas, nothing changed. I continued to use drugs. I was selected to be drug tested at my school. Since it wasn’t a public school, they were allowed to drug test any students who were involved in extracurricular activities. Upon failing the drug test, I told my parents the lie that I had only smoked weed once and just happened to get caught. I was simply given a slap on the wrist – not another word was said about my drug use.
Q. My 8 yr. old daughter, M, started playing with B last year and became her best friend. Towards the end of the year M became quite possessive of B. The situation escalated when B’s mother decided to “ban” B from playing with M. When this school year began, the ban was still on. I learned of it for the first time and also talked to the other mum. M was confused and angry, thought B was lying about the ban. She called her a liar and shouted at her which is very unlike M. She was still not ready to talk to me about it, so I couldn’t comfort or reassure her. It seems to me that girls this age don’t know how to play in groups at school.
I will organise more playdates for M with other friends, and keep communicating with her teacher. I find it very difficult when the other mother calls frequently to discuss this. She seems to be projecting adult expectations and anxiety onto B by daily inquisitions about life at school. So the girls are not left to resolve this between themselves. M has been saying she doesn’t want to go to school, and I can tell it has affected her. Any tips about friendships?
In the wake of the recent college admissions scandal, my concern is with the students who are waking up to a whole new vision of themselves. Many of them from fifty known families—so far—apparently knew none of what their parents were up to—until now.
Some received a sports scholarship in a sport never played using photoshopped headshots; some had their SAT and ACT tests corrected by paid off proctors; some even had their tests taken for them. Coaches at the elites took huge amounts of money from an agent of a falsified non-profit who took even more from parents desperate to give their children a prestigious resume and a bumper sticker for their cars. The illegal non-profit allowed the parents to deduct their payments as donations.
Imagine what it must feel like to be that college student oblivious to what got you accepted? What happens to any trust you have in your parents—or any trust you thought they had in you? And then to find out your parents are under arrest for their illegal conduct. How could you not feel inadequate in your parents’ eyes knowing what they did to get you in? How must it feel to assume you deserved admittance only to learn oodles of money was your ticket?
Jack Buckingham was a bit remorseful. Jack is the son of Jane Buckingham, Los Angeles marketing executive and author of The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life. I would question her advice. Her daughter apparently gained admission through bribery to alter her ACT test. Her mother claimed she is “not a great test taker,” and has been arrested on a felony charge for paying an ACT proctor to take her son’s test. Jack told The Hollywood Reporter, “I know there are millions of kids out there both wealthy and less fortunate who grind their ass off just to have a shot at the college of their dreams. I am upset that I was unknowingly involved in a large scheme that helps give kids who may not work as hard as others an advantage over those who truly deserve those spots.”
Two Stanford University students have begun a growing movement on behalf of “qualified, rejected” students and filed a federal class action suit accusing eight schools of negligence.
Then, what of the students who knew all along and who feel perfectly entitled?
“They’re blowing this whole thing out of proportion,” Malcolm Abbott told the New York Post, “I believe everyone has a right to go to college, man.”
One would guess Olivia Jade Giannulli, the daughter of the indicted actress Lori Loughlin, knew what was going on when she posed on a rowing machine. Her parents allegedly passed her off as a rowing recruit, a sport she had never participated in. She told her followers on YouTube that she was there for the games and the parties, obviously not for the education.
Do these kids think they deserve to be where they are? Most have been on an entitled pedestal their whole lives and have never had to experience the ups and downs of success and failure on their own two feet. What of their futures after graduation? I suppose money will keep them on track. But what track? How will they know who they are?
Unethical college acceptance is the bucket of fool’s gold at the end of a long discolored, dysfunctional rainbow of over-involved parenting—or perhaps absent parents making up for lost time with the strings their money can pull. For years, children have been reaping the rewards from parents who snow-plowed their paths to glory.
From presents never denied, to activities allowed to quell fits of rage, inflated grades from a parent-coerced teacher, parent-produced school projects and homework, tutoring and advantages only money can buy, these kids have gotten their way all along. Do they deserve their advantages, or are they just lucky? Is the problem the spoiled, entitled kids who think they deserve anything they want, or the parents who make sure those advantages are offered, or the culture in which money and status have become increasingly necessary?
And how about the 35,000 kids who applied to Yale alone—diligent students who played by the rules seeking thousands in scholarship and student loans—who were denied admission only to learn it could have been stolen by an entitled rich kid?
How does this affect our culture’s moral fabric? What do these kids, both advantaged and disadvantaged, learn about fortitude, work ethic, achievement, and deserving?
As one of my Facebook followers put it, “This is another example of a parent not really seeing their kid, and instead just forcing through their vision of who that child should be, literally no matter the cost.”
If you had the money to make anything happen for your child, would you be tempted to use your advantage if you thought it would put your child on a successful life course? Would you be able to do the “right thing” if it meant your children losing out?
For eons, multi-million dollar donations have been an admission ticket. Money means grossly unfair advantages against people of color and students who play by the rules. But when bribery and cheating, illegality and immorality suffice for college entrance qualifications, the multitude of those denied have a right to outrage.
The job of a parent is to see, listen, learn from and support the child to find her own way over the humps and bumps of getting there, knowing she is capable. How can we be so presumptuous to think we know what is best for our children? Plain and simple–we don’t know. And to think we do, to believe we should because it’s “our job” not only puts us on a very fragile pedestal but truly hinders our relationship with our children.
The question to ask is, How do I support my child in finding his own way? Can you take yourself out of the picture long enough to see your child as separate from you on a path of his own? What if taking yourself (and your influence and money) out of the picture means your child might fail?
The slippery slope starts with harried, tired parents who give in “just this once” to a screaming, demanding child. Or it’s a parent who believes that his child’s wants and needs have top priority. Or it’s a parent who cannot bear to experience her child’s suffering, pain, or disappointment. Or it’s a parent who sees himself reflected in his child’s achievements because down deep he has a message of inadequacy.
This slippery slope for all, not just the wealthy, needs buffering when children are young. Not just so they get used to not always getting their way, but more importantly so you don’t get used to giving it. The more you give, the harder it becomes to withhold, and the meaner it seems to do so.
These entitled kids will not know how to get along on their own. They will depend on others to pave their way. Some will find the pavers; many will flounder. Many will sideline the deserving and underprivileged to get ahead—because they can.
For your children to succeed they need resilience and grit. This means allowing your children disappointment, boredom, argument, anger, and defeat. It may mean failure. But on the other side of defeat is the space where strength and success from achievement reside and where true deserving can be deeply known.
It takes a lot of faith and trust in your child to know that you can allow failure and your child will endure and come out the other end stronger for it.
Let’s hope that the “Me-First” operation (not my coinage, but I love it) has the legs of the #MeToo movement.
We punish our children in an attempt to keep them from pushing our buttons, often escalating the original problem into a cycle of anger and blame. When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is not about what to do to your kids to get them to stop pushing your buttons. This book is about how to be the parent you wish you could be-the parent that only you are holding yourself back from.
Of course, you want your children to succeed in school. You do all you can to manage getting their best. But what really is your job? Is it to insure good grades, getting involved in the right sports and extra-curriculars, and diligently doing their homework? If so how involved do you get? And what do you do if they don’t meet your expectations?
Do you know that all your best intentions can undermine your child’s school success and desire to learn?
Children are natural learners. We come evolved to soak up all the learning we can — until it becomes a requirement. Remember when your toddler kept asking you why? until you wanted to scream? How is she doing now in the curiosity department?
Here are four key aspects to help you help your children succeed in school:
1. Stay Out of It
This makes parenting so much easier, gives you more time for connection, and hands over the responsibility they need to learn. But it’s hard give up managing your kids’ school lives and work, especially if your definition of success isn’t happening.
How did you do in school? If school was your source of competency, then you want your kids to experience the same and will possibly set unrealistic expectations for them that worked for you. If school was difficult for you, you want to save your children from that fate. In either case, you will impose your own school experience onto your kids. It’s all you have. Unless you stay out of it.
The way our system works, most kids think their school success is for you or their teachers — or their failure is your disappointment. Your approval is based on how well they perform. It’s not about them; it’s about you. When you take responsibility for their school progress, then everything they do becomes a reflection of how well you are doing. Your child’s grade becomes your grade.
The best way to kill your child’s love of learning and natural curiosity is to impose your will on how and what he does. Do you nag about homework because you fear he wouldn’t do it unless you make him? Do you use rewards and threats to insure good grades? When you oversee homework and grades, you child becomes dependent on that. He doesn’t have to take responsibility for his homework because you do.
Research has shown that intrinsic motivation, love of learning, is undermined by external rewards and punishments. In study after study, children who are rewarded for accomplishing tasks, accomplish way less than those not rewarded.
Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure — and upcoming speaker at Conval High School Oct. 23rd — says, “Applying pressure in the form of control is the single most damaging thing parents and teachers can do to their children’s learning. Whether in the form of threats, bribes, deals, surveillance, imposed goals, evaluations, or even rewards and praise, control is the enemy of autonomy.”
When the focus is on achievement and grades, natural curiosity dries up. When kids are force fed learning, it is no longer fun to learn.
2. Let Your Children Fail
Resilience is built from tough times. When kids are pampered, have the path in front of them smoothed regularly, they lose ambition and come to expect someone else to manage their difficulties.
What do you do when your child complains about a grade she gets that seems terribly unfair? Do you call the teacher, or do you ask your child what she wants to do about it? If homework is not finished, do you take away computer privileges, blame it on irresponsibility, threaten to restrict social time, fight until she tells you she can’t stand living in this family anymore? Or do you allow her to experience the natural consequences of not handing homework in on time or not studying for a test? And without an I-told-you-so attitude.
If your child is controlled by threats and punishments, she will lose faith in herself and stop trying. Then you are even more tempted to use control tactics, the cycle spins, and she becomes less and less motivated. Maintaining your control over your child actually shields her from the far more powerful teaching of natural consequences. Building resilience is put at risk.
Paving the way for a child having a hard time in school, doing most of his homework, giving money for good grades is not supporting your child. Hearing his frustration over grades or teachers’ criticisms, acknowledging his efforts, and using problem solving to help him figure out how he wants to handle situations is supportive.
Fighting over grades, homework, and test scores sends the message that his worth is measured by his accomplishments rather than by his effort and character. The external carrot or stick only prods when you are there to do the prodding.
Talk about what your kids are studying at the dinner table, share your ideas about the subject, show interest in what they’re learning, look up related information together online. Your interest is motivating, your criticism, hovering, or lack of interest is not.
If your child is falling behind in school, spend time and energy understanding why. This requires trusting communication, so he feels safe being totally honest with you. Is the school environment the right fit for him? Are social relationships at risk? Does your child feel disrespected by certain teachers? Does he worry he can’t keep up with the class? Once you get to the bottom of it, then you can problem solve with him to determine what would be most helpful.
When you take responsibility for the problem your child is having, success or failure is up to you. When you listen and problem solve, your child can work it through with you to find solutions. But take his lead. You can make suggestions and offer your opinions but always ask if this would work for him. This is true support.
Each of your children is different. Each requires different expectations. Your support requires understanding what each child needs and never comparing them.
It is important to hand over your children’s education to them; put them in charge. When they sense your trust, and your expectations are set for their success, they are more likely to rise to the challenge education presents and feel proud of themselves with every accomplishment.
4. Set Goals
Planning ahead is a skill everyone needs. It provides additional focus on what your child wants and thinks about. Telling a child what to do leaves her feeling powerless and provokes resistance. Asking what she wants to do about it, what her plan is, encourages thinking ahead and builds executive functioning and competence.
Try asking your kids what they want to accomplish this school year, what each hopes to gain. Ask your child if she were to overhear her teacher talking about her in the hallway, what would she like to hear. Then ask how she thinks she can accomplish that. Talking about goals with your kids keeps the focus under their control, not yours. When you tell them what you want them to accomplish, they become pawns under your control. Be prepared for either obstinance or compliance — compliance that brings with it mediocrity.
When your expectations focus on everyone doing their best, and when education is important to your family, your children know it. But make sure what you want for each of them matches what they are capable of with a short stretch beyond. When your expectations are unrealistic and set by external controls, your child will believe she can’t meet up, she’s not good enough, she’ll never be who you want her to be.
Imagination, ingenuity, and brilliance means taking risks and making lots of mistakes. It may mean doing poorly in one subject so attention can be paid where there is stimulation. If no stimulation is present in school, talk about where else it can be found.
Make sure your kids know you care far more about their efforts and desire to learn and grow than you do about grades. Your goals for them should be each finding their potential. Your goals for you should be sitting back, supporting, and watching in awe as their minds take off.
Does your child fit with his school?
Q. Our feisty 5 yo is not settling into school too well, and we have to attend meetings with the teacher due to his misbehaving ways. When asked why he acts out, ie: drawing on walls, running away from the class, ignoring instructions etc, he says, “because I felt like it”. This is quite concerning as he attends a Catholic School and is raised by a practising Catholic mother with very loving and devoted parents. He does not seem to understand what it feels like to be in someone else’s position. We are at a loss after trying to talk to him and discuss alternative ways of behaving with no positive results. Another concern is his lack of concentration as he has approx. 4 mins. of attentiveness before he loses interest and proceeds to do what he wants to do, sometimes ignoring instructions and/or consequences. I have been doing some research and strongly believe he may need some assistance with self-regulating. Do you have any suggestions as to how we can help our strong willed, stubborn child who is loved very much. We very much want him to enjoy school rather than say he hates school and doesn’t want to go?
A. Keep in mind that your son is only five and should not be expected to consider another’s position for several more years. This sounds like a misfit of child and environment. Our job as parents is to provide environments that meet our children’s needs, not the other way around. Your son sounds like a perfectly normal, active, distractible boy. His “misbehavior” shown as running off, not listening, drawing on walls indicates that he is being asked to do what he cannot do at this point. Teachers well versed in child development will know how to engage kids like this – he is by far not the only 5 year old who is not ready to settle down in a structured environment.
The structure of this school may be too restrictive for his needs. If his teacher has unrealistic expectations for him, he will not be able to meet them. They are calling it “misbehaving”, which tells me they must make him change. He will naturally act out in reaction to that. His response, “Because I felt like it” is quite logical. A 5 year old who feels pushed to do what he can’t will naturally find a way to do what he wants — until that aspect of him is punished enough that makes it not safe for him to do what he wants.
What you can be sure of is that he has a hard time sitting still and listening, so he uses his imagination to amuse himself. The problem comes when that doesn’t work in his environment. But isn’t that what we want for our children — to think creatively and imaginatively to solve problems. Of course he can’t do whatever he wants but imagine if his teacher put paper on the wall for him to draw on, other children as well, instead of getting yelled at, criticized, blamed, given consequences, all of which causes him to feel bad about himself, which exacerbates his behavior. When he learns he is bad, he will continue to behave badly. When appropriate expectations are held for him — that he can’t sit still yet like some of the other kids, he needs something to keep his body moving, etc. — then he will respond more cooperatively because he will feel heard and understood. If he cannot hold his attention longer than 4 min., put him in a school environment where that is okay, not one that forces him to be attentive longer than he can be. If his needs are met now, he will be able to regulate himself and follow rules as he gets older. You will have more success if you put him in an environment that accepts who he is rather than who you or the school wants him to be.
He may be loved very much but is he accepted? Do you and his school accept that he is a very busy, distractible, imaginative, 5 year old who cannot yet sit still and keep his attention focused for longer than 4 minutes? Or are you trying to get him to change and be calm, quiet, and attentive? I know you don’t want him to change, so find an environment that understands his perfectly normal, albeit hard to manage, temperament.
Disrespect at School
Q. My 9 year old son is smart, creative and very stubborn. He hates school, refuses to even try, disrespects the teachers and acts out in anger if they try to make him do his work. He is more than capable of getting As on tests but usually gets Ds because he just stares out the window instead of doing his test. He doesn’t do any of his school work during classtime so we have to spend a few hours with him every night catching up on his homework. He is well behaved and lovable when he’s doing something he enjoys but seems to think that if he’s bored, he doesn’t have to try. My husband and I have tried everything to help him realize that, even if he doesn’t enjoy school, he needs to still do his best. We praise him when he does well and try to acknowledge everything he is good at. We have also withheld privileges when he behaves inappropriately at school. Nothing works. He is now meeting weekly with a school social worker. Hopefully he will develop some coping skills. My problem is this – even though we are working very hard to help him be successful, I feel really judged by his teachers. They know he is meeting with the social worker (at their request) but they still phone me to complain about how difficult he is. I just want to burst into tears when I get those calls because I feel totally powerless. Can you give me any tips for how I can handle this?
A. I completely empathize with how powerless you feel when teachers call to complain. I imagine they feel powerless too since your son is not compliant with their wishes. Easy for me to say, but I think everyone needs to listen to what your son is trying to say. It sounds like he’s saying that this school is not the right place for him. Do you have any other options. (see the Q&A above about school fit.) Unfortunately many parents do not have options.
The problem with our mainstream parenting/teaching culture sees his resistance, defiant behavior as him being bad, doing it wrong. So we try behavioral techniques to change the behavior rather than looking to the inner emotional state that is causing the behavior. My guess is that he is responding disrespectfully to his teachers because he feels disrespected (unheard, unimportant) by them. If you feel judged by them, imagine how he feels.
He is smart and he is bored, and his nature will not comply with what offends him — he’s what I call an Integrity Child. But even when bored, children will work for someone who respects and believes in them. He is not happy nor engaged, and is being told that is not okay. When you withdraw privileges you are telling him “Don’t be yourself” and that your acceptance of him is conditional on doing something that his integrity cannot stomach. He will not respond well to that.
What he needs is to know that you hear him and that you want to work together to find a way for him to deal with this school that you know is not meeting his needs. When you tell him that “even though…he still needs to do his best”, you are not listening. You need to start where he is. “You hate your school experience and that must truly suck.” There is no “but” about it. He’s a smart kid and sees through your attempts to tell him what he needs to do. He hears you saying, You have to do it our way. True empathy is seeing his experience through his eyes.
Share your frustration that you feel judged as well. When you show compassion for his problem, and acknowledge the disrespect he feels at school for who he is without trying to change him, then you can talk about the importance of showing respect even for people we don’t like. A different school or home schooling has the potential of making the difference for all three of you—not always an option. Let him know that you find yourself in a predicament with the school that does not feel helpful or supportive and that you have been trying to get him to be compliant to help you with that predicament, and you see that is not helping him.
Then give it time for him to trust that you care more about him than the school. In the meantime, let his teachers know how judged you feel and that you are switching your focus to understand him better rather than pushing for compliance.
Q. Do you have suggestions for my 10-year old daughter who has panic attacks during tests/exams? She is generally a happy, outgoing person but tends to flounder faced with adversity and has self-esteem issues. She specifically has panic attacks during assessments at school, which obviously affect her performance. Although she is very able and should in principle do well, during tests she freezes when she cannot immediately answer a question, gets stressed when others are faster than her, and stops functioning altogether. Can you suggest coping techniques she could practice?
A.Wow this sounds like me! Many children do well in school and panic when it comes to testing. Your daughter will only have self-esteem issues if she believes she is wrong or dumb for being the way she is. The best you can do for her is to assure her she’s perfectly normal. I’m not saying you do this, but DO NOT try to reassure her that “everything will be fine, and she will do well if she just relaxes”. That sends the message that you don’t get it, and she is alone in her worry, which exacerbates the panic.
Point out to her that FEELINGS of anxiety stem from her THOUGHTS. When she thinks, Here it comes, I’m going to fail on this test, she will naturally panic and then clutch. Help her identify the thoughts she has at the time panic hits and how she has control over her thoughts. For instance, “I’m going to fail this test” could change to “I’m feeling really nervous right now.” “Everybody’s going to beat me” could reframe to “I tend to be slower than some of the others. That’s okay.” She must keep it truthful and factual – something she can believe, rather than “I’m going to do just fine.”
The goal is to take the edge off, not to be completely confident going into an exam. Panic can change to nervous. And everybody feels nervous. She could write some reframed thoughts down and read them at the time. You can make suggestions but don’t tell her what she should do and don’t expect her worry to disappear.
Your job is to understand her, not make it go away. Don’t take her pain personally. It’s important for you to know that this is her problem, not yours. If you are upset about it, your upset makes her problem worse. Then she has your upset to deal with too. Your job is to understand her dilemma and to give her support — a non-judgmental, non-advice-giving shoulder to cry on, a compassionate sounding board to unload on. Every time she gets through it, she builds resilience. You must trust that for her.
You might also point out that the reason she gets panicky is because of the high expectations she holds for herself. She cares very much about how she does. Point out the obvious positives — she will never settle for mediocre, she will always strive to be better — and then add the downside — she will be very hard on herself — something she can work on over time.
Mindfulness meditation practices can help. The two of you could practice together a few minutes a day.
Of interest – 12 Ways to Encourage School Motivation
Getting your kids out the door in the morning is enough to ruin your day. Remember these 8 points:
Is it lack of confidence or too much control?
Q. Our 5-year old boy is struggling with confidence. He has difficulty focusing at school and we don’t want him to get behind. There are 22 kids in his class and the school has an expectation of work. Also has trouble focusing at soccer practice/games, anytime things are going on around him. He has no issues interacting with people, kids or adults. I believe he lacks confidence because he is afraid of trying new things. He doesn’t like to fail and gets frustrated easily when he can’t learn fast. He also gets very embarrassed when things don’t go as expected.