It’s that time again when the freedom of summer gives way to the rigor of school. Along with this transition comes both a sense of anxiety and excitement and our job as parents is to understand and support these normal feelings to make way for successes. It is easy to identify the elements that create stress for our kids as they start the new year. The likely culprit, the unknown: unknown classmates and teachers, classes and schedules, new expectations and rules and for some, new environments. For kids with learning challenges these things are amplified and if last year was a struggle there is the fear that this year will be a struggle too. So what’s good in all of this? It’s a new year. A new year is a new start and new opportunity to educate teachers about what works and past successes. A new year is a time to create a new routine and rhythm in daily life and it offers a fresh start with new teachers and new developmental strengths from a summer of growing.
It is important to bring your child into the sense of excitement and hope, wonder and opportunity to learn; to reframe the fear of the unknown into a chance of possibilities because most children want to do well. They want to feel successful and be noticed for it.
But what if you have one of those children who “doesn’t care” about school, who is not bought into the idea that school is interesting or at the very least, important? Become a parent-coach for your child. Help her discover why she “does not care” and where she struggles. There are so many demands on our children that it is impossible to thrive at the same level in all areas. So, do a little detective work with your child and distinguish between areas of strength and areas of weakness. We all have them, so start by asking some questions. Is there anything that comes easy to my child? From drawing to dribbling a ball, caring for the family pet or building lego castles. Point those out. Next dig into why she does not care about school. Does your child have a reasonable workload? Does she feel safe? Does she not know what to do or how to do it? Does she see school as meaningless and therefore needs to understand the importance of learning how to learn for the future? Is she worried that every task will take forever to accomplish?
As a parent-coach you can help by assessing the need and then offering support to meet that level of need. For a young child or one who has trouble getting started you might be more directive: Here is your math homework. Do these 5 problems and then play a game. For a child who needs to make school his agenda, not yours, shift to asking him questions: What homework do you have and when will you do your homework? How will you reward yourself when you complete what you want to do? Once your child experiences homework successes and you can point out her accomplishments, your questions become about how you can support: What will it take for you to get the task done that you have said is important to you and what can I do to help? It is at these points that you can ask what worked, what did not work and what could they do differently next time. These stages offer differing levels of engagement and support on the part of the parent and knowing how much to give and when to back off is the key to successful coaching.
Coaching your child is a shift in mindset. It means becoming her champion and teaching her the skills she needs to be successful. Show the skill, do it with her, do it beside her and then let her do it alone. It’s a process of letting go, as in all of parenting, one skill at a time. It means support, but not enable. Processes need to be put in place for your child to know how to get things done such that she can move into independence because ultimately, your job is to help your child own her life and create her own motivation. This can only be done with a slow process of removing support through empowering her, championing for her and supporting her - strongly at first and from a distance later on.
So, here’s to new year with a new mindset for both you and your child.
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