By Emily Roberts MA, LPC
We generally take the last few weeks of August to help our kids get prepared to go back to school, why not now? January is the start of a new year, and it can be for your child too. Before the fall semester we buy them supplies, help them organize, and change the topic of conversation from summer fun, to school expectations. Now is the time to re-evaluate our expectations, implement new routines, and help our students have a successful second semester. Here are some helpful suggestions:
1. Discuss your expectations. The saying “just do your best” is no longer an acceptable way to tell your child what you require from them academically. This statement sends mixed messages, making your child unsure what it will take to make you proud. The reality is that children do not want to disappoint their parents, even if they sometimes act as if they do. Help your child create his own reasonable expectations for himself, ask him what his goals are for each class. After you have listened and thought about what his expectations are, come up with your expectations and see if they coincide. When it is the child’s plan rather than your demands, they become much more invested, and real changes will occur.
2.) Be realistic in your expectations. If your daughter is a genus in math, but has consistently struggled in Language Arts, it may not be realistic to expect all A’s. As parents, we want our children to be the best and brightest, but it is critical to evaluate how realistic our expectations are. Recent studies show that setting the bar too high often leads to low self-esteem, depression, and other mental disorders. When expectations are set at a level where the child feels they can be successful, they are motivated to work towards it, achieve it, and often surpass that goal. When they feel that it is impossible to meet your expectations, the fear of failure often inhibits their effort. We often hear, “Well I knew I wasn’t going to make an A so I just gave up.” This is due to the despair created by setting the bar too high.
3.) Use genuine compliments. When reflecting on the past semester and current academics, make sure to focus on the positive, without too much emphasis on the negative. It isn’t enough to tell your child “good job”. While this is meant as a compliment, students often tell us that it is “generic” or what parents “are supposed to say.” Instead, focus on praising their effort, creativity, or something that was previously challenging. Praise the process (paying attention more in school) rather than the product (the B+). Telling them “I’m so impressed with the hard work you put into that project, you are so creative.” is far more meaningful because you are explaining why you are proud of them. This type of praise sticks with your child, unlike generic complements.
4.) Use this semester to get to know your child better. Initiate conversations with your child to learn more about them. Ask about their goals for the year, for the next five years, or even their lifetime aspirations. Ask them about new interests, current trends, or something you saw on T.V., things they may know more about than you (this lets them feel in control and will often get them to open up). Keep these conversations to an age appropriate level. A good place to try this out is in the car. Use a song on the radio or a recent news story to ask their opinion, and then LISTEN; try hard not to judge them on what their saying. More often than not, you will find this technique will lead to deeper, more meaningful conversations.
5.) Avoid “Yes, but….” phrases.Comments like: “Good job in English, but I bet if you would have studied more you would have made an A.” or “If you just had the study habits of your brother, then you would get better grades,” send the wrong message. While your intention may be to motivate your child to work harder and aspire toward greater achievement, comparisons rarely have this desired effect. Children will often withdraw and feel as though they are not good enough to make you proud until they can be like others, which may never happen. When their self-esteem is compromised by feeling inadequate, their grades will often suffer and their effort and focus generally decreases. Make the basis of the conversation about what they need to improve on, rather that alluding to the success of someone else or what your child hasn’t achieved. When having this conversation, make sure to point out what makes them unique in your eyes.
Implementing all of these strategies at once can be a bit overwhelming. Focus on the dialogue that you feel will be most beneficial for your child first, then once you are comfortable, continue to integrate new strategies. When children of any age feel that they have a voice and are being listened to, they generally are happier and more communicative with their parents. This leads to a lifetime of better conversations and a better relationship with your child.
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