Dear Dr. T.,
School starts for me when Yom Tov ends, and I am beginning to feel that familiar dread. It’s not the homework- though that’s bad, or the carpools- which is worse; it’s my 10 year old.
He’s a great kid- funny, well-liked, bright. Unfortunately, he overlooks these traits and is in constant competition with his two older brothers – who are-effortlessly- real academic stars in school. So, though this youngster does well; in his opinion, he is a failure, because he just doesn’t measure up.
Watching him struggle, helping him with endless homework/tests, and seeing him getting discouraged- is stressful for him and for me. How do I help him see that this endless quest to compete is pointless and damaging?
It has often been said that you are only as happy as your most unhappy child. Parents feel, very acutely, their children’s pain. Little wonder then that you are distressed by this situation.
But, take heart, because there is quite a bit that a parent can do to help his child deal with this stress.
By modeling a realistic attitude and a positive mindset and demonstrating true valuing for each child just for being the special person that he is, you can go a long way in remedying this problem.
Realistically speaking, we are all very different – with a different set of talents and abilities. As adults, we [should] know this; however, a child is clueless. His whole world is his home and school, and falling short in one area just about qualifies him- in his mind- for failure. By your words, tone, and behavior- you want to tell your child that a ‘B+’ in math does not mean he is a ‘B+’ person. And, in the same way, an ‘A+’ grade does not mean an ‘A+’ person. We are all a mix of strong and weak points, yet each of us has our own value in this world.
It is a universal need for people – more so children – to feel special, valued, and unique. The trick here is for the parent to help his child get that feeling in something other than academics, something where he is naturally successful. The parent needs to become a ‘talent scout’ and help identify that special something that his child does have. Dr. Robert Brooks, noted psychologist, author, and lecturer, calls this interest the ‘island of competence.’ The idea behind this concept is that when a child feels good about something he does and the environment values that something, the child develops self esteem. So, whether your child is into scrap-booking or computer, art or cooking, the confidence that he develops by being a ‘specialist’ in his area of competence gives him a chance to shine and, hopefully, feel good about himself. It also may garner him the recognition by others- something which he dearly craves.
Though as parents we would love to take away all our children’s boo-boo’s, we know th in 'Why do you care about this nonsense?' Avoid minimizing as in “ What’s the big deal here anyhow? Provide the empathy that your child craves. Support his ability to problem solve on his own. And, redirect him to his own special interest, where and when possible.
In this situation as in all others, take a long, hard look at yourself. Are you or your spouse part of the problem? Do you in words, speech, or attitude take more pride in academic success than in anything else?
Our children read our minds, our every gesture – and they know what we are thinking and feeling, So, work on yourself to accept each child as he is today, and, in time, your child will learn to accept- and value- himself as well.
Best wishes for a great school- for both you and your child.