It’s already that time of year again, Thanksgiving break is upon us.
At this point in the semester, many of the students I work with struggle with a very definite and predictable pattern:
- Swimming upstream – These kids are in “swimming upstream” mode. They are “behind” and are often getting “extensions” on late work. This is never good and only adds to the overwhelm and confusion regarding where to even begin. Naturally, they avoid making any real traction, full of excuses.
- Fantasy land – They imagine they’ll “catch up” on a bunch of work over fall break. Unfortunately, they haven’t developed the executive function skills to be realistic about the amount of time and energy required to “catch up.”
- Blink of an eye – Before you know it, break is over, and despite good intentions, most of these kids didn’t get “caught up.”
- Snowball effect – After break, things snowball very quickly. There are only a couple of short weeks before winter break. Suddenly, in addition to the makeup work, it’s also time to write big papers, work on big projects and study for big final exams. There isn’t enough time in the day to make meaningful progress. Overwhelm is in full force and these kids generally take one of two extreme overwhelm styles: 1. Visibly stressed and freaking out 2. Like an ostrich with it’s head in the sand, complete denial and avoidance.
- Disillusioned surrender of the parent – Before you know it, winter break is here, the semester is over, report cards come in and grades don’t look good. As a parent, you say to yourself, “I give up, the semester is over, I have to focus on the holiday chaos now. I want to reflect on what happened with my child, but we’re both tired. Honestly, there’s no time to think about school right now because I have to think about travel, holiday gift shopping, cooking for family and friends, holiday parties. Not to mention the usual bills, responsibilities, work, chores, etc.. We’ll do better next semester.”
- Pattern repetition – Spring semester begins in early January, and hopefully you get off to a better start, but the reality is that old habits die hard. It’s all too easy to fall right back into old patterns.
What to do?
Look, there are no magic bullets that fix everything overnight. Instead, you want to look for things that will move your child in the right direction and that will help build healthy habits for life. This is about the marathon, not the sprint. It’s about persistent growth in baby steps, not giant leaps. Here are some ideas to get you moving:
- Clarify – Most schools now have online grades. Go to the pages which list specific assignments. Print the relevant pages. Sit with your child and use these print-outs to make a strategic plan to “get caught up.” They don’t have to do every single assignment necessarily, that’s too overwhelming. Help them choose assignments that will give the best bang for the buck. Perhaps print a master list of the assignments they plan to do. Cross things off as they are accomplished.
- Advocate – Email teachers and ask for clarification. Most of my parents are unclear about what really needs to be done and they can’t rely on their children to relay the details accurately. So email the teachers to ask what needs to happen. Make the emails short and friendly. But be persistent because you need clarity NOW.
- Heart to heart – Have heart to heart conversations with your child. No distractions, no drama. Just you and your child, active listening, compassion, peace and understanding. Talk from the heart about your concerns and hopes for them. Try to stay out of “reaction” mode where you get emotional. Instead, stay in “response” mode, where you are calm, cool, listening deeply. Just focus on having a great conversation with your child, not on changing them, lecturing them or convincing them of anything.
- Coregulate – If you “freak out” about your child’s performance, they reflect this stress right back to you. Instead, get your own nervous system regulated before approaching your child. Take your own deep breaths, approach your child when you are thoroughly regulated, and they will mirror your regulation. This is called coregulating. Try it, cultivate this skill.
- Ask – Ask your child how you can be helpful. Do they want you to “nag” at certain times? How about gentle reminders? Written reminders? Help set a schedule or routine? Help with homework? Test them? Give space? Ask them, “seriously, what can I do that would be helpful? How will we know if it’s working?” Put it on them to come up with the solution.
- Boundaries – You are the parent, you get to draw the line when it needs to be drawn. This is no easy task. You get to say, “I know you don’t want me to interfere, but I love you enough to do so when you’re not showing results. Period.” Do NOT say these things with a charge of emotion, say them in a detached, matter of fact way. This is incredibly difficult for most parents, but the long term benefits far outweigh the pain of biting your tongue. Be firm, loving, consistent with your boundaries. Trust your gut.
- Catch em’ being good – Perhaps most important and most powerful way to help your child is to really notice what they are doing right! “I see you’re trying hard when you…” I noticed that you got yourself organized when you…” I love how you creatively approached this problem when you…” Don’t BS your kid, but try the 3:1 rule, and tell them 3 sincere positives for every perceived negative. Be encouraging. Just keep trying this.
- Plan fun – You have to literally plan fun activities with your child, times when you connect with them and there is literally no discussion of school. Just have fun. Movies, mini golf, cooking, camping, whatever you like to do together. Put it in the schedule weekly and do it!
- Routine – Help your child build routines around responsibilities and homework. The more consistent the routine, the easier it will be for your child to learn good skills. Print and post the routines to help keep them in mind.
- Out of sight, out of mind – Make sure that the assignments your child plans to do over break are easily visible! They should be in sight! Create a clean, clear, bright, study space. Organize the space in a way that is inviting and simple. Get rid of clutter and distractions.
Print this article, post it where you can see it, and try a couple of these solutions every day for the next 14 days. If you’re persistent and patient, you’ll notice an improvement in grades, less overwhelm, and a more positive relationship with your child.
Did you like this article? Please *SHARE* below