3 Easy Steps to Shift a Student From Struggle to Success

Allow me to go all Sophia Petrillo on you, with a Picture It: February, 1989.

A young me heads to the car on a frigidly cold day (I grew up in Buffalo, New York). For months, I was struggling in history, so I did what most sixth graders do. I kept it to myself, hoping the problem would just go away.

Sound familiar?

Turns out, the problem didn't go away, and that afternoon I had no idea what I was in for. My mom was flustered. Scratch that. She was super pissed. Why? She received a warning card in the mail earlier that day.

I had a D in history. Yikes.

Good thing we lived close to school because the ride home was a yellfest. I got more than an earful, with several "you'd better get it in gears" to boot.

I was sentenced to three months of sitting at the kitchen table, from 5:30-7:30 every night. Yep, every night. Reading the world's most boring history book. It was ineffective, stressful, and heaven help her, all Mom, who struggled in school herself, knew to do.

There was no strategy, partnering, no sense of "it's okay, this happens. We've got this." The motivation was fear induced and devoid of a plan. I wasn't learning for the sake of learning. I was learning so my mom wouldn't yell. Not exactly fostering natural curiosity.

Me and Mom? We're cool now. Thank goodness for the mother-daughter adult relationship, and I get that she was doing the best she could.

After coaching students, and their overwhelmed parents, for more than a decade, I see similar scenarios play out. Often! The end result is almost always a student who feels ashamed, dumb, and shut down -- just like I did way back in 1989.

Luckily, I taught myself how to study, plan ahead, and communicate with teachers. That was my last D, but the lesson I learned paid dividends.

That experience helped develop my superpower: the empathic ability to quickly "get" where a child, and his or her parent, is coming from.

Acting from the place of "what the hell were you thinking" is a common motivational strategy widely accepted in our culture, but it breeds resentment, shame, and learned helplessness.

If you're using a similar approach to motivate your child, you might just be doing what you learned from your parents. But really, how well did that stuff work on you? Wink.

Can you relate?

Your child is human, which means he probably doesn't like to be made wrong, especially when he is (you can probably relate to that one too, am I right?). Remember, he's probably embarrassed for messing up and already feeling badly, even though he may never let you know.

There's a better way, and I'm about to show you how.

But first, here's the dictionary's alternate, and my preferred, definition of failure: "the omission of expected or required action."

Talk about empowering. Forget the traditional definition of "lack of success," identifying and applying the omitted action's where transformation lives.

See where I'm going with this?

Yep, here's a crazy suggestion--actively celebrate your child's failures. Feels nutty and kind of like a relief at the same time, right? Give it a try. Really. Do it.

What's not to celebrate about being one step closer to knowing what doesn't work?


STEP ONE: NO EMOTION. It's natural to spin out quickly. You might not like seeing the pain he's in, or you may fear he'll never figure out school and live in your basement forever. When communicating about school, actively choose to stay in the present moment, and find opportunities to help your child do this as well. It's a magical way to remove emotional baggage from the equation, and create the space for possibilities to emerge. Power question for yourself: Are my feelings motivated by fear, or am I neutrally channeling empowerment?

STEP TWO: PERSPECTIVE. Remember, setbacks are relative, and only as challenging as we allow them to be. The more weight a "problem" is given, the more power it has to hold you, and your child, back. Power questions for your child: What did you learn? What will you do differently next time?

STEP THREE: INSTILL ACTION. You're job is to cultivate a solid future leader, one who has a strong sense of self, balance, and get-up-and-go. Partner with your child as you put the onus on him by coaching out the right next steps. Power questions for your child: What's your plan moving forward? How can we work together to help you hold yourself accountable to this plan?

Now it's time to share your story. Let me know in the comments below how you can relate, and which step worked best for you. I can't wait to hear from you!

Want more tips to help take the stress out of schoolwork? Click here to download 10 Power Questions to Transform Any Student From Hot Mess to Academic Success.