I served my first and last detention in grade 6. I forgot to do my history homework -- an easy written response assignment that would have taken 15 minutes, max. In class that day, sheer panic struck when I realized my error. When my teacher noticed I was unprepared, she snidely remarked: "This wouldn't have happened if you spent less time at the mall and more time focusing on schoolwork." She was referring to having seen me at the mall the previous day. My older sisters and I spent an hour browsing as a much-needed respite from our rocky, quickly crumbling home life.
My teacher didn't see me in a "whole child" sense. And as strange as it may seem, I'm grateful for her misinformed assumptions and public shaming. In that instant, my personal school narrative was born: I felt invisible, misunderstood and unimportant. I can see now that this viewpoint wasn't completely accurate, but what matters is how I viewed the world, how I interacted with others and the actions I took as a result. Ultimately, those feelings became the driving force for me to do and be more -- to get noticed.
Before tutoring and coaching privately, I spent nearly a decade as a learning specialist, reliving middle school daily. My time in this role afforded me the opportunity to heal my inner middle schooler and glean the gems. Not everyone has this opportunity, and to be fair, formal leadership coaching training sped up this process. Learning to embrace the positive bi-products and let go of the beliefs and patterns that weren't working paved the way for unearthing what I consider my greatest strength: the empathy and intuition I use to help students feel seen, important and ultimately motivated to take action.
I'm fascinated by the inextricable petri dish that is middle school -- a lush opportunity to study students, and parents, in their natural habitat. Like snowflakes, no two narratives are alike. We all have ultra-specific sets of circumstances that set the tone. Whether it was overbearing parents who used fear and punishment as primary motivators, unavailable parents who didn't have the tools and strategies necessary to pave the way, or the emotional impact of difficult academic struggles, the limitless source isn't as important as its long-term effect. My sense is that the patterns we pick up during our formative years, if gone unchecked, can easily be transferred to our children because they feel familiar, and therefore like what should be done.
I'm curious. What techniques do you use to motivate your child to do his best in school? Can you identify traces of your own school narrative in these tendencies?
If right now you're having a moment of clarity where you can connect that your child lying about turning in homework on time may have been to escape the coercive punishment methods you use to motivate -- you know, the ones your parents used on you -- then, don't worry. Change automatically begins to happen the moment an individual chooses to see things from a new perspective.
With that in mind, these steps will shed some light on your inner middle schooler:
1. Accept your child's stressful academic situation and choose to give up the struggle. That may sound like a tall order, but letting go starts with an intention, a choice. Paradoxically, the first step in creating progress involves allowing and being OK with past events that cannot be changed.
2. Identify and focus on the good stuff. What positive characteristics and behaviors have you developed as a result of how your school narrative shaped you? In what ways can you see these qualities in your child?
3. Keep things separate. Actively cultivate your inner middle schooler's personal school identity as a separate entity from your child's. Become curious about what makes your child tick, so to speak. What are his motivations, and what are the patterns laden in these actions? Is it possible to link what you're observing about your child to beliefs and patterns that you may be unintentionally projecting?
4. Share your own school narrative with your child. Give your child the opportunity to see the person behind the parent. Go ahead. Be vulnerable. Lovingly accept your imperfections and mistakes made along the way as necessary precursors for growth. Modeling self-acceptance will create an open and honest ongoing dialog with your child that has support and trust at its core.
Here's a secret: While this work helps you, in the end, you're also setting the stage for amazing progress to happen for your child. Talk about a win-win scenario! That's because, once you free up the emotional blocks and not so productive patterns you may not have even realized you were carrying, you begin to accept yourself more fully. In turn, this creates the space for your child to show up more fully, which includes setbacks as well as victories. The end result is a child who feels empowered, fully supported and open to learning through trial and error.
This process is a little bit magical, and much easier to do than you might think. Go ahead, get started now by working through the four steps.
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.