The new quarter is starting and your kid’s grades have plummeted. You’ve tried everything. Tutors, extra study time, guided study time, bribery, help from the teacher, the learning specialist. Nothing works. You’re tired of being the bad guy, the evil parent, the task master. Your kid is smart but maybe they just don’t try hard enough. You can't get them to study.
How can you communicate to them that grades are important, that what they are doing now sets them up for the rest of their life? Perhaps they don’t seem to care or they do the work only halfway. All of the other parents you’ve checked in with don’t seem to have this problem with their kid and you just don’t know what to do.
I hear you. I do. There are all kinds of reasons why schoolwork and grades are important. Working hard on your assignments and studying helps to get good grades, which sets you up to work hard to achieve your goals in life. I totally get it. I also say that grades aren’t always as simple as they seem.
If getting good grades were as simple as study + practice = good grades, then nobody would be left behind. But what happens in middle and high school? Adolescence happens. Do you remember your own adolescence? Most people block it out or gloss over it because it’s painful. It’s more than painful, it’s traumatic. As an adult, it’s difficult to identify with and understand adolescents since that time has passed and very few of us wish to revisit it. I'm going to share with you a few things that might help. But first, adolescence.
There are so many factors and influences affecting adolescents right now without even touching on the pandemic. They have thoughts like: Do my peers like me? Am I accepted? Do my teachers like me? Am I smart/funny/beautiful/handsome/talented/athletic enough? Am I enough?
I’m letting you in on some teacher insight. The studying, the grades, and the learning, none of that matters yet. These thoughts of “am I good enough?” and “will I ever be accepted?” are actually what matters, or what needs to be addressed first.
Kids need to feel safe in order to learn. This means they need a good relationship with their educators. They need to feel supported, loved, and they need to feel like they are not failures during a time in their life when that’s usually all they feel. They need to feel like they matter in a one-size-fits-all system. But what happens when you don’t always fit the expected model of that one-size-fits-all system?
You start to believe there is something wrong with you. So while your child is going through school, dealing with and trying to survive all of the trials of adolescence, they are also learning that they are not good enough, they are not smart enough, there’s something wrong with them, etc. because their brain doesn’t work the way their teachers are saying it should work.
Is this anyone’s fault? Sort of, not really. It’s a symptom of the system and many teachers try to work around it instead of perpetuating it, but it’s exhausting. But sometimes, no matter how hard parents and teachers try, kids learn these limiting beliefs because they are part of this system.
So now they have these heavy and limiting beliefs that are both conscious and floating around within their subconscious and they are trying their best to learn in spite of them. But what happens when you truly believe that you can’t do something no matter how hard you try? Ultimately you can’t do it.
So when your adolescent is struggling in any particular class (or all of them), there’s a whole lot more going on underneath the surface. Most of the time, adolescents can’t articulate what this is because they don’t or can’t recognize it. They are busy trying to protect themselves from feeling like a failure.
This is where patterns of denial and avoidance set it. I frequently work with students who will argue with their parents and yell to be left alone while they are unconsciously trying to keep their denial going strong. As we all know, it’s uncomfortable and painful to feel “not good enough” in any way, shape or form. The response to this is often that students actually can’t do their homework, study, or take tests. They are unconsciously protecting themselves by ignoring the homework or doing only half of it so the grade they get, is the one they expect and it’s easily explainable. If you put in half the effort, you can expect a grade of 50%. This unconscious protection can also take the form of not engaging or completely disconnecting from their classes, and not keeping track of assignments and assessments.
So thinking about getting your kid to raise their grades is more complicated than helping them to understand how to “do school.” There are both conscious and subconscious beliefs telling them that they’ll never do it, they are not good enough, that it’s impossible so why even bother trying?
Depending on the circumstances, talking to your kids about grades can add more stress and anxiety to an already difficult time period in their lives. So what can we do?
First, we raise self-esteem and begin to build trust in the self. We help them to see that they actually *can* do it by achieving small successes and we build from there. Once they have more confidence, you will likely see an increase in grades, especially if the teacher has a valid assessment system (but that is a whole other conversation!).
How do we do this? I’ll share some of what I do with students after they have been experiencing weeks and months of poor grades and struggles with teachers and parents.
1. I reassure them that they are indeed intelligent and that grades don’t reflect intelligence. You know they are smart and that a one-size-fits-all education doesn’t work for everybody because every single brain in this universe is unique. In fact, grades can be easily manipulated depending on how the teacher values different aspects of student work.
2. We go back to the beginning (or as far back as we need) and find something the student does well. We practice it a little bit and find success. Doesn’t success feel good for you? It leaves you ready to try something new even if it’s a little scary. At this point your teen is likely developing a little more trust in themself and their self-confidence is rising.
3. Try something more complex, but with lots of support. Help them understand that making errors is actually a fantastic way to learn if you can detach from the feeling that being “wrong” is horrible. As a teacher, I love to see my students’ errors because it tells me exactly how they are perceiving my teaching and how I need to make adjustments to help them more, and I explain this to students to help them understand the process.
4. Once they experience success with more challenging concepts, typically I see an increase in self-confidence/self-esteem along with a willingness to engage a little more in school. This can be a bit of a rollercoaster at first, but it evens out eventually.
5. Help them to understand that sometimes the assignments you do for school are quite silly and don’t really make sense.
6. While they are working on all of this, try some guided meditations to go along with it (you can do these too!). One of my favorite things to do with the voices that tell me I’m not good enough, is to flush them down a violet colored toilet in my imagination. I also like to be a dragon and breathe violet fire on them until they disappear. Violet is the color of transformation and forgiveness and when you transform and forgive these voices of not good enough, you are able to call your power back to you in the form of higher self worth and self-confidence. You can do all of this with your imagination and it works with your intention, even if you can’t see these things happening in your mind. Plus, it's really fun to flush negative voices down the toilet. (^_^)
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