Last week while meeting with one of my Huntington families, I was reminded of something that happens to all of us all the time. What do we do when we’re confronted with something extremely difficult? We either choose not to do it or we work hard to figure out a way to make the task easy. It’s nothing more than “fight or flight” and every day kids are facing this choice. If you are seeing incomplete or missing assignments on your child’s progress reports, you are probably looking at an issue with “flight.”
Most academic issues can be related to athletics ones. “Fight or flight” definitely affects both. Suppose a young man tries out for baseball and doesn’t make the team. He can choose to avoid baseball entirely now or he can choose to practice really hard for the next year and hopefully make the team then. The important thing is for him to have the confidence that with more practice he will improve. Without that confidence, he may choose not to play again. Similarly, when a teenager enters a chemistry class in high school, he needs to have the confidence that he has the right study habits to succeed in this course, even if he hates science classes. Otherwise he will probably start avoiding doing homework assignments and studying for tests. This avoidance puts him into “flight” mode, and is quite difficult to change after more than two to three weeks of flight. But if he knows he has good study skills, then even this chemistry class will not be overwhelming. He will be willing to put in the extra hours and will expect to see the positive results.
So how do we help our kids learn to “fight” through their academic problems rather than avoid them? One thing is for certain….we cannot give our kids confidence; they have to earn it themselves. It doesn’t help to tell a child he can do something if, deep inside, the child knows he can’t. If we assist them with all of their homework or if we tutor them every night to help them make better grades, we are the ones responsible for our kids’ grades and our kids know it. They won’t be as proud of an “A” they made on a test when someone fed them the material as when they figured things out on their own.
Pouring the information into our kids each night does not give them confidence in their own abilities. When a child knows what to study at home and does it with little or no assistance from mom or dad, he will take ownership in his grades at school. With that type of study ethic, the child will know he has earned his grades himself and will be proud of his achievements, whether large or small. He will have confidence in his ability to succeed and be willing to work hard to study for the next test. Since confidence leads to motivation, “flight” should no longer be an option for him. But if he knows that spending four hours on a one hour assignment will not help him understand anything, he will probably avoid wasting his time. He’s in “flight” mode. To be willing to fight through a tough subject or to fight through a long assignment, a child must have confidence in his ability to succeed. Confidence is the key to survival in tough academic situations.
As parents, what can we do to help our kids choose “fight” over “flight”? First, we need to notice his study habits. If something seems amiss, we need to have an expert analyze his study skills. If he has never learned how to study, he will not have confidence in his ability to succeed and will probably avoid doing anything difficult at school. Second, we need to examine whether our children’s grades are a result of their own efforts or the efforts of someone else. He needs to know that he has the necessary skills to be an independent learner. Just telling him that he “can do it,” will do more harm than good. He needs the confidence that he “can do it” and, remember, we can’t give a kid confidence. Lastly, if you are unsure whether your child has the skills, call us at Huntington and arrange for an assessment. Our number in Huntersville is 704-896-9699 and in Charlotte is 704-522-7511. We’ll be happy to meet with you and do a skills assessment that will show you whether his skills are in place or not. Then you will better understand why he is avoiding the harder tasks at school rather than working hard to master them.