As you can imagine, we hear stories from parents ALL over the world – sometimes heart-warming, and sometimes heart-breaking! We recently got email that left me so frustrated I had to consult Diane – who thankfully offered a very frustrated mom (and coach) just the right blend of wisdom and strategy. ~Elaine
Generally speaking, parents of complex kids are well supported by caring, thoughtful professionals who are genuinely trying to help. As parents, we do our best to put their suggestions into practice. Sometimes, we turn to coaches or therapists to guide us, and sometimes we figure it out on our own.
But in the midst of all the advice we are given on how to handle our kids, sometimes, it just doesn’t feel right!
What follows is an excerpt from one mom’s email to us, and some of my responses to her. I hope it will help you see that, as a parent, it’s important to trust your instincts. Even if a paid professional is telling you otherwise, you’ve got to do what makes sense to you.
Excerpt from email from a frustrated parent: “I’m at the point where I can’t think by myself. I’ve finished Sanity School (thank you!), and I need some help with Taking Aim. My son is a junior in high school, failing 3 of 5 classes — and only did 40% of the ‘final’ project in a 4th class. If he does not pass these classes, he will not be a senior next year, which he wants, though he doesn’t want to do the work. Or maybe he’s afraid he can’t. You recommended reading “Nowhere to Hide” by Jerome Schultz, and I think he’s on to something.”
She continued, “I’ve been going to a psychologist (covered by insurance) who has helped kids with ADHD. I just can’t bring myself to do what he’s telling me to do.
1. “He says I should lay down the law. For example, say that study time is 6-8. If my son refuses, then I give him 5 vocabulary words from his class to define and use in a sentence. If he tears that up, then give him 25 words. Until my son does the assigned work, he gets no privileges — electronics or food or anything except sleep.”
Diane’s Response: Having a structure and rules for completing homework is great, but you want them to work for your child so that they motivate him to success. Figure out what most motivates your child. Is it a reward? Consequence? Withhold? This may take a bit of detective work, but will work better in the long run. (Side note: two hours might be too much time to expect him to stay focused!)
2. “My son already spends most of the weekend in his room. I checked on him a couple times this weekend and he was asleep. Anyway, the psychologist said to buy locks for the food cupboards and refrigerator and deny him food until he accepts his consequence and defines his words. Another option is to have a chore jar and he has to do chores — before he can do homework, eat, or anything else — instead of doing the vocabulary words.”
Diane’s Response: I don’t disagree with “privileges” being earned. That said – food is not a privilege! The door on his room, IMHO, could be ;-). So find a privilege to use as a lever that makes sense for you. At the same time, I would do everything in my power to “connect” and do fun stuff. Make him go to the movies, play basketball, whatever connecting you can possibly do make sure there is regular time outside of schoolwork. The idea is to begin to help him learn to cooperate with anything that might feel stressful, and in order to do that, you’ll want to focus on your relationship with him, first, so he can trust the connection with you.
3. “The psychologist also said to study with him — read the chapter of Sociology with him (which is the 3rd class he is failing). Have my son read it aloud and figure out where to take notes — what might be important. In other words teach my son how to study. While that’s a good idea, my son is not agreeable to it. He gets angry and goes to his room. I know he’s frustrated. He says he has everything under control — but he doesn’t.”
Diane’s Response: I agree with this in concept, but not so much on how prescriptive it is. Again, until he’s back at the table, nothing is likely to work. It’s most important to devise a plan that works for your SON, one that he’s interested in making work. You might want to consult the website of Ross Greene and consider getting his book, The Explosive Child. Also, this article I wrote might help. https://www.impactparents.com/maintain-healthy-relationships/what-to-do-when-your-teen-says-dont-worry-ive-got-it/
The mom continued, “So that’s where we are. It just seems like school is too much for him. I agree with Dr. Schultz –he’s in fight or flight mode all the time, which disconnects his ability to think. The psychologist said that he’s had couples leave his office and go to Home Depot to buy chains. I’m not that desperate.”
Diane’s Response: From our perspective, rather than focusing directly on getting specific assignments completed, it would help a lot for you to shift your focus to two things 1) connecting with your son, 2) helping him develop the Executive Function skills he needs. It’s going to be important for you to find a way to let go of what you can in order to get through the year. Before anything else, you need to get him back at the table. Pushing won’t likely do that.
The mom closed the first email with this: “Your words “until he’s back at the table, nothing is likely to work” ring true to me, too. We have a long weekend and I do NOT plan to spend it all doing homework and projects. I am hoping we can do one school thing though. Mostly we’ll play.”
It’s Up to YOU
The wonderful thing about advice from the experts is that it is just advice – it’s up to YOU how you choose to use it! At the end of the day, your relationship with your child is the most long-lasting gift of your life. Cherish it, and trust yourself to nurture it. Most of us want our kids to remember their childhood as fun – not a constant battle.