When Smart Kids Struggle with School


If I live to be 100, I’ll never forget the joy of that afternoon, overshadowed by the years of misery that followed.

She was 6 years old. Adorable in her little uniform shirt, having already changed into jean shorts when she got home from school. It was August, and she sat upright at my grandmother’s antique Queen Anne’s desk, pony-tail bobbing, home from her first day of 1st Grade.

Poised and ready to tackle her homework, I dare say she was almost excited, proud in that “I’m-a-big-girl-now” kind of a way. Loose curls falling out of the bob and draping onto her shoulders, she was ready to get to work.

That was before I really understood that it's not enough to be smart – smart kids can really struggle in school.

A Vicious Cycle Is Begun

For a moment suspended in time, I imagined her mastering school with confidence and joy, a lifetime of education and achievement rolling out in front of her, opening up possibilities to all that she could become in her life. Miraculous in its uniqueness, that was the only day that year – or any year – that homework was a source of expectation and pride.

Sadly, the tears and frustration that came on the heels of that blissful afternoon were longer-lived. True, my daughter’s eventual High School graduation was an immense accomplishment – for all of us! But what is that expression from Tolkien? “It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.”

When smart kids struggle with “doing” school, it starts a process of helplessness and self-loathing that builds momentum, a vicious cycle that can rob these kids of their self-esteem, and ultimately of their future.

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Paradigm Shift

Complex kids can find a way to become successful as adults, even if traditional schooling is never "their thing." And while some can do it on their own, despite the odds, most are best served by the support of parents and educators who are willing to step outside of the box and focus on the needs of the child.

Truth be told, with all of the expectations that weigh on parents and educators – from school systems, communities, families, cultures, personal histories, etc. – focusing on the needs of a child is no easy task. But it can make all of the difference in the world to the life of that one child. Frankly, it can make all of the difference for the entire family.

In my work with parents of kids with ADHD, I see it all the time.

  • Curious kids who don’t learn well in a traditional environment (or any structured schooling environment, for that matter).
  • Creative kids who fail to achieve at the one “job” where they are expected to excel – school.
  • Experiential kids who learn in motion, not while stifled to virtual paralysis in a chair behind a desk.
  • Bored kids whose minds surpass the class, their senses dulled by “busy-work” while their minds long for real learning.

Conscious parents and conscientious teachers can stop that vicious cycle. They can teach these children to learn, to master themselves and find meaning and purpose in their lives. It starts with a paradigm shift.

No More Business as Usual

The "Homework Headaches" program – an online home study course for parents – is one way that we introduce parents to a new way of tackling old problems with kids with ADHD and related school challenges. It’s not a business-as-usual-teach-your-child-to-use-these-strategies-and-life-will-be-hunky-dory kind of a training.

Because the truth is, these complicated kids have complicated challenges. And complex issues require more nuance than a simple "fix it" approach provides.

Homework Headaches – which is like an intermediate course after parents have taken Sanity School® – is all about teaching parents HOW to take a “Coach-Approach” to raising complex kids who struggle with school. It’s about helping parents shift perspectives, change their approach, and ultimately improve the outcomes for their kids and family.

I won’t say it’s magic, because in truth, it’s hard work to parent complex kids, much less to empower them to reach their potential. But when parents have guidance, support, structure, reinforcement – when parents don’t feel isolated and alone, and are able to learn HOW to support their kids in a way that works, and get positive feedback so they can tweak and modify what they’re doing – the results are unbelievably rewarding, for parents AND your kids!

What I Wish I Knew Then

That adorable 6-year-old little girl will likely not ever graduate magna cum laude from Harvard University. That wasn't her path. Rather, she’s creating a fulfilling life that’s making a contribution to the world. She is gaining confidence, and finding success, despite the years of learned helplessness and self-loathing that tried to rob her of her future.

If I had understood when she was little what I know now – what I am able to teach and coach parents to understand in our programs now – I could have saved us all years of pain and isolation. I can’t change that. But I have been able to change the story for her little brother, whose school experience is vastly different.

And I can help other parents re-write the story for their families.

Because smart kids are going to struggle in school. That's a reality you cannot change. HOW you deal with that – well, that's a different story.

It starts with a parent’s willingness to step out of the vicious cycle. It starts with a paradigm shift. It starts with no more “business as usual.”

It starts with you.

Homework Headaches

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