Deep Breathing Down the Jangly Road

September 19, 2014

By the upper elementary school grades, parents are given the message from the school that their child needs to do school work on his or her own without the parental support that was offered in previous grades. For many children, that’s exactly what should be happening. By about fourth grade or so, these kids should be independently steering their own boat, so to speak.

For about 50% of the population (mostly the girls), this approximation of when a child should be  functioning independently seems to work pretty well. For these kids, they write down their assignments, take their assignment books home, approximate how much time they need for a task and see things through to a conclusion. For this portion of the population, they hand in in their work without too much strife. Teachers are smiling at them and patting them on the head. Parents are congratulating themselves. Everyone’s happy.

Then there’s the other side.  For these kids, as a general theme, they have great difficulty getting started on tasks and sustaining their effort. They struggle with time approximation and show limited frustration tolerance. More often than not, parents are told, “He’s just not trying hard enough, ” or “We’re not medical doctors and can’t diagnose, but don’t you think you should have him evaluated?”  The message is clearly given – “This child needs to be on medication.”

I call these two populations, the “smooth road kids,” and the “rough road kids.”

The smooth roaders sail down the road without too much difficulty. In effect, they are “piece of cake” from a parental or teacher perspective. Not so the “rough roaders.” These kids jangle people’s nerves and get others irritated. They pull for a lot of negative reaction. Most of my career has been spent around this type of child. Having seen thousands of them, I don’t think they mean to be doing these behaviors. I think they would try harder if they could, but they just don’t seem to have it in them. Most of these kids are smart enough, but very inefficient, stylistically.

What do these kids need?

Above all, I think these kids need two things that are not easy to come by – patience and structure.

Being patient with these kids is challenging for the above suggested reasons. Homework is a battle. The disorganization and lack of task completion is infuriating. My best suggestion is that  as the child’s parent you pull back a little bit. Deep breathe a lot. Meditate. Do whatever you can to try and bring down the temperature. Try and talk less reactively and more in measured, matter-of fact tones.  Function more as a homework consultant who is close by offering a degree of support, rather than sitting immediately next to the child helping all along the way. In other words, don’t be in too deep.

The structure can come in many forms. Setting up a homework hour or an hour and a half in which electronics are greatly reduced or non-accessible is just one example. Letting the child know how it will go in these homework sessions is also an example. For example, calmly stating, “If you give me a good hour of effort then you are free to do as you please afterward. You will have earned your screen time by putting forth reasonable effort. If you don’t, then your screen time has not been earned. Either way is fine with me. If it doesn’t go your way maybe you will get it right tomorrow.”

Kids are wired one way or the other. The rough road is jangly and difficult to go down, but it does make life interesting.

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