It’s that time of year – the time when the kids with floppy rudders (mostly the boys) are starting to wear their parents down.  They are the ones not handing in homework and playing on their iPads too long while their grades are plummeting.    

They can’t handle the day to day grind of school.

The nightly ritual of, “What do you have for homework,” typically answered with, “Nothing, I did in school,” goes on and on.  

There are meltdowns (child and parent).  There is yelling, punishing and threatening. 

“This is unacceptable,” is bellowed in homes across the country.  “Your ________________ (fill in the blank) is taken away indefinitely!!”

I have met thousands of these floppy rudder kids who usually are seen to have some variation of ADD or executive function deficit.  I’ve been to many conference on these kids, thinking I will find the holy grail solution. 

All I can tell you is that I haven’t found it yet.  Organizing the disorganized, structuring the untrusted, maturing the immature, is rough work.

There are a few things that I have learned.

  • The problem isn’t always in the kid’s head.   Sometimes the problem is outside the kid’s head. Often the work is too hard. 
  • Punishment as a general rule doesn’t work, yet it’s our number one “go-to” strategy.  Punishment depletes the emotional fuel line. 
  • Encouragement and empathy increase motivation.  When these are conveyed as part of the mix the kid doesn’t feel as slammed.  He feels supported.  Small statements, such as “Look George, I get it.  I know the work is tough, but let’s try and figure it out together convey such empathy and understanding.

A number of years ago Leo Buscaglia, an inspirational speaker on public television, was quite popular.  He told many homegrown, folksy tales delivering down to earth messages.  I remember one quite clearly.  It involved the power of encouragement.

Buscaglia described how he (nicknamed young Giuseppe) came home from school distraught about getting a 57 on a test he had taken.

“Hey Giuseppe,” his father said in a large, encouraging tone, “Don’t be so down…you’ll be ok….maybe next time you’ll get a 58.”

Kids need a lot more Buscaglia and a lot less punishment.