Challenging Our Assumptions

September 18, 2020

No matter how many kids I’ve seen over the years, I am continually struck by the assumptions made about children and how wrong they may be.

Typical assumptions that are heard all the time include:

“He’s just not trying hard enough.”

“You just don’t care.   You need to care more.”

“If you just paid attention more, you’d know what you were supposed to do.”

“Your writing shows how much you don’t care.”

The fact is these are all assumptions, mostly attributing academic struggling to emotional variables such as low motivation.

A recent story about an 11 year old that I see frequently illustrates how we need to check our assumptions.

The boy, Ryan, was showing very low motivation for engaging with his township football team, even though he had always been a pretty good football player.  Not the most articulate of kids, he would just shrug when parents would challenge his lack of enthusiasm.

Grumbling something like,  “I don’t know. I just don’t like football.  I don’t want to play,” Ryan said.

“We know why,” his parents responded.  “You just want to get on your screens and play Fortnite.  Nothing else matters.”

Admittedly, I bought into this hypothesis/assumption.  So many of the kids I see seem to care about little else than their video playing or social media sites like “TikTok.”

So, as the appointed intermediary I tried in my own way to lean in on Ryan, to see if I could get him to “buy in” a little and show some motivation, at the same time counseling his parents on how they could set their limits and expectations with him.

(Keep in mind, it wasn’t that the playing of football was crucial in my mind relative to Ryan, but it was a physical activity and it got him out of the house with other kids and in the past he had been very enthusiastic about playing.)

When I was alone with Ryan, I asked Ryan what was going on with football, about to start my leaning and then he said, “I just don’t want to play.  I don’t like it.”

Of course it was fair enough not to like it, but I pushed a little more to understand how he had gone from loving it the year before to wanting to quit. Ryan spoke in a low mumble, “They (his teammates) make fun of me a lot.  They call me names and I’m never included with them.”

My mouth dropped in an “aha” moment.

Feeling embarrassed and ridiculed, the wind was out of his sails.  It was just hard for him to effectively articulate these feelings, as it is for most of the boys I have known.  Being clear about feelings was never a strong suit of theirs.

Continuing in my role as intermediary, I explained to the parents what I thought was going on with Ryan.

As I spoke to them, they, too, were having their  own “aha” moment.

Whether Ryan was going to stay with football or not was a discussion they were going to have later, but for the moment, everyone in the room was checking the assumptions that we brought in.

Takeaway Point

Things are often not what they seem.

Before making the assumption, pull back a little.  Maybe there is something else going on.


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All comments (2)
  • Stanley Sterenberg
    September 18, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    There is a larger lesson here that applies to all of us, and especially to kids in school. One of the great negative motivators is […] Read MoreThere is a larger lesson here that applies to all of us, and especially to kids in school. One of the great negative motivators is "fear of embarrassment." It's the reason someone answers "I don't know" to the question "What do you think?" If you say what you think, you risk being ridiculed because that thought is silly (or worse). It's why students don't ask clarifying questions in the classroom, lest the teacher or their fellow students make fun of the naivete of the question. Acknowledging this fear, and then working to overcome it, requires a community of supporters who cherish hearing what you actually think -- and will not make you regret putting your true thoughts out into the world. Read Less

    Reply
    • Richard Selznick, Ph.D.
      @Stanley Sterenberg
      September 21, 2020 at 3:24 pm

      Ever wise...really appreciate your response. It's amazing the negative force that the sense of embarrassment or humiliation has in the class an outside. In the […] Read MoreEver wise...really appreciate your response. It's amazing the negative force that the sense of embarrassment or humiliation has in the class an outside. In the case of the boy described it basically led to him giving something up that he really enjoyed. Hope you are well and healthy. Thanks for being a faithful follower (and friend). Read Less

      Reply

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