School is here. I know many parents out there are dreading that the year ahead will bring nightly battles over homework and morning struggles over getting your child out of bed.
Parents can unintentionally take shortcuts when trying to change the behavior. I don’t think that could be any truer than when it comes to school-related issues. By the way, when I say “shortcuts” it has nothing to do with a good decision versus a bad decision as a parent; it’s more linked to this question: “Is the approach you’re using getting you any closer to the goal? is it really effective?”
The most straightforward shortcut parents take is assuming their child’s responsibility. Most parents understand how valuable an education is and know that it can be instrumental in leading to an independent and successful life. As a result, many parents feel tremendous pressure to get their child to succeed in an academic forum. That can lead to a parent doing their child’s homework or hauling them out of bed every morning. The pitfall there is that the child is not being allowed to strengthen their ability to manage these responsibilities or learn necessary skills.
James Lehman refers to this as “The Martyr Role”– a the outcome of this pattern for your child is learned helplessness. That means your child comes to rely on you to solve their problems and take away any distress in their life. Parents’ thoughts and actions here are usually fear-based. They think, I can’t let him fail, or I can’t let him feel bad because he’ll give up or think less of himself. The important thing to realize is that if you’re willing to allow your child to fail, then you’re able to turn it into a learning experience for him. That translates into growth for your child — emotionally and behaviorally.
By the way, letting your child fail doesn’t mean not being involved in your child’s life or not stepping in when you see them struggling. Letting your child fail does send him the message that you think he can pull it off. If there is an issue, let him know you’re going to help him identify it and look at what steps he can take to move forward. As parents, it can be tempting to supplement our children’s skills with our own in order to see them through, but understand that when you do this, your child is being trained to do less and less. The danger is that they can turn into people who are always on the lookout for that somebody else to swoop in and fix it all for them.
When I talk to these parents through 1-on-1 Coaching, they usually say they’re worn out! Not only are they keeping track of their own adult obligations, but in addition, they’re basically back in school. Keep in mind that you don’t have to do a complete overhaul of your parenting style in one day; it starts with doing small things a little bit differently. A good place to start in this situation is creating more structure in the home around homework time: Sit down and have a discussion with your child. Tell them that you’re no longer willing to do the work for them, but you want to talk about how they can fit in everything that they need to do in a day. I think parents in this situation need to take an honest look at their response and be able to tell themselves that with the right support and guidance, their child can bounce back and be stronger and more resilient — even after they experience failure. Remember, failure isn’t a permanent state and it doesn’t have the power to break you down unless you believe it does.