Dear Dr. Linda,
My wife probably bought every book that’s out there and has read every article online on how to make our kids A+ students so that they go to the top colleges and compete in the global economy. This goal began before they were born! She’s not exactly “a tiger mom,” but she’s definitely controlling.
The results of her obsession at this point in time is as follows: our 10th grade son is failing two courses. Our 7th grade daughter is having one meltdown after another and our 4th grade daughter is the “perfect student.” My question to you…Did my wife mess up our two older kids with her “I know what to do attitude because I did soooo much research on this” or did I mess up because I kept saying, “Leave them alone…they’ll be fine.” Finally, the big question is why is our 3rd grader doing so well?
You probably know the answer already. Each child is different and therefore will react to each situation they face differently. No matter how many books or online articles your wife reads and decides to follow, the bottom line is how the child reacts to what he’s presented with. In other words, it depends on your child’s personality and needs. When a child and parent have similar personalities, whatever the parent decides to do will usually be fine for the child. That may be the case with your 4th grader, but she’s probably doing well because her personality fits perfectly into the structure of today’s educational system.
However, when a parent and a child have different personalities or may even have opposing needs, things may not work out as the parent had planned, no matter how much research, good intentions and time are put into it. That’s probably what’s happening with your two oldest children.
So, how do parents know what to do? It has been shown that the best parenting is to respond to the child’s needs and do what you feel is right at each stage. There are many different approaches that are healthy, kind and right. Since parenting involves human beings, not robots, each parent has to follow their child’s unique personality (and theirs) and respect it, even though followers of this or that guru will make you want to believe there is only one way.
Now, let’s talk about your children. Your wife may have been busy following books and articles when she needed to follow her instincts and not someone else, who does not know your children. Since a child’s education is a learned behavior, unlike learning to walk and talk, which is innate, you do have some control.
First, let’s address the two failing subjects your son is experiencing. Begin by making an appointment with the teacher and your son. Be sure your son is on board and happy to get your input. At the meeting find out where the test questions are coming from. Then help your son learn how he learns so he can better prepare for the tests or perhaps do the homework he may be missing. However, if your son is not on board, angry or depressed, seek help from his school counselor or get outside support.
Now, let’s talk about your daughter. If she is having meltdown after meltdown, then she is having trouble coping. It can be coping with school, home or not feeling well. She may not be getting enough sleep, eating well, or having peer problems. Or, it can be a combination of all of this. Again, you need to seek help from school personnel and/or outside support.
The bottom line is that when a child or adult is failing or having meltdowns day after day, something is wrong. And you need to talk to someone. Sometimes, Aunt Sally or Grandpa Joe can save the day, but usually you need to talk to a counselor, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist to first identify the problem and then address it. These are professionals that are there for you and they do help. However, like everything else, you have to find the one that fits your family. And yes, your family. Many parents send the child who is failing or having the meltdowns to counseling when the problem is systemic. Children’s problems need to be addressed as a family—with mom, dad, siblings and many times grandma and grandpa. If the parents and extended family are not involved, the child’s goes for therapy and then goes back to the same situation at home and at school and nothing changes.
Co-author of Why Bad Grades Happen to Good Kids and director of Strong Learning Tutoring and Test Prep. If you have any questions you’d like to share with Dr. Linda, email her at Linda@stronglearning.com.