As the end of summer approaches, parents are both looking back on the previous year of school and also looking forward. Here are two questions parents ask all the time.
Q: If my son’s teacher can’t get him to do his homework, is it my job? Shouldn’t homework be reinforced by the teacher? Should I be giving consequences? Is that really a parent’s domain?
A: If parents think they are off the hook in terms of motivating their children, they are mistaken. This challenging task is just too overwhelming for one group to tackle on its own. You simply can’t expect a teacher or a rebbe with thirty students to focus on motivating each one of them individually. Rather, parents should work together with the staff and administration in motivating their children to achieve.
Richard Lavoie’s monumental work The Motivation Breakthrough offers suggestions to parents on how to motivate children for success. Let us review these and consider how we can incorporate them into our own families’ lives.
Success is the greatest motivator. Recognize, reinforce, and celebrate the child’s successes and progress – even small victories.
Have you ever seen a child rush to his mother to show her a ninety on a test, while she waves him away because she is on the cell phone? How many times do we dismiss our children’s accomplishments without giving them the praise they deserve? Sooner or later, these children will not bother to show off their good grades. And what’s worse, they’ll retain the subliminal message that nobody really cares whether they do well or not. So why bother?
When reviewing a test or report card with a child, always comment first on the positive aspects. Like many parents of struggling students, you hold your breath when your child hands you her report card. Then you scan it quickly, searching for any “red flags,” such as failing grades or negative comments. Once you’ve determined whether there are “issues” or not, it’s important to try and focus on the good. Your child is, of course, holding her breath as well. A positive response from you will bolster her ego and motivate her to try harder next time. Later, when you are both relaxed, you can discuss ways of making any necessary changes.
Avoid comparing the child to his or her siblings. This breeds resentment and anger, not motivation. In our community, with its many large families, very often a rebbe or a teacher will be privileged to teach several siblings of one family. If “big brother” is a super-achiever, most likely his younger brothers have heard the refrain “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” Parents must avoid the impulse to do the same thing. Children are keenly aware of how much their siblings are achieving. They know that their sister was chosen to be the star of the production or that their brother has merited to be Talmid Hashana. They are already struggling with mixed emotions of envy and pride. Don’t add to the jealousy and the resentment. Instead, focus on each child’s special qualities, even hiring private instructors to develop extracurricular talents when necessary.
Be a good role model. Participate in activities such as Torah learning, chessed, askanus, hachnosas orchim, etc. Maintain a Torahdik home. Never expect more from your children than you do from yourself.
Show your children that you care about their chinuch and education. Speak positively about their yeshiva and its hanhala, because – believe me – your children are listening to your every word. If you have “issues” with the way certain things are handled, deal with these when the children are out of earshot. Nothing kills motivation faster than a disgruntled parent. The subliminal message is – “This school is not worth any of my efforts.”
Do not tell a child that an upcoming task will be “easy” when in fact it will be challenging.
Q: What are some mistakes that parents make and what can we do to avoid them?
A: Which parent doesn’t make mistakes? We all do. Parenting is daily activity that requires patience, resilience, and drive. Just as we teach our children to learn from their mistakes, we can too! Here are some common parenting mistakes, and some possible solutions:
Back Down: If you set rules with your child, make sure that you stick with them. For instance, if you tell your daughter or son that “bedtime is bedtime,” you must stick with that rule. If you don’t, neither child has any incentive to change their behavior for the future.
Instead, follow through on your rules. If you create rules that you simply cannot follow, how can you expect your children to trust that the other rules are resolute?
Tell a Lie: Sometimes it’s very tempting to tell our children white lies in order to ease a problematic situation. For instance, if you are in the supermarket and your child wants a box of cookies and you do not want to buy them, you could temporarily solve the problem by saying, “I’m sorry. We can’t buy those because they are not for sale.” Later, your child could see a cousin eating those cookies and become quite confused – either the cousin stole them or you told her a lie.
Rather, Bonnie Maslin, author of Picking Your Battles, explains that empathizing with your child would be better. Say something like, “I know you want those cookies, honey. They look really tasty, but I would prefer to buy healthier foods today.” This allows your child to know that you are listening to them, but does not create a situation in which you are dishonest.
Lose it: Taking care of multiple children requires an immense amount of patience. Sometimes, you might find yourself at the end of your rope, screaming at your children. The problem with this form of discipline is that when you lose it, you are teaching your children that it is okay for them to lose it when they are upset.
Instead, give yourself permission to walk away from the difficult situation (as long as it is a safe setting). Take a deep breath, count to ten, and then you will be much more effective at disciplining your child.
Talk on and on: When reasoning or disciplining your child, you might be tempted to explain the situation to them the way you would speak to an adult. However, children are not mini-adults and long explanations or instructions simply go over their heads.
As an alternative, keep your instructions short and sweet. “Do not whine. Use your big boy voice.” “No snacks before dinner.” Or, “Clean up your toys before bath time.” Children will respond to those statements much more readily than a long lecture.
Changing your children’s negative behavior will probably require you to change yourself. Some of the most valuable character traits such as patience, tenacity, foresight, courage, self-control, and acceptance are gained in the process of parenthood.
Register now for a Mindsets and ADHD workshop by Dr. Robert Brooks on November 13, 2018. Please call Mrs. Schonfeld at 718-382-5437 for more information.