The other day I was talking to a mother of an 11 year old boy. He is not doing very well in school, despite being fairly bright. He has been suspended several times so far this year for behavior related things and is now on academic probation. She has tried everything she knows to do and admitted that she is having difficulty sleeping and is experiencing some anxiety over her son.
The school counsellor is inclined to refer the boy for assessing to see if he has a ‘condition’ and is requesting the teachers to compile a profile of this child’s behaviors which might be useful to those who would be conducting the psychological analysis.
While I understand that many children are suffering conditions brought on by various external and internal elements, and these can be measured and treated (and should be), I also feel that before going down that road all adults involved in the care of that child should agree to determine whether it could simply be a case of immaturity combined with other elements like lack of self-discipline, laziness, lack of motivation, poor positive recognition or simply pure ‘indulgence’. Then if all those things have been ruled out, then proceed to psychological evaluation.
In the case of this particular child, he does not have a condition, I don’t believe. But he IS suffering. He is suffering the realization that the world as he knew it, does not actually exist.
Until now he has lived in a world where he could have pretty much whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it. He could just make everyone laugh and they would forgive his tardiness, his irresponsibility, his forgetfulness and his laziness. He could turn on the charm and dance around and joke with everyone, parents and teachers alike, and get through every single day without major incident of consequence TO HIM. Of course, his parents and teachers were pulling their hair out looking for a solution for him.
And therein lies the key!
We have to make sure that we provide children with opportunities in which we link what is important for them to LEARN with what IS SIMPLY IMPORTANT TO THEM.
So for example, with this young man I have been describing, it has become very apparent now, at age 11 that this young man is going through a paradigm shift. Suddenly, teachers are expecting him to accomplish work during class. His parents, who have even paid for tutors up till now with little or no lasting results, now expect him to take his studies seriously.
How can this boy suddenly see the world a different way? And if he doesn’t begin to see the world a different way, then he may end up on medication for a condition that he has been diagnosed with.
But what if he does not have a condition? What if he is simply…. spoiled?
Now of course, every child is different, but here’s what I found with this boy:
He is not accustomed to using his brain. At the very point at which he needs to engage his thought processes, he instead expends huge amounts of energy trying to avoid ‘thinking’.
He is very clever, actually. The thoughts that occupy his mind are all related to playing.
How can I play?
When can I play?
Who can I play with?
His teachers say he will copy from the board. He sits still if forced to. He can even appear to be listening and probably is listening.
But when it comes to accessing his knowledge, applying information or actually initiating an idea, this boy just ‘folds’.
He employs tactics like asking clarifying questions. These work really well to give the impression he is engaged with the topic. However truth be known, it is a tactic to keep the teacher talking, so as to minimize the time left for him to work independently.
If the teacher maintains the stance that he has enough information to begin the task and is not drawn into any extra prolonged explanations, and then this boy simply states, ‘I don’t understand’.
But it is not true in this boy’s case. He absolutely does understand. Remember, I said he was bright. He understands, but he has neither the motivation nor the habit of engaging his thought processes, as he has never had to use them this way before.
If the teacher then says to him,
‘Yes, you do understand. You are a very smart boy. You just need to think about what you know, and then you will work out for yourself, what to do’.
It is at this point where he can see the tactics have not worked. Now, in order to get what he really wants…..TO PLAY…. he has to get the work done.
So guess what! He does it. And he does it correctly with excellent attention to detail. Sometimes he is a little shaky on his confidence, and is hesitant, but on the whole once he finds out that what has always worked for him in the past does no longer work, that the only way he can reach his personal goal (to play) is to reach his teacher’s goal first, he then just gets on with it.
Then the young man has the opportunity to develop confidence in himself and in his abilities. If he does gain in confidence, then it is possible for the adults in his life to help him recognize the good feelings he has when he independently solves a problem, completes class work or homework, or contributes in the classroom.
All those times while he was little, he should not have been indulged. He should never have come to see the world as a place in which you simply play and never take responsibility for anything.
It is very hard on him to re-calibrate his thinking now. And remember, he was almost on the path to medication.
He is not sick. He does not have a condition. He is merely ‘spoiled’.
As parents, it is a good idea to make sure you are allowing your child to strive, not struggle. Allow him or her to work things out for themselves. Don’t be too quick to give the solution to a problem, be it how to tie shoelaces or button a shirt, to how to solve an algebraic equation. Let your child feel good about trying. Let them feel better about trying than about succeeding.
In this time and age that we live in, one of the greatest gifts you can give your child is the opportunity to develop ‘innovative’ thought processes. Experimenting, failing, trying again, creating, trying something different, learning from mistakes. These are the qualities and skills we want to be helping our children develop.
Our role is not to smooth out all the bumps in the road so they don’t feel upset or inconvenienced.
Our role is to be there cheering them on, setting an example, exposing them to positive role models, providing learning opportunities and encouraging them when it doesn’t go as they hoped.