One of the topics that often surface in the parenting classes that I teach is the parent’s fears of their kids failing in school. This is especially true for parents of kids with ADD or ADHD, because of their child’s difficulty staying focused on a school task to completion.
Parents want their kids to succeed. So when their child starts to struggle with something such as schoolwork, the parent steps in to support their child by helping them with their schoolwork. That doesn’t sound bad does it? Of course not, it sounds supportive and helpful. The problem begins, however, when our helping solves their problem or closes the gap that could have stretched them to succeed.
For example, I know of parents who have stayed up until 2 AM to finish typing their child’s report (trying hard to make it sound like it was written by their child) as their child is passed out, asleep, on the sofa. Even though the grade was saved, this is not helping the child in the long run. Instead, the growth that could have occurred through the struggle of completing the report doesn’t happen and the next time the child has a report due, they are less capable of completing it compared to their peers.
What can parents do in order to help their kids be successful? Parents can have a long-term perspective. This means that there will be moments when a child does not get their homework turned in, or even moments when a child fails a class. I have worked with parents specifically to support them through the anxiety that they feel as they stand back and watch their child fail a class. It can be so nerve-racking to watch a child make a decision that a parent knows is not the “right” decision and that the parent knows will have negative consequences.
What parents have to look forward to
When a parent is strong enough to provide a child with opportunities to succeed, and then allow their child to miss out on those opportunities, it gives the child real world learning experiences that can help them grow.
I know of a family whose middle school child was taking online classes because of some medical conditions. The child started procrastinating doing his online class work, to the point that he was really behind and in jeopardy of failing the semester. His mom would outline what he needed to do during the day and then she would nag him to get it done. When he didn’t get it done she would get frustrated with him and take away his electronics.
This patterned behavior between mom and son continued for a few months until mom was able to focus on providing her son with opportunities to succeed rather than telling him what to do. A lot went into the process, but basically, instead of outlining what needed to be done, she handed the responsibility to finish the classes over to her son. She also allowed the online teacher to set the dates when assignments needed to be completed. She then let her son know when she would be available to help and support and she made herself available to him as he took the opportunities. Yet, she made the conscious decision not to nag or rescue him.
This process was really hard for mom, but she did it. She was strong enough to stop nagging, stop rescuing, and learned how to hand responsibility for completing school over to her son.
This story has a good ending. The child finished his semester of online classes – just barely. But he learned how to focus, plan, and hustle when it comes to getting his schoolwork done, to the point that the next semester he worked ahead of schedule. He is a much happier kid now and mom reports that the relationship she has with her son is much better.
All of this happened when mom started to understand what she could control verses what she couldn’t. She then provided opportunities for her son to succeed and stood back to allow him to take these opportunities or not. Her son is now more capable than when she was hovering over him and making sure he was completing his assignments. What a wonderful gift this mother has given to her child.
Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona. He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Therapy Group.
He provides parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculum, classes for parents of children with ADHD, step-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents. He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona.