The first documented New Year’s Resolutions are attributed to the Babylonians, whose culture dates back thousands of years. It was an idea that has withstood the test of time, but — as Hamlet observed — it’s a custom more often honored in the breach than in the observance. Here’s one to consider, nevertheless, courtesy of Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.
Lahey’s incisive column for the New York Times on helping your child to succeed in school runs to about 3,500 words, so this summary barely scratches its surface. A link to the entire piece is included at the end of this blog.
Lahey begins with a list of do’s and don’ts. Two items on the “Do” list resonated with me, as did one on the “Don’t” list. Do love the child you have (not the child you wish you had) and Don’t compare kids to one another are almost opposite sides of the same coin. I’m thinking right now of a student who wanted to take the SAT, but whose parents made him take the ACT because the older brother had taken the ACT and the parents wanted to see how the younger child would compare. So he suffered from anxiety about being made to take a test he didn’t wish to take and further anxiety about knowing his score would be compared to his brother’s.
The other “Do” that struck a chord with me was: Encourage kids to self-advocate. Here’s a single example. Many of the students I encounter seem intimidated by a perceived “don’t rock the boat” attitude, at home or in the classroom or both. Dealing with teachers who increasingly rely on technology can be especially challenging for kids. It’s easy for a teacher to assign online work that is not only generated by a computer, but graded by it as well. Many online systems require elaborate ways to enter mathematical symbols in particular — like exponents, radicals and absolute values — that waste time by requiring the student to learn how to communicate with the machine when the goal should be learning math. And if you get the communication wrong, then you get the answer wrong, too.
But most students shy away from bringing this to a teacher’s attention. As Lahey puts it, “Self-advocacy is a key part of building a child’s sense of self- efficacy, or the understanding that they have the power to control and change their behavior, motivation and environment.”
As you would expect, she spends a lot of time discussing the impact of technology (including social media, music, and TV), and how to put it to work for the benefit of the student. Modeling plays an important role, too. Parents need to let kids see them working as they want their children to work.
Treading where others seldom do, Lahey also talks about the use of contracts that outline how tech should be used. And she doesn’t ignore the body: the relationship between a healthy brain and a healthy body, the link between sleep and learning, and more. She provides abundant details, examples and links. The entire article overall is a brilliant blueprint for evaluating the parent-teacher-child dynamic and making it work for everyone.