Saturday, July 19, 2014

Are you an Excuse Maker?

With the school year fast approaching, I wanted to talk about excuse makers. Children are the best at this, aren't they?

     "Did you hit your brother?"
     "He made me!"
I usually come back with something like, "you mean he grabbed your arm and balled up your fist with his other hand and then hit himself?!?! That's incredible!" At this point I remind them that if they did hit, it is their responsibility to learn how to control the feelings that cause them to want to hit so they won't do it again.

We are all excuse makers though by nature. I don't think most of the time it is a problem.

     "What's the matter with this loaf of bread?" your husband asks.
     "I think the yeast was old so it didn't rise," you respond. Then you buy new yeast and your bread turns out fine the next time.

That is an excuse I can live with where as the first example I can't. But, how does this apply to the school year, you ask? I have found in my 15 years of sending kids off to school that they (and us) are quick to blame others (especially teachers) for their struggles in school. I'll give you an example that happened to us.

When one of my boys was in elementary school, he had a teacher that observed the "rule" of not letting the kids work on big projects at home. While I'm fine with that for the most part but this child struggled and couldn't seem to put his project together in a way that he was satisfied with. I asked him to bring it home so I could look at it with him to see if I could help. He told me that he wasn't allowed to bring it home so I asked him if he had spoken with his teacher to ask for help. He acknowledged that he had not, that his teacher was always busy helping the other kids and she wouldn't have time for him (his assumption). I explained to him that if she was going to have that type of rule that she obviously expected him to go to her for help. He was going to have to talk to her because that's what she was requiring them to do. End of story is that he didn't do well on that project (I think he got a C) and he blamed his teacher for his low grade.

I was very frustrated and asked him again if he had asked his teacher for help and he replied he had not. I explained to him that his teacher couldn't be responsible for his low grade if she had no idea he needed help, she wasn't a psychic or a magician. He finally accepted responsibility. I could have easily stepped in and blamed this teacher for the problem that I had with her "rule" but what would he have learned from me stepping in? Needless to say, he has not had a problem since then asking for help from his teachers.

I had a daughter who struggled with grades her sixth grade year and she struggled all year long. She kept telling me her teacher just didn't know how to teach and things like that. I asked her every day if she had any homework and she almost always said she did not. I found websites to help tutor her on math, I offered her books to read to work on her literacy, I got worksheets from her teachers and more. I made her sit down for at least 30-45 minutes every day and do something to improve her grades but a lot of the time she just sat there and waited out the clock. She proclaimed that none of this was going to help, that it was all her teacher's fault she didn't know how to teach.

I finally gave her an ultimatum that if she didn't get her grades up to a C average she would have to do her sixth grade year all over again. If she ended up with a C average but had a D or an F in any subject her second semester, she would have to do summer school. She went from all Fs to a C average with one subject at a D in a matter of weeks. Was that her teacher's doing? No, it was hers.

We did summer school that year and she hated it. We had many discussions about understanding that it was her job to learn and hers alone. She finally owned it and recognized that we had given her plenty of opportunity to bring her grades up. (I should add that she had a stellar 7th grade year.)

When things go wrong with your child's grades or behavior at school, I think it is important to first find out what your child's ownership in the problem is. Are they making efforts with their classwork and doing extra to catch up and something still isn't clicking? Offer them ways to own the problem and resolve it. Please do not step in and fix it for them and please don't immediately blame the teacher.

We are raising a society of kids who don't know how to solve their own problems. We have parents who dash in at the very thought of their kid failing or hurting and solve the problem for them. I truly believe that in order to gain the independence we so desperately want our adult children to have, we must let them fail a time or two. What's the worst thing that can happen from failing a test at school? It might drop their grade a bit but is it really that important to have perfect grades? Don't the kids who get Cs in all their subjects still move on to the next grade?

We want our children to be successful as they learn but they need to have ownership in that knowledge or the value of that knowledge goes down.

Aren't you so glad that the first time you fell off your two wheeler your dad didn't rush back to the store to demand someone fix the problem? Didn't he get you back on time after time until you figured it out? Falling off the bike is a failure of sorts, it is the type of failure you learn from.

Don't be an excuse maker. Take ownership in your struggles and make plans to work on fixing them before you blame someone else for your shortcomings.

**Having said all that, I do realize there does come a point where a parent must step in and protect their child from physical, emotional and mental health danger so please don't think I have never called a teacher and confronted them about something regarding my child. I just think there is a time and place for it and almost always, it is after I have given my child time to own the problem and fix it himself while offering him support and suggestions. Sometimes I don't make that call. Sometimes I let my child fail. Growth comes from struggle and if we don't allow some struggle to happen, there can be no growth.

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