A poor academic record doesn’t mean a child will fail in his future life
Back to school, back to the struggle — at least for some families.
“Meir’s 13, but we’re still making sure he’s staying on top of his homework. He’s always found school hard. He only ‘performs’ if he really likes his rebbi or teacher, otherwise, he’s not interested at all.
“My husband and I have tried everything — we’ve praised him, offered him rewards, kept a chart, got him tutors and coaches. We’ve had him assessed, we tried medication — the side effects were awful — we’ve explained the importance of applying himself and the dire consequences for lagging behind. We’ve done everything we can think of. Oh, and yelled at him plenty as well. But nothing has made a difference.”
Goldie and Chaim are scared for their son. Fortunately, all their other kids are on track. But Meir’s anti-academic behavior creates a great deal of stress in the household. Meir’s sister Shira expounds: “My mom is always taking Meir to some doctor or clinic, and she’s always looking for ways to help him. I guess that’s what a mother is supposed to do, but he’s not the only kid in the family. There are eight of us, but everything is about Meir. My parents don’t really have time for me. I get good grades, but they hardly notice. Meir’s not even trying. I don’t see why my parents waste so much time on him.”
Shira’s only a child, but the experience of being Meir’s sister is a serious developmental journey for her. Watching her brother receive rewards “for breathing” (her words) irritates her not only because it seems so unfair, but because her parents actually expect her to understand. Moreover, Shira is confused by her parents’ behavior. “They get so frustrated with Meir sometimes, and other times they look like they’re afraid of him.” She resents Meir because she sees how much grief he causes her parents. “My mom literally cries when he has a bad day. Why can’t he just act normal?”
The Center of Life
For children, the ability to function well at school is everything — because school is their life. It’s hard for parents not to hyper-focus on academic dysfunction; it’s not something they can just look beyond. A child who can’t keep up gets discouraged, and that discouragement can manifest in many ways: the refusal to do homework, the refusal to get ready for school, the search for emotional compensation in harmful activities, jealousy and insecurity with siblings and peers, difficulty in personal and religious identity, and other emotional and behavioral problems. Academic struggle is a crisis that can drain the family.
There are things that parents can do to help reduce the negative impact of academic struggles and, even more importantly, steer the struggling child along a positive path.
Addressing their own parental worry is an essential first step that can help parents feel better and do better. It will help them create a healthier family atmosphere and will allow them to bring out the best in their challenged child. Although school life takes a front and center position during childhood, it’s important to remember that there is a long life after school. A child needs to believe that he’s always loved by Hashem and by his parents, and that this love doesn’t depend on grades received in limudei kodesh or limudei chol. Referring to this love regularly is important and can help the child take his rightful place within his family.
A child also needs to believe that he’s smart, talented, and gifted — which, in fact, all human beings are. Hashem has given everyone special abilities as part of their tool kit for fulfilling their life’s mission. Parents can help their academically challenged child — and every other child in the family — become aware of his own strengths by identifying them and frequently referring to them.
A child needs to feel that he can be successful in life. Instead of seeing distraught parents wringing their hands and uttering dire warnings, a child should see parents full of positivity. “Once you get out of school, you’ll see — you’ll be able to learn in your own way and accomplish whatever you set your mind to!” In other words, when parents convey their belief that their academically struggling child can and will become a successful adult, their faith will help nurture this exact outcome.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 757)
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