In the first installment of a four-part series on parenting and education, we show you how to create a growth mindset.
School report stress
It’s the first real feedback you’ve received all year on how your child is doing at school and at first glance it looks like a shocker.
You don’t need to be a linguist to work out that those comments such as “easily distracted” and “not working to his potential” actually mean that your child is disruptive, lazy and putting in minimal effort.
What do you do? Freak out and ruin the mood at the beginning of the school holidays? Or ignore it and hope he or she will improve?
Michael Hawton, author of Engaging Adolescents, points out that it’s important to see yourself and the teacher as a team working on behalf of your child and to address facts. As he says, it’s important not to lay blame, so start sentences with: ‘This is what I’m observing...’ or ‘He’s gone from 92 per cent in the first test to 54 per cent in the second.’
Michael says the first step is ascertaining whether the teacher is concerned, then working out if your child needs extra assistance and what form that might take.
But he believes plenty can be done at home.
‘Kids are wired to learn even from being a baby. It’s about motivating their desire to learn and then creating the right circumstances.’
He suggests focusing on those one or two things where your child shows a special ability, whether it’s drama, sport or in making and maintaining friendships. Discuss the effort they put into those areas of their lives, how it makes them feel good about themselves and how a similar effort in other areas might be equally satisfying.
‘We want kids to learn to be their own teachers. Instead of using too much praise, we need to focus on perseverance. Teachers are focused on helping kids to start something, continue and then finish it.'
First, you need to check your own expectations.
What are your child’s strengths and what are the characteristics which you know will serve them well through life? Recently a parent told me her daughter’s teachers had always commented that her child would turn out to be a great adult. She’d struggled at school but was now 22, working in London and kicking some big professional goals.
But that’s not a lot of comfort right now if your child is coming home with Ds for effort and comments that suggest a poor attitude.
Start by reading your child’s report quietly on your own. Note their achievements – there’s generally an area where they’re doing well – and think about the areas where you believe improvement is possible.
Next, ask your child to assess themselves.
Kids have a better measure of themselves than we think. If they believe their English mark is the best they can do but they could improve in science and maths then ask them how they might do that. Also ask them what they’re proud of in their report.
Remember that reports are just a snapshot not the whole picture. Evidence of learning skills such as initiative, problem solving and critical thinking will serve them well throughout life so don’t just focus on whether they’ve got a grade of C or D.
Focus more on effort than achievement. They can grow their effort. Equally, try to help them turn negative statements – “I’m hopeless at English” – into positive ones – “I don’t really understand themes yet.” Note: “yet” is the key word in having a growth mindset.
Finally, set goals together.
It may be that they decide not to sit with their friends in maths so they can concentrate on learning concepts. Or it may be that they’re going to work harder on their homework. Or that they’re going to try to adjust their attitude.
When the new term starts, meet with your child’s teacher and discuss the goals you’ve set and ask if there’s anything you’ve missed. Then check in midway through term to discuss how your child is going with reaching those goals.
See more in this weeks issue of New Idea - out now!