Skills, competence and confidence gained in other areas of life can help boys succeed in school as well.iStockphoto
If your son is struggling in school, the absolute worst thing you can do is nag him about his schoolwork. Hovering over him as he does his homework and loudly complaining about his lack of organization or effort will not change him into a scholar. Neither will lecturing him about the importance of good grades, a high school diploma or a college degree.
Think about it: If school was a sore spot in your life, would you appreciate a constant stream of school-related questions and suggestions?
Most boys who are struggling in school already secretly feel like failures. In many cases, they’ve given up; boys who are ridiculed and reprimanded in school, despite their earnest efforts, are quick to pull back. It’s a whole lot easier to adopt an “I-don’t-care” attitude than it is to try and fail again.
So, while it may seem counterintuitive, the single best thing you can do for a boy who is struggling in school is to stop focusing on academics.
Here’s what you should do instead:
Focus on what’s right.
Boys who see their classmates devouring chapter books while they’re still puzzling out words often conclude that they’re stupid. Active boys who have a hard time sitting still in school sometimes come to believe that they’re “bad.” And while it’s true that your son may need to practice reading or learn how to control his behavior, it’s perfectly possible (and much more successful) to work on skill development from a place of positivity, not negativity. Appreciating your son’s energy and ambition, and then teaching him techniques to handle his wiggles, will be much more successful than criticizing his current inability to stay still for long periods of time.
For at least one week, make a conscious effort to hold back your criticism and only share positive comments with your son. All boys have unique gifts to share with the world. Maybe your son’s gift is his sense of humor or his compassion for others. Maybe he has the ability to ignore everything around him while he grapples with a problem. This week, notice and comment on the things your child does well.
Support his interests.
Children come into the world motivated to learn. (Remember your child’s determination as he learned to walk?) They have an innate need to figure out things that are important to them.
For a lot of boys, there’s a huge disconnect between things that are important to them and school. Many have learned that their interests – things like video games and weapons – aren’t welcome in school. So, they shut down and go through the motions, expending the minimal amount of energy required to get by.
A child who is free to pursue his passions, however, will put in long hours to master skills and concepts that help him achieve his goals. My 12-year-old, for instance, has spent dozens of hours in the garage this summer rehabbing a discarded bike. He dismantled it, replaced broken parts, painted it and finally put it back together. The other night, he was outside until nearly 11 p.m., trying to get the old tire off the rim so he could replace it with a new tire. He didn’t succeed that night – but the next morning, he tried a new approach and succeeded.
While my son will never be tested on bike repair at school, the skills he learns in the garage are transferable to the classroom, and extremely valuable in life. In the garage, he’s learned how to problem-solve and persist. He’s learned how to seek, evaluate and apply information. Perhaps most importantly, he’s gained a sense of confidence and competence.
Got a kid who loves video games? Sit down and play with him. Introduce him to some history-based games, such as “Call of Duty: WWII.” Then “randomly” watch some World War II documentaries. You can also look for game-based fiction at your local library and find online courses that detail how to create your own video game.
Connect him to mentors.
Historically, boys have learned from adult men. Connecting your son with an adult – or older boy – who shares his interests will give him an opportunity to learn additional skills and expand his horizons. My mechanically minded son, for instance, has serviced lawnmowers alongside his grandpa and now frequently works with a recently graduated 18-year-old on landscaping projects. When my oldest son began selling veggies at our local green market at the age of 6, he learned the basic principles of sales and customer service from the other vendors.
Not sure where to find a mentor for your son? Use his interests as your guide. If your son is interested in animals, call your local humane society and ask about volunteer opportunities. If he loves fishing, connect him with friends and family members who fish, or call a local sportsmen’s club. And if he loves to sing and dance, introduce him to members of your local community theater.
Celebrate his successes.
Academic achievement is not the only achievement that matters. Celebrate your son’s accomplishments – such as rehabbing a bike or getting the win in Fortnite – even if his achievements don’t seem particularly noteworthy to you. Match your enthusiasm to his; he may have put far more effort into achieving his goal than you even realize, and a child whose efforts have been recognized is more likely to tackle tough challenges in the future.
The more your son struggles in school, the more important it is that he experience success outside of school. For many boys, taking the focus off academics and putting it back on living and learning is the key to rekindling their curiosity, motivation and confidence.
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Jennifer L.W. Fink, Contributor
Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is the founder of BuildingBoys.net and a writer specializing in hea… Read moreJennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is the founder of BuildingBoys.net and a writer specializing in health, education and parenting. She’s also the mother of four boys. Jennifer’s articles about boys have appeared in The Washington Post, Parents magazine, Parade magazine and FOX News. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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