A hypothetical question about an acorn that fell not far from its tree

by DaniGirl on November 9, 2011 · 14 comments

in Mothering without a licence

So let’s imagine a hypothetical boy. He’s plenty bright, and gets reasonable marks in school. He’s a little scatterbrained, though, and a bit of a daydreamer. It’s quite possible that he has the same inability of his hypothetical mother to hold a thought in his head, except for when he’s exhibiting her other hypothetical tendency to obsess on things.

So our boy has just brought home his report card, which shows he’s doing well academically, but has for the first time been graded with a couple of “needs improvement” in some behavioural categories: responsibility and self-regulation. The hypothetical teacher has made observations along the lines of “difficulty assuming responsibility for and managing his own behaviour” and “he is encouraged to approach learning with a positive attitude” and “requires some reminders to fulfill classroom responsibilities and commitments.”

If he was having (hypothetical) trouble with academics, I would know what to do. Devote more time to study, help him, even hire a tutor. But what do you do with a child who can do the work, but only works hard enough to do the bare minimum required? How do you motivate a child to govern his own behaviour when you have to stand over him and nag to make sure the bare minimum gets done? And how the heck do you correct a behavioural problem that you yourself suffered through most of your own (hypothetical) academic career?

The hypothetical teacher and I will meet to discuss, but I’m thinking this problem may be inherent to a lot of boys. How do you work on focus and motivation and initiative? When learning comes easy, how do you get kids to put in more than the minimum effort required?

Any tips from the trenches on this one?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sally November 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm

We have an initiative jar. They earn a token anytime I “catch” them doing something that needs to be done BEFORE I ask them to do it. When the jar is full they’ll get an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins. It’s a family effort, and everyone earns different colored tokens, so you can see who has earned the most. My scatter-brained husband hasn’t earned very many tokens yet, and the little boys are figuring out what it means to show initiative, and are getting a bit competitive about it. I don’t know if it’s possible to change their innate personal styles, but at least we can try!

2 DaniGirl November 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Hmm, interesting idea Sally! I think one of my problems, though, is that the hypothetical boy in question is already too cognizant of rewards – he’s a bit of a praise junkie (again, no idea where it comes from!) and I’m trying to find a way to make him work because he has to, not for a reward.

Having said that, the competitive thing could really work in my advantage. Hmmm….

3 coffeewithjulie November 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Meh. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. I’d go to the meeting since it’s already booked and ask the teacher for his/her suggestions and advice, then I’d ask how his behaviour is having an impact on the class or him/her. If it seems like a large enough impact, then I’d explain those specifics to your bright, albeit hypothetical, child and why his behaviour at school might need some modification but emphasize that at home would be free to daydream and clown around.

4 Kerry November 9, 2011 at 5:45 pm

I totally giggled when I read this because you are the hardest person to motivate when you’re disinterested in doing a piece of work. And you’re getting paid for it. So, why would you think that a kid who isn’t getting paid for it would be any different? If there are consequences to his lack of self-regulation, then he’s going to have to experience them and figure out if it’s worth it to change. I wouldn’t stress this one.

5 Sara in Montreal November 9, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I’d take those advices for myself as well. And for this hypotethical daughter of mine who has been said so many times to ‘be exactly like her mom’, behavior wise.

If all those hypothetical individuals are just a bit like me, it might get better once we get through november.

Pssit: you survived right? And you did ok. So did I. Our hypothetical children will do to, they’ll learn just like we did. Since then, we’ll just get to repeat too often to get the job done. To them, and still to us.

6 DaniGirl November 10, 2011 at 7:43 am

Kerry, I know – it’s a total “do as I say, not as I do” moment!

Thanks everyone, I’m glad that it’s not just us, and perhaps this isn’t the issue to get my knickers in a twist over…

7 Rebecca November 10, 2011 at 8:13 am

Sounds like my older son. He had the same issues in elementary school. Things didn’t get better for him tho, until 5th grade, when I noticed, while researching strategies and solutions, that he had a lot of the qualities of a child with Inattentive-Type ADD. Now I realize a LOT of people roll their eyes at an ADD or ADHD diagnosis as it’s been over diagnosed for YEARS… but for a child who genuinely has these problems, the diagnosis changed his life. Yes, we did end up doing meds (based on true medical evaluation of the workings of his unique brain), but the turning point was strategies.

These strategies work wonderfully for children without ADD as well. I’ve already implemented some for my younger – non-ADD affected – son. A chalkboard on the wall he changes nightly to list his morning/after school routine that he marks off as he goes along, reminders on notebooks, notes to self, secret code words from the teachers to help refocus when he’s drifting… these things bring him back where he needs to be, and generally make him responsible for ensuring he’s doing what he needs to do, when he needs to do them.

Personal responsibility is key, but some kids need a little bit more direction in learning how to focus on those things that maybe aren’t so interesting. It’s very common, and not something to stress too much over. BUT — your hypothetical mother is being a good mom by working it out before it becomes a real problem. šŸ™‚

8 Mary V. November 10, 2011 at 9:24 am

Oh – report card time! I think it creates more anxiety for us parents than the kids. Because let’s face it – we all want a glowing report in every category…

I’m sure you’ll find the meeting with the teacher reassuring. I’ve always found my kids’ teachers have lots of tips and suggestions for helping with whatever needs improving. (And I kind of remind myself that this the point of report cards anyway – to let us know what needs improvement vs. creating parental anxiety.)

You wondered if this can be an inherent boy thing. My take on parenting books is flip through and take it or leave it in terms of the advice. But… I would put the plug in for checking out ‘Boy Smarts’ (available at the library). It was recommended by my son’s speech therapist when he was in JK. It’s got lots of great tips for helping busy boys stay focused on the task at hand.

P.S. Also, the fact that

9 Marianne November 10, 2011 at 9:34 am

I don’t think you should get your knickers completely in a twist about this, but I DO believe you should address it.

First, let’s understand the “needs improvement” terminology. If you map it onto the rubric teachers use, “Needs improvement” should more correctly be a “D”, or essentially a failing grade in that skill (I would argue that the “satisfactory” (a “C” should be called needs improvement and a stronger word used for the “D” level). “Needs improvement” should be a strong message from the teacher to the family that learning skills needed for best success in school are lacking. If your kid has a “D” in English or Math you would worry. You should also worry when they have a “Needs Improvement” i nthe learning skills.

That being said, kids are kids and everybody has their own personality. Teachers don’t expect miracles. Just support from families to help their children develop in areas of weakness.

I’d defintiely meet with the teacher and share as much information as you can about what makes your son tick and what works best for you in redirecting him or keeping him on task.

I’d talk with your son twice. Once to talk about the report card and what it says, ask him how he feels about it, how he feels about his behaviour in class, what helps him on his good days, etc. See what you can find out from him that might be good feedback to the teacher. You may or may not get asnwers from him, depending on how self-aware he already is, but it’s important to work on it. Let him know you’re concerned, but not angry. He probably is already well aware that he needs to work on these thiings (when I’ve conferenced in the past with my grade 2 and 3 students about their report cards before they go home, the ones who need to work on staying on task for example arent’ surprised to hear it. They hear it from me every day.) Let him know you’re going to meet with the teacher and the grown ups are going to talk about ideas to help him work on those skills. Maybe you’ll get some feedback you can take back to the teacher.
After the meeting with the teacher, meet with your son again. Tell him what was discussed at the meeting, and set up 2 or 3 things that he is going to work on, and the strategies to help him. Ideas coudl include a “sit fit” seat cushion to help him stay seated calmer in his chair, stress balls to squeeze when he feels he needs to wiggle, a timer to hlep him stay focussed on his work (work until the timer is done, then he can take a walk for a drink and then go back to work), checklists of tasks or responsibilities, code word from the teacher to quietly re-focus him … whatever is most suitable for him and the classroom situation he’s in. Make sure he understands he’s not in trouble, that it’s just aprt fo learning. At school we learn more than just subjects, we also learn about how to learn and how to work, and you’re going to help him.

Sounds like I’ve just made a big deal out of what I said wasn’t a super big deal. It’s just important not to just shrug it off. Also, I want to make it clear here that I’m not ateacher who wants each of my kids to be model students, acting like little automatons with no personality. I understand kids will sometimes not pay attention, need redirection, etc. But kids who really struggle with those things need to develop strategies that work for them so that they can succeed as they get older and it gets harder to explain distarcted behaviour with just “oh he’s a kid”. And it’s SO IMPORTANT for parents to take the learning skills section fo the report card as seriously (or more so) that the rest of the thing.

10 Dani's Mom November 10, 2011 at 10:48 am

Perhaps he and other children like him are just bored – things come easier to them – they need a challenge over and above the regular grade work of other students in their class – perhaps an individual project that would interest them

11 Marianne November 10, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Came back to check for any other comments. Realised I wrote waaaayyy too much. Shodul have edited. Having writer’s remorse. Eeep! Will slink away quietly now.

12 DaniGirl November 10, 2011 at 8:57 pm

No no no, Marianne! You were one of the people I was hoping would read and reply, I so value your opinion as a teacher. Was great advice and very helpful! I’ve loved reading everyone’s responses… we all have different perspectives, and it’s great to share experiences.

(And eek, if anyone should self-edit around here, it’s me!!)


13 jennP November 11, 2011 at 4:32 am

My daughter is pretty close to top of the class grade wise. Her behaviour is good and teachers enjoy having her around. However, in the past years, i found she looked very disinterested and insisted school was boring every single day. She only did the strct minimum on her school work and why not? she would get good grades anyway! I was worried because i wanted her to thrive and be excited to go to school and learn! (she is now 9.5).
This year, at first i dreaded her having the teacher she had. This teacher had a reputation of being quite strict and demanding and perfectionist. Well it turned out this is the BEST year ever. My daughter is putting in SO MUCH EFFORT. She wants to please her teacher and she knows her teacher won’t accept the “minimum”. She respects her teacher and I think she appreciates being pushed beyond her limits. She is also involved in some activities that give her more responsibilities at lunch time.
I think it will change year after year with all kids. Sometimes they have a teacher who they connect with a bit more, and who will KNOW how to push our kids. Perhaps your son knows he can get by with the minimum. Especially if he is strong academically. Maybe if his teacher starts upping her expectations? or maybe next year he will get a teacher who he will *want* to work harder for?

14 Mary V. November 11, 2011 at 9:28 am

Marianne – thank you so, so much very sharing your insight as a teacher! Your tips and suggestions are great.

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