By Mairead Leong
One of the most perplexing conundrums facing parents is the difference between supporting and pressuring our students. The two seem confusingly similar. If we pressure our students because we care, is that not support? The true difference lies in the undertones. Pressure is saying, “I expect you to succeed at all costs,” whereas support is saying, “I expect you to succeed because I know you can and I’m here to back you up.”
Putting It Into Action
The support/pressure dichotomy is never more visible than near the end of a large project or deadline. While seven thousand repetitions of, “You need to do that report! NOW!” may be seven thousand repetitions of a completely true statement, the endless barrage will make the student feel pressured. In turn, the nagging often triggers the student to become even less motivated. Rather than nagging or pressuring your student, work with them. Plan out a series of steps and figure out which steps you can or should help with. Eventually, this step by step method of problem solving becomes second nature to most adults, but few of us develop it before leaving school. By helping your student plan and know when to ask for help, you allow them to let you know when and how to support them.
1) Identify the problem
Sit down with your student and outline the problem and, if applicable, its causes. For example, a giant research paper has no causes. However, if the problem is that your student is constantly feeling overwhelmed by huge numbers of research papers, it is worth discussing whether this is due to lack of early planning and time management or whether the situation is due too much work.
2) Identify the optimal achievable solution
What is the end goal? For a research paper, the end goal is a completed, polished paper. For a time management problem, the goal is sticking to a reasonable schedule that will allow the student to climb out from under the pile of overdue work.
3) Brainstorm a series of reasonable, achievable steps to reach the solution and determine a timeline for these events
For a research paper, this will involve finding a topic, developing a thesis, developing a list of research questions, going to the library, finding sources, and so on. Note that “research and write paper” is not a step. “Complete research questions 1-10 and document sources” is a step, followed by “draft paragraphs 1 & 2 using sources; have Mom look over paragraphs to determine clarity.” Detail is important, as are small goals. Setting up goals that allow the student to check off one box every day gives the student a sense of progress, which motivates them to keep working.
4) Determine which steps will require help
Repeat after me: “Help” does not mean “do it for them.” Your child is intelligent and capable. S/he can, should, and must do the work for him/herself. You can, however, help. Sign yourself up to drive to and from the library, to host group meetings at your house, to read through the finished paper as a final edit, and to praise your student’s progress. Do not sign yourself up to answer absolutely every question; make your student do some research for her/himself first. Do not re-write the paper for your student; offer comments at the end of the paper rather than shredding it line by line. Most importantly, fight the urge to do the project for the student. While labor intensive and somewhat difficult at first, helping your student learn how to solve her/his own problems and learn when to ask for help is a critical development in the learning process. Above all, make sure your student understands that you want to help, not hound him/her. Students often fail to thank those who teach them how to think and plan, but that knowledge is one of the greatest gifts they will ever receive. – Mairead Leong is a Principal Educator with MindLaunch