In a time when we are seeing an all time high in rates of anxiety and depression among adolescents and teens, what can you do to help make the school year less stressful? It’s important to recognize that there is more to a well adjusted student than just high marks and achievements. Yet in a system that seems to be focused on high test scores, celebrates publicly students who make the honor roll and social media splashing “perfect” promposals, how do you let your child know that they matter too?
Don’t get me wrong. Academic achievement is great and those students who earn all A’s absolutely deserve recognition. But it’s important that your children know they are more than just a letter grade and your grade point average does not determine your value as a human being. Focusing on the following 4 tips can help you do just that.
Teach your students to have a Positive & Growth mindset Studies have shown that it’s not just your IQ that affect your cognitive performance. Believing you are capable and that you can do it will actually set the stage for you to do your best. So when your kids are saying things like “I am so nervous for my test tomorrow” or “it’s so hard, I just can’t do it” encourage them to change that inner critic. Teach them instead to tell themselves “I’ve got this” and “I have prepared as best I can and whatever grade I get, it is good enough. You can also foster a growth mindset by watching how you praise your children. Instead of saying “you’re so smart” when they bring home test and homework scores, say things like “look how your hard work paid off. I am so proud of your efforts”. This teaches your children that if the take the time to study and problem solve, they can feel good about themselves regardless of the grade.
Focus on Strengths not Weaknesses For some reason we as humans tend to easily latch on to the things that are more negative in our lives than the positive. If someone pays us a compliment we smile and say thank you and the moment is over. But if someone criticizes us, we ruminate about it for days! Likewise, if your students is struggling with a subject or an assignment, it is not uncommon to hear things like “I am terrible at this, I can’t do anything right”! Help them to recognize this generalized catastrophe thinking and point out that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and by focusing on our strengths we can foster better self esteem. You can let them know that there are those few people who learn things very easily and seem to excel in every subject, but they are the exception and not the norm. Everyone has different styles of learning and most students have one or two subjects where they really excel. Have them recognize their strengths in those areas and encourage them to explore how they might consider ways they could build a career around those skills. After all, if we pursue a career in something we are passionate about and that plays to our strengths, we are far more likely to be fulfilled and satisfied adults. Just like there’s more to students than grades, there is more to life than just a high salary. Start setting the pattern now for your children to focus on what they enjoy, what their strengths are and give them permission to recognize that ALL kinds of skills are valuable skills!
Avoid Comparison Comparing ourselves to other people is a trap we all fall into from time to time, and it is a game where you will never be the winner. In our minds, there will ALWAYS be somebody smarter, richer, prettier than us, the list goes on and on. Here’s the thing, there is NO NEED for us to compare. There is enough room in this wide vast world of ours for us all to flourish! And often times when students are comparing themselves to their classmates, they tend to be looking at their (perceived) weaker areas or flaws and holding them up at someone else’s (perceived) “best self”. Help your children recognize that they are living their own life, not the life of their friend or classmate and that THEY have special gifts and talents that are just theirs. It’s important too that your student knows WHATEVER those gifts are, they are valuable! The student who gets straight A’s is not necessarily smarter and their skills are definitely not more important. The world is full of all kinds of learners; dancers, engineers, authors, plumbers, and ALL of those skills are needed by society. So help your child to figure out what they are good at and encourage them to take pride in who they are as individuals.
Let students know that Failure is Normal and Acceptable I think we do an extreme disservice to our children by placing such an emphasis on getting the A, being the best, and pacifying them when something doesn’t go their way. And this is not a shaming session! I was a huge offender of this! But failure and mistakes are NORMAL parts of life and if we don’t create the space for it to happen we are grooming perfectionists who will struggle with anxiety in their adult lives and won’t have skills for dealing with disappointment. In addition, students who are afraid to fail will not learn to take risks, and taking risks is necessary for growth and innovation. So next time your student brings bombs a project, struggles with an assignment, or isn’t voted on to homecoming court, instead of doing everything you can to instantly make them feel better, help them identify their feelings and let them know that even though they are sad and disappointed right now, it will pass and they will be OK. This teaches our children that ALL emotions are normal and healthy and it teaches resilience! Raising a resilient, emotionally intelligent child is a huge gift! And that my friends is far more important and will carry them further in life than ANY letter grade!