Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Something's on my mind and it's completely not fashion related.  I'm a Mom, and as all Moms know, when the kids are not happy they're not happy, so I can hardly think about anything glamorous right now.

Some things just doesn't make sense to me. At my age, what I know for sure (a la Oprah) is that in the end, SELF ESTEEM is the most important thing you can give a child for success. And yet the school system employs the same cookie cutter competitive, high pressure system they've been using for years with absolutely no customization for the inifinite differences in all our children.

So what do we do? We automatically assume something is wrong with our children because they can't sit still, memorize a spelling list, learn a new language, grasp a math problem...I mean can YOU do all that? We all have the capacity to learn, but everyone's brain is different. A principal of a school for over 30 years once said this: "What I've seen in my experience is that how a student does in school has nothing to do with how successful they become in life."  But how you feel about yourself (do you like yourself? accept your imperfections? believe in yourself? know you are good enough?) will most certainly impact how successful you will be.

So, here's why I'm upset:  My daughter is an amazing, high energy, quick thinking, impulsive, fun loving girl who simply does not want to focus on one subject for too long. She's perfectly happy to put in the minimal effort and just get by because it's easier and...well, why not? But the school is concerned. So they recommended we hire a tutor to help her with personal attention and homework. And I thought that was great! Until she came home crying that she hates her tutor; that she yelled at her and made her feel rotten.

I'm seriously not here to place blame on anyone, but I do want to put a few questions out there. Why do schools feel the need to be so competitive, difficult and high pressured? Why do the parents demand these qualities in the schools when in the end they may be putting their own children into impossibly challenging situations? What would be so bad if they learned a drop less at a slightly slower pace and in an environment of fun challenges and less competition? Why don't schools focus on building a child's sense of self worth by treating each child individually and making each child feel like a star with unlimited potential, despite any difficulty they may have. Why can't we focus more on building self esteem rather than breaking it down with too much pressure?

As a blogger I've learned that when it comes to feeling successful it never feels like it's enough. What seems successful from an outside perspective doesn't really feel that way when you're in it. So, I've discovered, the key to not getting discouraged or trying to outrace the world on my own endless treadmill, is to simply get off and be happy with where I am right now. And that doesn't mean giving up. When you stop and say, "Hey I'm doing OK...the best I can for today," then you will have the motivation to continue to do your work with confidence. And this is what we need to do with our children. Ease the pressure a bit and say, "I'm on your team, you're OK, just do the best you can because you are a fabulous person, even if some things in school are difficult for you."

And that's exactly what I did.


P.S. If you have any tips on motivating a fun loving child to understand that school work is important and effort and hard work are not optional and can be rewarding, please do share!

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  1. :( It is hard for kids to understand how much effort and hard work are really truly important ingredients in living a happy, successful life. They do not have any idea how much courage and energy go into mothering, marriage and business relationships. Hopefully, if we practice and give things our best shot in our younger years, transitioning into more difficult situations and coping with them later in life will be easier. Of course kids don't understand that :) But YOU do, and you can empower! I don't have much experience with bigger kids, but I recommend getting a tutor who is a role model and someone who has achieved real success in her life. Choose someone who has overcome obstacles, is relatable, understands the value of diligence and commitment, and who can be somewhat of a big sister. This was a big help for me when I was in high school. Best of luck!

  2. Hi Sharon, this post is quite thought-provoking, not least because my son has the attention span of a fruit fly and will only do the absolute minimum - if that and whilst he's very artistic, he does struggle a little on the academic side...

    The problem is that schools are set a curriculum (and I'm speaking about UK schools here) which they have to fulfill and with 30 odd kids in a class, the poor teacher trying to just be heard doesn't have the time to look after and encourage each individual child. Sad yes, but true and it's the system's fault not the teacher's I believe.

    There had been a "movement" here for a while about discourageing competitiveness and treating each child like they're stars. Whilst I think that children need encouragement, I also believe that they need to learn to deal with criticism. We are raising a generation of children who all think they're potential stars/top business people/rocket scientists and are terribly disappointed when that doesn't happen. After all, they've been told from young age how incredibly great they are... All the while universities here are complaining that all the pupils with their A and A* grades can't even read or do basic maths properly...

    This is not meant as a criticism to your post btw, I think you have a very valid point and no teacher/tutor should make a child feel bad. School isn't the be and end all, but unfortunately - no matter how rubbish the methods - it still gives at least a little basic knowledge in the core subjects...

    I hope you don't take this the wrong way, it's a very interesting post. Sorry for taking up so much space here ;-) Love from London xo

  3. Sharon, I totally hear you loud and clear. I don't have much experience with the school system with my kids but I think that schools are VERY slow in adapting change. I know in my neighborhood, new schools are opening up every day to cater to children who are not cookie-cutter. I wouldn't pressure your daughter too much, I think it will have the opposite results that you would want. Instead maybe try personalizing your relationship with the teachers a bit more, it's still early in the year, perhaps they can tweak your daughters studying responsibilities a bit. You know your child best, encourage her to do what she is capable of, but what she can't seem to manage, just leave alone. I wasnt a straight A student it matters now;)
    Good luck!
    p.s. whats the deal with that tutor, she sounds awful!

  4. I agree with Chanale. (i'm her mother!) i will tell you this - the point she makes about personalizing your relaitionship with the teachers/principal is a good idea. It worked for me. The 'educators' feel better towards your child when they feel you're working with them. Always make sure they know you're on their side. (make sure your daughter knows you're on HER side too. Tricky to be a mom!)
    Meanwhile try to get the right tutor for your child. Being prepared for school is of utmost importance. and the rest is only love love love.

  5. My older brother pretty much looked out the window for all of elementary school, but when he got to high school he became to taken with the interesting subjects so then he began to excel. So when I was in elementary school and didn't do my homework so regularly, my mother wasn't concerned.

    Funny story: when I was in high school, I had this mind-boggingly boring math teacher. Her voice just put me to sleep. So she called my parents and they revoked my TV privileges. I told them that I was fine, that I was practicing on my own time with the Regents books, but they didn't believe me. I practiced math during recess, lunch, all the time. I got a 99. But the teacher was no help.

    Just tell your daughter that she has no other responsibilities other than trying at school. And if you know she's a bright girl, she will became interested soon. But don't let the school terrorize you; as my mother said, "I pay the tuition!"

  6. Hi Sharon,
    Your daughter sounds like me, and school was an unmitigated nightmare from start to finish. Only as an adult was I diagnosed with ADD (in school I was called an "underachiever"). That may not be her problem, but please work hard to find creative solutions for her. Good luck.

  7. i understand where your coming from I am a mother and my daughter is 7 and very hyper. I think mothers do know whats best for their own children so keep doing what your doing and everything will be fine.

  8. Hugs! I think you would like listening to Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein (whose only A ever was the one his teacher wrote in his surname)for chizuk. My Son who is a Tzaddik loved by all his teachers since pre K and who NEVER had issues has come across a teacher bully (even with a 100% GPA) who yells and kicks all kids out for shooing a bug ,or asking a question,sneezing!! I LOL...or cry from frustration! He was starting to lose his "happy spark" and looking gloom.... Talking to leadership was no use since schools stand behind their own staff (sigh) and seem to think ALL kids are (lazy or chutzpanim)so I had a talk with him and gave him tips to build him up...
    on how to cope with crazy bully and over demanding/unreasonable people.

    Tell your daughter and mean it that Hashem does not "grade " us like BY or Cheder! I HATE how the system labels and values children based on "performance" of stuff that is not even relevant to most girls. The system needs a reality check when even gifted kids are getting picked on! Keep empowering her into thinking how she is more than her grades!

  9. What a wonderful Mom you are Sharon to recognize that not all children are created equal and realizing that self-esteem comes first and foremost. My advise is to check to make sure there isn’t a real problem like eyesight and hearing you would be surprise what children will hide for one reason or another. The next would be to change her tutor, if your daughter doesn’t like her tutor and that person has made her feel bad for any reason that person just lost your child as someone who will trust them. You didn’t say how old your daughter is but I’m guessing this is something normal for her age group. So be patient, give her plenty of love but let her know this is her job for right now the rest will follow. And for the record I think schools stay to long on one subject you only have an adults attention for 20 minutes at a time and we expect a kid to sit for an hour.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and I wish you the best!

  10. I feel your pain. Some teachers know just how to build children up the right way, capture their interest, and spark their curiosity, and some teachers, well, they just don't have that gear. Your child is perceptive and knows the difference.

    Your daughter sounds a little like my son last year when he was 8. Due to a combination of his lack of relative maturity (he's one of the youngest in the class) and a teacher whose style didn't mix well with him (nor us, really, but we tried not to say much about that), he didn't perform as well as he could in language arts and wrote as little as possible. In short, he really didn't care what she thought, he didn't respect her, and he wasn't motivated to perform for her. In less than 6 months (new teacher!), he's a totally different kid and is a lot more self motivated and productive. He does his homework right away without my asking, organizes his work nicely, and I'm seeing a huge improvement in his writing skils (and longer paragraphs!).

    I think maturity is just something that has to happen on its own and no grownup can push it. Children can only be on their own timetable.

    It's also very hard for kids to sit there and pay attention when it is so boring. I tell my son all the time how hard a time mommy has with paying attention in all those boring meetings, but I still have to because it's my job, and school is his job. I've even gone so far as suggesting which classes/times of the day are fine to "space out" and which classes he just can't do that or he'll miss too much.

    You are absolutely right about self esteem. It is infinitely more important to have a child that is happy and healthy than absolutely anything else. Tonight my husband accused me of being a "matzo mom" (the Jewish version of "Tiger mom"; isn't that funny?) because I was (intensively) studying math with my son for a test. My hubby had a good point - my son was getting frustrated (even teary). I was frustrated he wasn't listening to us on how to do the math problem the right way (he can be a little stubborn, but isn't it a bit of a relief to have a kid who doesn't just do what everyone says all the time?). I finally took his hand and told him that, yes, this is really challenging, but he will get this and we are just trying to help him get this right on the test. He wiped his eyes and I think he was fine after that.

    Oh, and yes, there's no way to think (or write) about anything else (even fashion) when our kids hurt. My mom always said "When you hurt, I hurt." I had no idea until I became a mom. Your daughter will hit her stride when she's ready (and I agree a good tutor she likes might help). Hang in there!

  11. I completely agree with you about the school system. And your child's tutor should have never made her feel that way. Patience is what the school system needs as well as their teachers and tutors. Perhaps a different tutor who will support and encourage your child and make learning fun will help.

  12. I think your daughter is going to grow up to be a secure woman if you keep it up with that kind of support!

  13. Hi There,
    This sure is a great topic to start-up. Very informative reading your post and the comments given. My kids are still too young so I don't have experience or advice to give. I do think it is important kids learn that it takes hard work to get to places. I wonder if there are certain topics that peaks her interest. If she is doing great in those areas I would say with a little help you can get her through areas she doesn't care for. Clicking with the tutor is the key as well so would think changing tutors is in order. Someone younger like a college student that she can relate to might be a better fit.
    I hope you find a solution and please keep us posted as I am very interested in case I run into the same problem with my daughter. My son I already can see will do just fine.
    Thanks for visiting my blog while I was on vacation by the way.

  14. Sharon,
    First of all...wrong tutor! How awful! Teachers you are stuck with and they have many students to deal with at one time...tutors are paid for one-on-one time and if he/she can't communicate properly and be a safe zone for your daughter to be able to ask questions, not feel dumb, doubt herself, etc...keep looking until you find the right match for YOUR child. We had many tutors over the years for our kids...being in a top school district with the demands being set high, we felt we had to hire extra help in order to help our kids feel they weren't drowning.
    Our daughter was an exceptional student and still needed tutors occasionally in certain subjects; and some teachers simply don't teach. Our son was fine doing the minimum in certain subjects that either didn't interest him or if he didn't respect the teacher. He said from the time he was little that he was 'stupid' compared to his friends, and he certainly is not...he's a brilliantly deep philosophical thinker and an artistic genius (if I don't say so myself). The fact that he didn't excel at minutia does not matter.
    We only had two basic rules in our household for the kids...they had to try their hardest at school, and they had to be respectful.
    For our son, that meant sometimes he got a C in certain classes, but that was OK as long as he got A's and B's in classes we knew he could.
    For both of them, they were so busy in sports and activities that I feel their self esteem was balanced throughout other venues than just academics.
    Is your daughter involved in other self-esteem building activities? Sometimes that can help her keep some perspective and make her see her self worth...knowing that she has other talents.
    You're right to keep a baseline expectation of working hard and more importantly, doing HER best, in school even if she hates the class or the teacher...after all, learning to navigate those things is part of the whole learning process. The grade isn't always the most important she tried and how she managed a difficult subject or teacher is more important to her self esteem than the grade.

    Good luck to you and your daughter. She will certainly get through this and she has your support which I guarantee means the WORLD to her!


  15. My 15 year old son had a bad case of ants in his pants. I was very, very lucky to be in one of the few Jewish day schools that took an open minded approach to each student. He always rushed through his homework, did well in subjects he liked but not in subjects he did not like and spent a lot of time wandering around the school.

    Middle school was tough because expectations for his behavior and work were higher. I think the thing that was the most important to him surviving and not being medicated was the fact that My husband and I were engaged in a conversation with the school.

    High School has been so much better. While he is not the kind of student who will end up at Harvard he is doing much better although he still does better in subjects he really enjoys. We also have been encouraging him to consider careers that will accommodate his creative way of doing things. We know that he will never have the kind of job that requires him to sit at a desk all day!

    My 11 year old and 9 year old are also not natural students, though to a lesser extent than their brother. They also rush through their work, tend to do better in subjects they are interested in and talk too much in class. Having had the benefit of having a similar experience with my son I am way more relaxed because I know that maturity will help more than anything.

    That does not mean that time will cure everything. I spend a lot of time explaining to the kids why it's important to follow the instructions and take your time with school work. I will point out examples of this whenever I find them. Recently while we were watching Cupcake Wars I pointed out that the woman who won had won because she had followed all of the rules and the suggestions of the judges!

    I also make sure to let them know when they have done what was expected and point out the positive result of this.

    As far as praising I am very careful not to over praise. Even a 3 year old knows that their pictures are not perfect and beautiful but they do know that they drew flowers and used a lot of purple. I tend to say things such as I see you used a lot of purple in your drawing instead of you are such an amazing artist and your picture is so beautiful when commenting on their work. I am also not afraid to point out to them that their work is a little bit sloppy because they are well aware of the fact that is is. I do however make sure to say it with a very light tone. You might want to check out this link on an interesting study on praising children.

    By the way, I think you are headed in the right direction because you are able to see many of the so called problamatic qualities as positive qualities.

  16. I just read this over Shabbos, and I thought it would be helpful: