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Have a Smart Kid Who Doesn’t Try Hard?

Welcome to Tea & Tips, where we respond to burning questions from parents and educators — taking aim on one topic at a time, guiding you to improve communication, confidence and calm.

Are you worried your child doesn’t try hard enough? Do you consistently hear from teachers about a child who is failing to reach their potential? Do you have a smart kid who is an under-achiever? If so, this video is for you.

Diane:
So I hear this a lot from parents and I remember it personally, your kid is just doing the bare minimum of the work. Or you know that they can do better, or you know that they can do more and it's just mind numbing. It's like, "Oh, come on. Really?"

Elaine:
Every report card says the same thing, right?

Diane:
So I think that the first thing that can be really helpful is to be really clear about whether it's your stuff or your kids' stuff. I know for me personally, I was a get it done kind of person and so I held the bar pretty high for myself and-

Elaine:
Expected your kids to do the same, right?

Diane:
Yeah. On some level I really kind of pushed them to be at a level that was higher than maybe what was realistic. So you really want to check that and see, because if it's not your kids' agenda to do well, if you don't have their buy in to do really well or to go above and beyond, it's not realistic that they will.

Elaine:
Well, and what I hear from parents a lot is, "Well, but they're not going to have a work ethic," right? Like they're not going to be able to work hard. What I've learned because I have one kid in particular who's very much like this, is that when it's important to him, he will work hard.

So what I had to learn was first of all, that when I can see that sometimes he does work hard, I know he's got that capacity and to trust that, right? But also to recognize what else is important to him. So I have a kid who's really ... What's important to him is to kind of be chill, right? He doesn't like to rush. He doesn't like to stress. It's not that he doesn't want to do well, but he thinks everybody kind of works too hard, and I can't disagree with him, and that's his value.

Diane:
Well, and that's the thing. A lot of us have high performance values and doing the right thing and maybe we're pleasers or maybe we're perfectionist, right? So our kids don't always have the same values. So we want to teach our kids to honor their own values, and not necessarily put our values on them.

Elaine:
Well, and just real quick on that, and what I figured out about this particular kid is that he kind of does have a value around efficiency. He likes to find the easiest path to get things done. He thinks that's kind of cool.

Diane:
That'll help him.

Elaine:
Which will serve him really well in the workplace. So if I can stop resisting it and start sort of using that natural propensity, I can help him figure out how to use it to be more successful in life and in school.

Diane:
Well, and the other piece of it is really kind of your mindset around it. Because if you look at your kid and you're like, "Oh my gosh, he's slacking off. He's never going to make it." We're catastrophizing again, right? But you need to be willing to consider that even though they're just getting by and they're just doing the bare minimum, that is not necessarily going to be like that for the rest of their life.

Elaine:
It may be that they're working harder to do that part than we realize. So what we want to look at is the progress. Are they better now or are they doing a little bit more than they were six months ago or a year ago? Because we want to look at the process, that progress, not perfection. Over the long haul, have you seen this kid demonstrate an interest? And an ability. Do you know that it's there? And that if you help them find what's important to them, that's what will really help them be successful.

Diane:
So if you’re worried because your kid doesn’t try hard, think in terms of progress not perfection. Make sure it's not your stuff. Be willing to consider that they're going to be fine. Really figure out how to honor their values if they don't have the same high values around that perfection and performance.

 

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