Parenting kids who struggle

15 March 2017

Parenting kids who struggle

  • Anxiety
by Michael Grose

One of the unwritten laws of family-life is that talent and ability is unevenly distributed between siblings.

In most families there is one child who seems to have more than his or her fair share of ability. Everything some kids turn their hands to – whether schoolwork, sport and socialising – is done successfully and effortlessly.

If you have such a child then there is a fair bet that you will also have a child who struggles in the same areas. For these children achieving success takes more effort and concentration than it does for their sibling.

Just as it is easy for parents to marvel at the talented child, it’s frustrating and, at times, heart-breaking to watch your child struggle to attain even mediocre levels of success at school, in their sport or leisure activities.

It’s harder still when you know that no matter how hard your child tries they just can’t be as successful as their sibling who gets all the glory and accolades from relatives and friends.

As a parent it’s important to be realistic about what each child can achieve so keep your expectations in line with their ability and maturity, and avoid making comparisons between siblings.

Here are some ideas to keep in mind if you are parenting a child where success, at school, sport and other common childhood activities, just doesn’t come naturally.

  1. Be your child’s cheerleader. Kids who have to work really hard to achieve need someone in their lives who is able boost their self-confidence, particularly when they are struggling. Make a fuss over small successes so they can puff up their chests every now and then. Increase the time they spend doing activities where they excel so these feelings of confidence expand. Learn about the art of real encouragement.
  2. Focus your comments on contribution, improvement and effort. It’s difficult praising kids when the results aren’t there but you can always focus your comments on their contribution to the team rather than kicking the winning goal, improvements shown in reading or the effort they are making at art.
  3. Remove or minimise sources of discouragement. While encouragement is a powerful confidence builder eradicating sources of discouragement in your child’s life is part of the encouragement process. Sibling comparisons, spoiling, criticising and using derogatory labels (You’re a dope!) are common discouragers to be avoided, even in jest.
  4. Remember that persistence pays. Children who persist learn an important life lesson – that is, success in most endeavours takes effort. Those kids who sail through their childhoods without raising a sweat can struggle when eventually they do have to work long and hard to succeed.
  5. Help kids identify their strengths. Kids are like niche marketers – they define themselves by their strengths. “I am a good reader,” “I’m sporty.” “I’m really good at art” are some of the labels kids will use. As they move into adolescence the number of options for success open up, so help them find one or two areas that they enjoy and can easily achieve success in.
  6. Don’t put kids on pedestals. It is difficult living in the shadow of a superstar so avoid making a huge fuss over the achievements of a particular child – it makes life difficult for those who follow. Recognise results but balance that by focusing equally on their efforts as well.
  7. Scaffold their way to success. Traditionally parents have always ways of making skill acquisition easy for kids. The busier we get though the more likely we are to neglect this vital part of parenting. Simplify tasks so that they learn bit by bit how to make a bed/prepare a meal/learn to read. Alternatively, spend time doing things together and move them from “You watch me” to “I’ll watch you.”

Raising kids who find life a breeze is easy. However parenting kids who take longer to mature, or kids that must put in 110 per cent effort to achieve is challenging for any parent.

Raising the family underdog requires parents to focus on kids’ strengths, be liberal with encouragement and have realistic but positive expectations for success. And, of course, never, ever give up or lose faith in them.

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Michael Grose

Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s an award-winning speaker and the author of 12 books for parents including Spoonfed Generation, and the bestselling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It. Michael is a former teacher with 15 years experience, and has 30 years experience in parenting education. He also holds a Master of Educational Studies from Monash University specialising in parenting education.