Is your kid working below his ability? We'll show you how to help him step it up a notch.
I always thought of my son, Eric, as a super-achiever. At 2, he delighted in spelling his name. By 5, he was reading aloud to his preschool classmates. And before his sixth birthday, he could count to 30 in French. It was clear he loved learning and took pride in each accomplishment. So when Eric started first grade last year, I was confident he'd continue to bring his A game. Instead, I got a big surprise at our parent-teacher conference. Eric isn't doing his best work in his daily journal, his teacher said, opening the notebook to page after page of one-sentence entries. He's capable of more. My heart sank. Writing, after all, is in Erics DNA! What had happened to my little wunderkind? Was he turning into a slacker?
It turns out that Eric's situation was typical for his age. Many 6- to-8-year-olds go through a phase of doing just so-so, whether it's in school or on the soccer field. They're still immature and may not realize the importance of trying their best either in school or in sports, says Ruth Peters, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Clearwater, Florida, and author of Overcoming Underachieving: A Simple Plan to Boost Your Kids' Grades and End Homework Hassles. The key is finding out what might be holding your child back. We've identified some of the likeliest factors and simple fixes for each.
He's Waiting to Be Rescued
When your son was a preschooler and got frustrated tying his shoes, did you swoop right in and do it for him? If so, he may have developed a learned helplessness' that he's carried into elementary school, says Peter A. Spevak, Ph.D., coauthor of Empowering Under-achievers: New Strategies to Guide Kids (8-18) to Personal Excellence. Now he's scared to try more difficult tasks on hisown - and he expects you or another grown-up to rush in and save him (or is testing to see if anyone will).
Promote independence by allowing him to struggle over solving a math problem or getting his own cup of water. If you continue to jump the second he asks for help, he'll give up too easily when the going gets tough, Dr. Spevak cautions. Step back and allow him to experience age-appropriate struggles. When he succeeds. he'll gain confidence that will help him be less dependent on you. Urge your kid to come to you if he doesn't understand a particular concept - and then explain it without actually doing the work for him. Children need to know that there's an expectation that they will achieve through their own efforts, says Dr. Spevak.