WHY IS YOUR CHILD MAKING THIS DIFFICULT?
Johnny was a good boy, but would rather be outside playing than doing homework. He would push the limits as far as he could, sometimes winning when his mother didn’t have the energy to re-direct him. But that’s exactly what he needed: guidance, boundaries and a re-direct.
Justin though, would up the ante as far as he could when it came to homework, throwing major tantrums at every opportunity. The more his parents tried to guide and direct him, the worse he got. This is because he was in fight-or-flight.
Knowing what kind of child you have is very important. Depending on what the child is up to, your approach to working with this resistance would be very, very different. So, how do you know whether to press your child into cooperation, or work instead to reduce the flight or flight so that once they’re in a calm state, they can be more productive?
You have got to look very deep in your heart, and very deep into your child’s heart to know the difference between a child who is acting spoiled and unruly (and who therefore needs to be told to behave better) versus a child who is so ridiculously stressed out that pressing them to “behave better” could lead to a destructive power struggle that undermines their self-esteem and self-worth.
If only our kids came with instruction manuals! Here’s how to determine what kind of kid you have, and what to do:
1. With guidance, when pressed to behave more productively, is your child more cooperative, more contained, and likely to get absorbed by their work? If so, keep taking the exhausting time to guide, sit with your child, reward and deliver consequences if they try to sneak out of it. Your child needs clear parameters and dedicated attention.
2. Does your child up against the ante on screaming and throwing things? Is their anger escalating? Are consequences ineffective? If so, then they are in fight-or-flight. In this case, less guidance is indicated. Instead, care more about the child and less about achievement. Because this is what will build a good connection with them. This is what results in building grit and helping your child get calm, which is when they do better. The homework, in this case, truly doesn’t matter.
It is really important to note that some children are really not meant for traditional public education. Perhaps they are more into social interaction and not into memorizing. For these children, the traditional school systems where they’re expected to take in information will be very difficult. Parents have to tell their kids there are 7 different kinds of intelligence (John Gardner.) Memorizing is just one. Just because you don’t do well in school doesn’t mean you won’t achieve later.
In fact, I know many kids who did very poorly in school (Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg) but when their parents reassured them that they had other kinds of intelligence and other strengths, the kids did really well in the real world.
Dr. Claudia Luiz is the author of the two books "The Making of a Psychoanalyst" and “Where’s My Sanity? Stories that Help” which was just written up in New Books in Psychoanalysis as “an everyman’s tour de force that’s poised to create a seismic shift in the cultural consciousness.” (Newbooksinpsychoanalysis.com)
Claudia Sheftel Luiz, PsyaD, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, EdM, Harvard University, has been a psychoanalyst in private practice since 1987. She has been featured on WCVB TV’s Chronicle and other news shows and quoted in the Boston Globe and other local media. Her awards include first-place winner of the 2006 Phyllis W. Meadow Award for Excellence in Psychoanalytic Writing and first-place winner of the 2008 Writer’s Digest's Best Writer award.
Dr. Luiz’s clinical consulting experience includes a wide range of social service agencies in New England, including: The T. Berry Brazelton Child Study Unit at Children’s Hospital, The Boston Latin School, The Office for Children, The Department of Social Services, The Wes-Ros Park Mental Health Center, Family Connections of Roslindale, Warmlines, Metropolitan State Hospital; and others. Dr. Luiz has been a speaker at The Boston Center for Adult Education, The Boston College Center for Corporate Education, The Boston Learning Society, Brookline Adult and Community Education, The Berklee School of Music, The Brookline Adult and Community Education Center, The Boston Center for Adult Education, The Boston Learning Society, and New Beginnings, in addition to speaking at many other non-profit events.
Dr. Luiz lives in Tarrytown, NY, where she continues to discover new paths to greater sanity.