Avoid Learned Helplessness by Increasing Your Expectations

Learned HelplessnessExpectations are a funny thing, aren’t they? If your expectations are too challenging, you may be disappointed. If your expectations are not challenging enough, you may become stagnant. Same goes for the expectations you have for your kid and subsequent behaviors your kid exhibits.

We can think of expectations as a mountain: each step up the steep hill signifies a new increased challenge. Not all mountains are the same and everyone climbs at their own pace. Most climbers have spotters, ensuring that if the climber falls, they will be there to catch them.

Parents: you are those spotters. You’re ready to catch your child when they fall. But you also need to be your child’s coach, setting the bar high for challenges and encouraging your child to reach their greatest potential.

Consistency is the Key to Successful Change

As a provider who works with children exhibiting various behavior concerns and academic needs, my first step is to establish appropriate expectation levels tailored specifically for the struggling student. The institution of expectations extends to the family home as well because we know that if we provide consistent expectations to kids who are struggling in school we must also provide consistent expectations within their home life too. This is wraparound support, and this is what we need more of.

Children are able to self-regulate in an environment with clear, outlined expectations and follow-through. Where there are not clear expectations, however, the child is unable to manage their own behaviors because they are unsure of where the boundaries are. Simply, the expectations are not clear.

Parents, Don’t be Scared of Failure

Sometimes parents are hesitant to implement what is perceived as challenging expectations because they are scared that their child will not live up to those expected outcomes. I hear things like, “Issac isn’t good at math but I wasn’t good at math, so that’s okay” or “She just doesn’t like to eat dinner with the family, so I let her eat dinner in front of the tv because I don’t want to cause an argument.” These expectations, and responding behaviors, are not okay.

I understand a parent’s resistance towards change. Oftentimes, parents feel that if the expectations are too high they will set their kids up for failure and, in turn, have failed as a parent themselves. Don’t be scared of failure, Parents. Failure serves to help us identify what we need to improve upon. It’s not a bad thing, as long as you work to resolve the challenge.

For this reason, I always encourage parents to look at the issue with fresh eyes by explaining and then modeling greater expectations for their child. If you increase your expectations, that means you truly believe your child will rise to the occasion. I believe this truth for my students, and set the bar high. Don’t you think you should too?

Avoid Teaching Your Child Learned Helplessness

If you don’t have challenging expectations, you’re essentially teaching your child the concept of learned helplessness:

Learned helplessness is the belief that our own behavior does not influence what happens next, that is, behavior does not control outcomes or results. For example, when a student believes that she is in charge of the outcome, she may think, “If I study hard for this test, I’ll get a good grade.” On the contrary, a learned helpless student thinks, “No matter how hard I study for this test, I’ll always get a bad grade.” ~ The Psycho-Educational Teacher (Special Education) via Edutopia.org

The Standard You Set Will Be the Standard Your Child Attempts

The way we perceive our own abilities really does affect our success, and it starts with setting appropriate but challenging expectations for your child. Like anything we need balance, but if you think the task is too hard for your child to achieve, then it will be. The standard you set as a parent, will be the standard your child attempts to achieve.

Remember, your kids adore you. They love you. They want to meet the standards you set for them. They want to climb to the top of the mountain and see that well-deserved, amazing view. Let’s give them a chance to do so by expecting more and raising the bar for individual success.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

We Need A Home-First Approach

home first“Emily” is not from a broken home. She is not an abused child and has never suffered the loss of a parent. She’s a smart kid and has the IQ test to prove it, but she’s failing out of school. Her anger turned to apathy a couple of years ago when she realized how little work she actually had to do and still get passed along to the next grade. Now, almost done with high school she shows an inkling of interest in graduating but getting her to the diploma stage is going to take some serious work. Why did this happen? And why didn’t anyone catch it before it was almost too late?

The goal for my Struggling Students: To understand each area of their life because it has been proven, time and time again, that failing academics are really just a symptom that something else is wrong. No kid would willingly fail English if it wasn’t a cry for help. Naturally, the conversation turns to home life, as this is such a huge piece of the puzzle. Yet so many providers do not want to get their hands too dirty and, in fact, are prohibited from becoming too attached to the family. Yes, you must have boundaries. But no, you cannot fix an academic problem by simply addressing what goes in the classroom.

I get it. I really do. Serving the family is really, really hard! That’s precisely why I opted to attend law school instead of pursuing grad school and even avoided Family Law like the plague. Families are messy. But I couldn’t avoid it forever, especially in my line of work. As I’ve learned over the years, we cannot be afraid to get our hands dirty because that’s really the only way we can all come together to help that kid– to help an Emily.

When a child goes into the foster care system, they have a team of support care professionals assigned to their case who come together periodically and form what is affectionately known as a Wraparound service. It’s like a giant hug from all those who care about this kid: Therapists, Social Workers, Doctors, Lawyers, Foster Parents, and sometimes Teachers, CASA Volunteers (Court Appointed Special Advocates), and Guardian Ad Litems. This Wraparound model brings together an interdisciplinary approach to serve “the best interest of the child”. That got me thinking: Shouldn’t all of our child-centered services be of the wraparound nature?

Emily’s story is more common than you might think. There would have been countless Parent-Teacher Conferences, phone calls home, e-mails with the Principal Cc’d and Bcc’d, Student Success Team (SST) Meetings, and maybe a Request for a Referral for an Evaluation and followup Psycho-Educational Assessment to look for any special education needs or a polite suggestion to look into other local schools. It would be unlikely, however, any one of those administrators, teachers, or therapists would have walked into Emily’s home and had a coffee and chat with her parents at the dining room table. If they had they would have seen a couple divided on parenting styles (permissive v disciplinarian), a family without a clear set of expectations for their children (associated learned helplessness), or overworked parents who were so stressed about financially providing for their kids they forgot to build in time to spend with them.

All roads lead back home. Once we acknowledge that, we can build our services with a home-first approach.We can help parents learn how to reconnect with their kids, we can build community to let them know they are not alone,  and we can provide support by looking first at what’s going on inside those four walls.  Yes, as the parent the onus is on you. But do not feel as if you are alone on this journey. The more you acknowledge you need a little help, the more guidance others can provide without being afraid to get their hands dirty in those family dynamics.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder of Terry Tutors and Creator of the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com