Let them fail vs. Snowplow Parenting – Is there a middle ground?
Schools have secret labels for parents and they often aren’t flattering. Helicopter, Snow Plow, Magic Bullet to name a few. Former Stanford Freshman Dean, Julie Lythcott-Haims in her book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.” (Mike Johnson) tells us how freshman recruits lack independence; for instance – incapable of doing laundry. Perhaps this is a self-created problem as who has time to learn laundry details when you are building a resume for admission to Stanford-but I digress. She raises the important issue of how much is the right amount for parents to intervene. To be fair, it’s hard to watch your child struggle with everything from managing materials and time, preparing for tests or dealing with a peer conflict. It’s tempting to want to swoop in to rescue the little ones from heartache and struggle, after all we are their parents!
Struggling Students: When to Intervene
Knowing when and how to intervene can be tricky. A good place to start is whether what the student is doing represents a lack of a skill for the task or a behavior to avoid the task. I view a skill as an activity one can do competently, especially under stress. A behavior is a choice of how we act.
Just as a doctor treats a bacterial infection with antibiotics and a virus with rest and fluids, we also have to determine why the student isn’t performing. When we see a student failing or struggling, determining which is in play drives effective intervention. If a student has not been taught specifically how to do something (filing, forecasting or building a study tool) direct instruction can be effective. If a student has been taught what to do and they are not doing it – this is a behavior.
Developing Good Study Habits
When students are practicing good habits, skills develop. When a student avoids practicing good habits, specifically those that have been taught, the opposite occurs and good skills are not being developed. Avoiding difficult tasks, especially when new is common. Also known as “task avoidance” may require more structure and positive reinforcement to engage the student to practice. This is where an Academic Coach can be helpful. Developing new and sometimes difficult skills coupled with the distractions of social, sports and media and the Middle School brain can send a parent over the edge.
There is hope. Requiring the practice of good habits to build good skills is how we all improve across domains – sports, academics, the arts. With practice, habits become consistent. Consistent habits build proficiency. Proficiency and skills drive academic success while providing framework for adjustments.
Stay strong if you are getting push back on requiring the practice of good skills. Reinforcing or offering a carrot helps as we are all motivated by our incremental success. There is a middle ground between “letting them fail” and “doing it for them”. It’s requiring the practice of good habits.