With only a few more weeks to go before the end of the school year, parents and kids are lagging. Just getting through March and April during social isolation was a slog. Many of my friends have told me that their kids are pushing back, asking questions like, “What’s the point of online education? What’s the point of even trying?”
While some days you might be tempted to agree with them, you also have the perspective as the grown-up in this situation of the importance of grades and being prepared for next year. So how do you address this pushback and help your child through to the finish line?
To get some insight, I reached out to my friend Joy O’Banion who was the director for 25 years at the Family Support and Treatment Center in Orem. She still works with families as a therapist and sees kids going through a whole range of trauma and difficulties.
The first thing she told me is that as adults we have the instinct to try to directly answer the question the child is asking. That’s what we would do if an adult asked. But oddly enough, this might not be the right approach with kids.
“The problem with answering their questions directly is that often they don’t really understand the answers that we’re trying to give them,” she says. This is true even of schoolwork. Depending the age of your child, they may not understand all the implications of good grades and the long-term impact they can have. Even teenagers, whose brains are still developing too, may not fully “get” it the way adults do.
On top of that, we may not know the answer to the question. “Sometimes, especially during this time, there aren’t answers. For example, when is this going to be over? When am I going to be able to see my friends? Those kinds of things we don’t know the answers to.”
So, when a child says, “What’s the point of doing school right now,” don’t try to address the concern head-on. Joy has three recommendations of what to try instead.
First, ask yourself, ‘What’s the message behind that question?’
See if you can look beyond the word they said. Ponder what they might be subconsciously trying to communicate.
For example, “What’s the point of this?” might actually mean, “I need a break for a minute.” Or it could mean, “The things I really liked about school, like seeing my friends, aren’t here anymore, and I don’t feel motivated to try.” Or it might simply be a child’s way to say, “This is weird, and different, and I feel out of my depth.”
Second, validate the feelings of whoever’s asking that question
Use your imagination and your empathy to brainstorm what your child might be feeling or experiencing right now. Then validate those feelings and help them know that all feelings are okay. You can do this by making simple observations about the situation, like:
“You’re right, this is a hard time right now. Maybe it’s time for us to take a break for a minute.”
“You’re not used to doing online school. You’re used to being with your friends. How do you feel about that?”
“This is kind of weird for you, I bet.”
“You’re not sure how this fits in with how you do school.”
“Those kinds of comments,” she says, “get more toward their feelings and help them to feel like you understand what they’re saying.”
Third, be as honest as is appropriate for the situation and their developmental level
“We don’t want to scare them, but we also want to be honest with them about the situation,” Joy says. “For example, if we’re talking about online school, we can say things like, ‘I know that this isn’t your normal way of learning, but it’s a way to help you to be able to grow.’”
When you bring all ideas together, you might find that not only do you have more success at getting them to do what you need them to do, but you’re also helping your child feel safer, connected and more confident.