I am no stranger to dealing with stressed out students. When my sons were in high school, most of their stress was associated with sports and girls. Fortunately, they both thrived on competition and responded well to incentives, so whenever their grades started to slip, I simply offered a monetary reward or threatened to bench them if they did not take their studies seriously; it always did the trick. Now, it’s my daughter’s turn, but unlike her brothers, her stress is mostly confined to academics. Gabby is a sophomore at one of the best International Baccalaureate (IB) schools in the country, Paxon School for Advanced Studies. She came to the school from an IB middle school with a perfect grade point average (GPA), so I thought she would be well prepared to handle the rigorous courses at Paxon. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. For the last three semesters, we have tried a variety of tactics to help her raise her GPA, including the incentives offered to her brothers, but her grades continued to slip. We took away her extracurricular activities, restricted her time with friends, and removed distractions from her room (television, computer, video games, etc.), but nothing worked. So, this semester, I decided to take a completely different approach.
First, I stopped lecturing her, which was a struggle for me at first. I no longer checked in on her to make sure she was doing homework or studying. I did not request to see her work and review it, and I stopped reminding her about her previous grades. Instead, I began to listen to her. Now, when she comes home from school, I ask how her day was and if there is anything I need to be aware of that may be coming up, such as Advanced Placement (AP) exams, group projects or after-school activities. I simply let her know that I am here if she needs anything.
Next, I let her resume her extracurricular activities. You would think that the additional responsibilities of drama club and the thespian competition would be counter-productive, but that has not been the case. Instead, I have seen her attitude improve, her energy level increase and her grades have also improved. The few hours a week she spends participating in these activities has clearly helped to reduce her stress and make her feel good about herself.
Finally, I let her hang out again with her friends. Being a teenager is not easy and she’s already stressing about college. Although I would love to think I can relate to everything she is going through, her peers are actually a better sounding board for her right now. She’s found a way to balance her homework and have fun, too. I actually overheard her telling one of her friends that she had to pass on the movies this weekend because she had a Spanish presentation Monday and she wanted to ace it. Clearly, she’s headed in the right direction.
I think my biggest mistake this past year was taking away anything and everything that made Gabby feel good about herself. I thought that isolating her and forcing her to focus on her studies would increase her GPA, but instead it had the opposite effect. I soon realized that I was actually increasing her stress levels and had made her feel as though she was nothing more than a test score. I was so focused on making sure she would get into the best colleges that I had neglected to make sure she was a happy, healthy person who loved herself as much as I loved her.
It’s refreshing to see her smile again and share her test scores with me willingly, instead of hiding them from me. She even attends after school tutoring sessions to help improve her scores and has asked her teachers for additional work, just to be sure she comprehends the material. By stepping back and relinquishing my role as a grade dictator, I have allowed my daughter to step up to her responsibilities and take ownership of her life. I am confident that this change in attitude will not only serve her well in high school, but in college, as well.
Has your child had difficulties with school or handling stress? Share your tips for helping him/her balance life and school.
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