What can I do?
While attending the Beyond Barker Careers Expo on Wednesday evening (25 May) in the Rosewood Centre, I fell into a conversation with a parent who seemed a little anxious. Their student was wandering, perhaps bedazzled by the seemingly endless range of possibilities for the future. They later returned with an arm full of brochures and leaflets from the various display tables.
Well out of earshot of the student, the parent had asked me what could she do to support her child with motivation when he is not clear about his future? She was worried that he lacked the spirit. This is a very common question to ask and it comes from a sense of compassion, frustration and even concern about the future. Of course, there are no perfect answers.
A few thoughts: five things to “give” rather than things to “for-give”
Every person is different and some young people can take longer than others to find their own story. Parenting requires enormous patience at times. I shared a few quick thoughts with the parent (noting respectfully the uncertainties of contemporary parenting at a time when so many things are changing).
I share these thoughts with the Barker community. Some students sail through their schooling years without blemish; others ebb and flow; some leave their run late but burst through the finish line of the HSC with enormous success; and still others find schooling a grind. Here are some thoughts I’ve formed over the years in which I have been privileged to serve in schools.
Give unconditional love – try to disconnect your love for your child from their performance level. Make “trying your best” a living reality and keep the tone light-hearted, positive and unconditionally supportive, no matter what. Enjoy the moments of family life. They pass so quickly.
Give encouragement, but be real – student motivation increases when the content or the task required to be completed is understood fully and they are confident in their capacity to meet expectations. Parents can help this by asking questions that help students clarify their understanding rather than ones that nag or threaten. Remind, but don’t pester. Encourage by reassuring them of your confidence and respect.
Give positive feedback – adopt the 90:10 praise vs criticism ratio. Whilst being real, stay positive and encouraging. If you see something to praise, then build their confidence by praising to the skies. Keep your frustrations under wraps if you can. And avoid generalisations such as “You’re lazy, you’re disorganised, you’re messy, you leave everything to the last minute…” Whilst it might be true, it probably won’t change things and will damage their sense of safety with you.
Give time to be interested – without prying excessively, stay involved in their school life. Be curious about what they’re reading, what they’re learning, they’re studying, they’re thinking about. I know some parents who deliberately read the same set novels in English so they can stay in touch. Watching relevant documentaries together can also be good. Send signals that you care about them and what is happening in their lives and in their thinking.
Give support – be involved and organise the home for success. Share the whole week (yours included) on a central planner put in a prominent place in the home. Make time planning a shared thing rather than a power thing. Ask gentle questions about planned social events that intrude on completing assignments rather than falling into the trap of using school pressures as an instrument for power and control. The kids resent this and it becomes about power rather than student agency.
I offer all this humbly and with full awareness of the difficult road we walk with our children as they emerge into people who are fully formed.
If you need further support from the School, please be in touch with your class teacher, Head of House, Deans, Counselling or Chaplaincy Team, or any trusted member of staff. I am constantly uplifted by the loving nature of our Barker community. There is a sense of optimism and hope in our students, which I believe issues from the shared purpose that lies in the heart of our community and occurs naturally each day – to be ourselves safely under God’s loving care, living in pursuit of Honor Non Honores.