I can’t get him to see the benefits of getting the high school diploma and that then he can work, or travel or even go to a trade or community college.
What can I do?
A: Thank you for writing in; this must feel like a scary time. When your child is so close to closing an important chapter (finishing high school) and there is nothing we can do to force them to want it or actually do it, it’s easy to feel out of control. And when we feel out of control, we can start to panic and act from that panic. We can begin to beg our kids, offer rewards we may not be able to make good on, try to convince them with logic or make threats that don’t even make sense. As the parents, we can see around the curve and we know how many doors are closed without a high school diploma — why wouldn’t you feel panicked? Ironically, the way forward is to do the opposite of what our panicked brain is telling us.
The first step in reaching your son is to be on his side. No human likes to feel dumb, left out or frustrated. I doubt he wakes up and chooses to feel this way, and whether it is an undiagnosed learning disorder or just stuck-ness that has lasted years, your son feels like he doesn’t have options. “To be on his side” is less of an action (although action is involved) and more of the feeling you want to create with your son. Contrary to what many parents think, listening to his feelings and making room for them will not make them worse. He will not become more frustrated if he talks about how much he hates school — the opposite is usually true. If he can let out his frustration about the homework and early mornings without you commenting, he may get to a place where he does not fight you so much. If he feels like you are listening without judgment and you maintain curiosity, compassion and empathy, there is a greater chance that he will begin to relax.
It is so countercultural to fully listen to our children without commentary, logic, problem-solving, critique or worry, that you may not even know how to do this. Adopting some of the techniques from psychologist Ross Greene’s “collaborative and proactive solutions” empathy step, you can simply find a quiet, calm moment and say: “I’ve noticed you are dreading this school year, from the wake-up time to the homework. Tell me more about that.” And then just sit there. Maybe your son will shrug, unwilling to share, and the trick here (and trust me, it is hard) is just to wait. Silently. People need…
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