How To Get The Baby To Grow Up Fast

When parents bring their kids along to our Sydney Tutoring Centre, there are only so many combinations of difficulties we see.

One of the most common pattern is most typically seen among kids who are the youngest in the family.

It’s not that they can’t do the work. It’s just that they become dependant on waiting for someone (usually mum) to push them along. They will often demonstrate difficulty ‘retaining’ information and seem to just go through the motions without really engaging with the work independently.

The worst part is the vicious cycle of codependence it creates between the parent and the child (there are exceptions, but it seems to almost always be between mothers and sons). The parent becomes frustrated exclaiming “…but if I don’t push him (sometimes her) to do it then they simply won’t do it at all!”

This is, unfortunately true. And whilst sitting down and forcing them to do their homework seems like it creates a quick bandaid solution, the reality is that the child is being robbed of the opportunity to learn how to carry the weight of responsibility that comes with independence. So it seems like a lose lose right? Either keep the cycle going or step back and let them fall behind, give up and ultimately fail.

There is no simple fix to this problem, but there is one particular strategy which can make more impact than any other in a short amount of time. And that is to get them to have to be responsible for teaching someone else.

So meet Kevn.

Kevin is the baby of the family and he has learned, faster than his mum realised, how to get his way. He will try to use distraction, misbehaviour and sometimes even charm to avoid having to pick up that weight without being spotted by his mum who, fearful he is crushed, ends up taking most if not all of the weight herself.

Working in a group with Kevin becomes difficult as he becomes so exclusively focused on either trying to hide from or out-shadow the other members of the group – making everything all about himself (as is often the case with kids who fit this description). Working one-on-one with him will get him to do the work, but the moment you step back, he drops the weight, takes in nothing and goes back to square one.

So after going over a pretty thorough lesson one week about how to structure a body paragraph in a persuasive text, Kevin comes back the following week having taken all that learning and feeding it through his brains shredding machine. It’s almost like he wilfully forgets out of fear that retaining the knowledge will leave no room for mummy to be needed any more. (In all fairness to Kevin’s mum, she is a hard working single parent whose son has not had the greatest family dynamic since going through a divorce. And whilst her best intentions had inadvertently conditioned her son into a state of learned helplessness, she has become drained by the experience and needs the chord cut not just for Kevin’s sake but her her own as well).

So rather than going onto the next topic the following week, I thought it best to revisit this until he cements it into his brain. It would be silly of me to simply repeat last weeks lesson the same way however as, had last weeks lesson strategy been successful, there would be no need to repeat it. Instead, I got each student to act as a teacher whilst the other became the student.

Straight away, whenever a student has to be taught by one of their classmates, you will inevitably see them become at least a bit more engaged because it momentarily pushes on their empathy button. It also makes them realise that they are about to be in the same position shortly, so they generally become more attentive – as did Kevin.

Then, when it was Kevin’s turn to get up and start explaining how to write a body paragraph, he got started without any hesitation until he had to start asking the other students questions. At this point, he had to stop and ask himself the same questions, at which point he realised the gaps in his own understanding. Moreover, with the pressure of having to be responsible for helping other students understand, he suddenly stopped and went back to search through his workbook. After a moment or two of refreshing the notes he had previously simply ‘gone through the motions’ over – he suddenly had the lightbulb moment that being a passive receiver had not enabled him to experience.

The moment he saw that his students were ‘getting it’ just reinforces the effect even more. From that point forward, I can’t remember the last time I saw Kevin as resistant to learning as what he was previously.

This has to be orchestrated with strategic caution of course to prevent the child feeling humiliated if their attempt at teaching falls flat on it’s face. But it’s better to baby them during the process of being responsible for someone else than to baby them during a passive process where there’s no thought of responsibility at all.

About Stuart Adams

Stuart Adams is the founder and Managing Director of TOTC. He is a former School Teacher and Careers Advisor as well as a qualified Dietitian and Psychotherapist. His Psychotherapist Sydney website has loads of free learning resources covering all areas of mental health.

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