Good stu­dents have self-dis­ci­pline to suc­ceed

The Covington News - - Religion -

The great­est power strug­gle in our home is over school as­sign­ments. Our fifth grader sim­ply will not do them. When we try to force him to study, he sits and stares, doo­dles — gets up for wa­ter and just kills time. Fur­ther­more, we never know for sure what he’s sup­posed to be do­ing. Why is he like that?

Let me of­fer a short dis­course on school achieve­ment, based on years of in­ter­ac­tion with par­ents. I served as a teacher, a high school coun­selor and a school psy­chol­o­gist. As such, I be­came very well-ac­quainted with chil­dren’s learn­ing pat­terns. The kind of self-dis­ci­pline nec­es­sary to suc­ceed in school ap­pears to be dis­trib­uted on a con­tin­uum from one ex­treme to the other.

Stu­dents at the pos­i­tive end of the scale (I’ll call them Type I) are by na­ture rather organized in­di­vid­u­als who care about de­tails. They take the ed­u­ca­tional process very se­ri­ously and as­sume full re­spon­si­bil­ity for as­sign­ments given. They also worry about grades, or at least, they rec­og­nize their im­por­tance. To do poorly on a test would de­press them for sev­eral days. They also like the chal­lenge of­fered in the class­room. Par­ents of th­ese chil­dren do not have to mon­i­tor their progress to keep them work­ing. It is their way of life — and it is con­sis­tent with their tem­per­a­ments.

At the other end of the con­tin­uum are the boys and girls who do not fit in well with the struc­ture of the class­room (Type II). If their Type I sib­lings emerge from school cum laude, th­ese kids grad­u­ate “Thank You, Laude.” They are sloppy, dis­or­ga­nized and flighty. They have a nat­u­ral aver­sion to work and love to play. They can’t wait for suc­cess and they hurry on without it. Like bac­te­ria that grad­u­ally be­come im­mune to an­tibi­otics, the clas­sic un­der­achiev­ers be­come im­per­vi­ous to adult pres­sure. They with­stand a storm of parental protest ev­ery few weeks and then, when no one is looking, they slip back into ap­a­thy. They don’t even hear the as­sign­ments be­ing given in school and seem not to be em­bar­rassed when they fail to com­plete them. And, you can be sure they drive their par­ents to dis­trac­tion.

For many, if not most, of th­ese kids, their “bat­tles” over school­work and home­work rep­re­sent a con­flict be­tween their ba­sic tem­per­a­ment and the frus­tra­tion ex­pe­ri­enced and trans­mit­ted to them by their par­ents. A strict, but not puni­tive ap­proach in which ac­count­abil­ity for school­work and home­work is trans­ferred back from the par­ents to the child will ef­fec­tively mo­ti­vate them to as­sume re­spon­si­bil­ity for their work for many of them. An ex­cel­lent, prac­ti­cal de­scrip­tion of this ap­proach is pro­vided by psy­chol­o­gist John Rosemond’s “End­ing the Home­work Has­sle” (An­drews McMeel Pub­lish­ing, 1990).

In un­usu­ally dif­fi­cult cases, or when the pre­vi­ous ap­proach has failed, the child may have a neu­ro­log­i­cally based learn­ing dis­abil­ity or the com­plex of be­hav­iors known as At­ten­tion Deficit Hy­per­ac­tive Dis­or­der (ADHD).

The cause of ADHD is cur­rently un­known, but may in­clude neu­ro­log­i­cal or bi­o­log­i­cal fac­tors in some cases. Stim­u­lant med­i­ca­tion has been found to be ef­fec­tive for re­liev­ing the at­ten­tion and im­pul­siv­ity fea­tures of ADHD be­hav­iors, al­though this ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect of th­ese med­i­ca­tions is not spe­cific or lim­ited to in­di­vid­u­als with ADHD.

Pre­lim­i­nary

re­search

has in­di­cated suc­cess for ADHD man­age­ment with a po­ten­tially promis­ing be­hav­ioral ap­proach out­lined by Dr. David Stein in his re­cent book “Ri­talin is Not the An­swer” (Jossey-Bass Pub­lish­ers, 1999). Other au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing Dr. Ed­ward Hal­low­ell and Dr. John Ratey, writ­ing in “Driven to Dis­trac­tion” (Si­mon & Schus­ter, 1995), rec­om­mend the use of Ri­talin or other med­i­ca­tion for chil­dren with a con­firmed di­ag­no­sis of ADHD. Your pe­di­a­tri­cian will help you de­cide which ap­proach to take.

Dr. Dob­son is founder and chair­man of the board of the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Fo­cus on the Fam­ily, Ques­tions and an­swers are ex­cerpted from “Solid An­swers” and “Bring­ing Up Boys,” both pub­lished by Tyn­dale House.

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