“Give” Your Teenager The Joy of Success


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 167 · Duration: 00:17:36

“Give” Your Teenager The Joy of Success

What do you do when your relationship with your truly terrific teenage daughter with learning disabilities has turned into a daily battle over homework?

Today we’re hearing from Lisa from Huntsville, AL. Lisa writes:

Our 16-year-old daughter has learning disabilities. She’s a great kid, popular, respectful, active in sports and activities, as active as she can be given the COVID situation. Her LD's showed up in the fourth grade and she’s had extra services since then; tutoring and reading specialists, extra time for tests and assignments, etc. With all the support, she’s managed to do reasonably well. She tests as being intellectually gifted, but her LD’s bring her down. Now, it’s literally a battle to get her to do her work. As a high school junior, we don’t have as much access to her progress as we did earlier. The teachers don’t post much online for the upper grades. What can we do to motivate our daughter to do her work? She anticipates staring college at the local community college and she doesn’t need good grades to get in there.

Thanks for your question, Lisa. I’m hearing that you are really struggling since you’ve provided so much for your daughter and here she is in her junior year of high school, and she is still not managing her work appropriately. It can be quite a challenge to support your special needs teenager in the area of her or his disability and support their independence at the same time. Let me go over a few things before we talk about what to do.

The Transitional Years of Adolescence

Let’s remember that adolescence is a unique stage of human development. It’s those transition years between childhood and adulthood, so it’s a gradual process of youth growing their abilities to manage their responsibilities independently. I call adolescence the second 12 years since young adulthood is actually the final stage of adolescence.

Adolescent neural development and functioning are different from childhood neural development and functioning and adult functioning. Adolescent neural development is an enormous topic, but it’s good to keep in mind that it’s characterized in part by specialization, or learning well those things that an adolescent focuses on. In fact, the more kids use their brains to focus on learning and problem-solving, the better they get at learning and problem-solving. In effect, they can teach their brains to go to work and bring the brain’s full resources to even difficult tasks. For all kids, including kids with learning differences, the more they bring themselves to their work, the more capacity they’ll grow. You can learn more about this from the book Mindset by Carol Dweck who discovered this phenomenon as an educational researcher at Stanford University.

The more kids use their brains to focus on learning and problem-solving, the better they get at learning and problem-solving.Click To Tweet

So Lisa, here is what is likely going on in your daughter’s situation. You are an exceptional family that saw an issue, investigated it, and resourced it. Your daughter has received nothing but the best support available and related to that has managed pretty well. Yet, on the basis of the struggle you describe, there are two problems:

  1. Low standards or standards of achievement being too low
  2. Learned helplessness

Let’s start with low standards. You mentioned that your daughter tests in the gifted range and her learning disabilities keep her grades low. At this point, that should no longer be the case. She’s smart, really smart, and needs to know that and know how to manage her learning disabilities so that she learns at the highest levels of her classes and performs at the highest levels of her classes. That should be the expectation, that she fully applies herself and performs at a very high level.

Let’s look at what I mean by learned helplessness. This is a dilemma that parents of special needs kids face all the time. When children and teenagers receive a lot of support for managing their responsibilities, they can learn to rely on that support. If the support people are enjoyable for them to spend time with, and they don’t adjust to working hard independently, they can get into the habit of offering a half-hearted effort and know that the support folks will be there to clean things up or help them with their work. It may be, Lisa, that between the tutoring and educational therapy and parental support and structure you offered, that your daughter has allowed the helpers to be largely in charge of her responsibilities. Now, with you being less informed by the school of what her assignments are and what she’s behind on, that she simply hasn’t learned to own that or stay on top of her work independently.

Teaching Your Teen To Manage Responsibilities

So, what to do? Fighting with her to get her to do her work isn't going to get it done. In fact, since you’ve been fighting on a regular basis now, we might just call that a Control Battle, and ending Control Battles will take a significant shift in approach. Very simply, the shift we want to make is from you trying to get her to do her work, to her bringing her best self to her work and owning the responsibility of exactly that; knowing what’s expected, doing her work on time with an approach of wanting to learn, and improving from her engagement with the work.

Before I offer an approach, I do want you to know that I fully understand and empathize with what you are going through and how you must feel. After all, you’ve been an exceptional parent, staying on top of her needs, resourcing her needs, being her advocate in the schools, and filling in the gaps in her executive functioning at home. You’re a hero and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. That may not be a total cure for parental frustration and maybe even burnout, but I hope that the fact that I get it at least helps a bit. It might also help to know that we got this. Making the shift is going to work because your daughter has had so much love and support. I’m sure she is a terrific kid and she will respond to your leadership being provided in a somewhat different way. Now, here’s what we’ll do.

Lisa, start by simply discussing the fact that you and she are struggling with changing from a relationship common to parents and young teens or middle schoolers to a relationship appropriate for parents and high school kids.

Remind her that testing shows that she is intellectually gifted and that she’s had lots of help to manage her learning disabilities, and that you’ve provided a lot of that help and been in charge of getting the resources that she’s needed; that you’ve been in charge of making sure the school gives her the help and accommodations she needed. Now it’s time that she takes over that role. And we can call that role ADVOCACY and it’s time to move from parental advocacy to self-advocacy. That means that it’s time for her to know what needs to be done, and to take responsibility for getting it done; and that means getting it done with excellence as her standard. It also means that she’s now in charge of getting the resources that she needs. Getting help is absolutely fine; it’s just that she needs to be the one in charge of knowing what she needs and reaching out for what she needs. You can even help if she needs it as long as she asks for help. It can’t be just you knowing what she needs and helping with her reluctant participation.

I’d suggest that you do require some observable structure from her, for instance, that she has dedicated time planned six days a week when she will be working a minimum of 2 hours a day and that she show you the plan. And, that going out is off-limits until you see that she’s got a plan and is working with the plan.

If she has a tutor, meet with her and her tutor, and discuss the new, clear high standards based on her high capability. The goal is for tutoring to be helpful to her learning but not a substitute for her bringing her full effort, in other words, not suckering the tutor into offering too much, just enough to get her in the right direction.

Have your daughter clarify her goals; specifically, what she wants to get out of each course she’s taking and what she wants to achieve. For instance, in history class she wants to improve her essay writing skills, in Spanish class, she wants to be able to move up to the next level, etc. What grade does she want to achieve based on what is reasonable for her bringing her best effort? It should be either an A or a B depending on her area of interest and natural ability. Remember, it’s a goal, not a mandate. The only mandate is her best effort.

When your teen sets a goal for their schoolwork, remember, it’s a goal, not a mandate. The only mandate is her best effort.Click To Tweet

Useful Resources For Your And Your Teenager

Lisa, I’d recommend you offer to get your daughter a copy of Dr. Lara Honos-Webb’s most recent book, Six Super Skills for Executive Functioning: Tools to Help Teens Improve Focus, Stay Organized, and Reach Their Goals (The Instant Help Solutions Series). It is a fabulous book and written perfectly to grab a teenager’s attention and offer them vital skills for setting and achieving their goals. I say offer to get it for her because if you simply hand it to her, she may see it as you managing her, which is part of the Control Battle. If she says, “Yes, please get it for me.” Then it’s her decision and she’s far more likely to engage with it. I do recommend that you read it too so that you can reference the ideas and tools in it to support your daughter when you see her struggling. It will be a way to help without enabling or going back into you fixing things for her.

Finally, Lisa, my new offering to parents is a parenting course based on my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle is now available and can help you get out of the frustrating place you find yourself in and make the shift into being the parent of a healthy, capable, gifted and delightful high school junior. It has a downloadable workbook and a series of videos that work together to guide you through the course. We’re offering it at a very inexpensive price for now since this is the first version of it. Check it out here.

So, parents and folks who work with families, if you have a child or teenager with special needs, if they are differently wired: YES, accommodate, resource, and support, but with all that, require their best. Let them experience the joy of success, the joy of doing what they didn’t know they could do. Honestly, that’s the best feeling, the best happiness they’ll ever have, so let’s make sure they get that gift from you.

Let your teenager experience the joy of success and the joy of doing what they didn’t know they could do. Honestly, that’s the best feeling, the best happiness they’ll ever have, so make sure they get that gift from you.Click To Tweet

Thank you for your question, Lisa. I know you’ll do great.

Thanksgiving is this week and for many of us, it will be different without the family and friends we love to share this holiday with. It’s painfully true of us, but let’s keep the faith that we’ll get this virus under control, and next year our Thanksgiving will be with everyone we want to share it with.

If you're looking for another resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially, emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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