Ian’s parents came for coaching about 5 years ago. Ian’s mom, Lou, booked the sessions as a last resort before she divorced his dad. About two months ago, she sent me an email and said, “Hi Ronit, Dave and I renewed our vows last year on an overseas trip. I want you to see Ian. He’s in trouble at school”.
Kids’ coaching is not something that most parents understand, but Lou and Dave, after making a huge change in their own life through coaching, did not need to ask what it was. When I called Lou and asked what she needed and why she wanted Ian to come and see me, she said, “Ronit, I’m not sure how you do what you do, but I need you to do it for Ian. He’s a great kid, but he’s in trouble at school and it’s affecting his self-esteem. It breaks my heart to see him like that. I’ve tried different things, but he is still in trouble. I’m sure if he spends some time with you, he’ll gain some confidence, just like we did”.
Ian was one of the most beautiful 11-year-old boys I had ever seen. In his first session, I went over some assessments to figure out what was making him get in trouble at school. Although he could read high-level books, thought math was easy and schoolwork was not a challenge at all, his grade average was “B”. Not that I think everyone needs to get an “A”, but all my assessments showed he was an “A” student, maybe even one of those smart kids that find school so boring they stir up some trouble to get some attention and make things a bit more interesting.
Kids with labels
In our second session, Ian told me some school stories and I realized he was just a kid whose teacher labeled him as troublemaker. I know this from my own experience. I was a “troublemaker” myself. In my case, it was not because I was smart, like in Ian’s situation, but I carried this label for 10 years (see School Horrors: My Torn Notebook).
Labels are very hard to get rid of. When I was a “troublemaker”, it did not matter what I did, how much I studied or how much I knew, my grades were in the “barely passing” region at best. When I was a good student (I received a scholarship for excellence in 11th Grade), no matter what I did, how much I studied or how much I knew, my grades were in the “near perfect” region at least.
One day, one of my friends asked to sit next to me during an exam in Bible Studies and copy my answers. I agreed. I remembered how it had felt before, when I was the troublemaker and had very low grades, so I did not mind her copying my exam. A week later, when the teacher handed back our exam papers, although my friend had copied my entire exam, I received 95% and she only got 60%.
It taught me the hard way that teachers label their students and that when working with kids, it is more important to work on changing the labels than on knowledge. During my Special Education studies, I took an amazing course called “The emotional hygiene of the special education teacher”, in which we discovered that subjectivity is a major part of teaching that cannot be eliminated. Only dead people are objective. So I decided to use teachers’ subjectivity to my advantage.
During my session with Ian, I worked with him on some strategies to change his labels and his teacher’s attitude towards him. He had to make a presentation and he was a bit anxious about it, so we talked about ways to perform well and change the “troublemaker” label he had to one that would get the teacher off his back and allow him to be a “normal” kid again. When his dad came to pick him up, I talked to him about some things they could do at home to back him up and support this change.
A week later, I sent Lou an email:
How are you?
Do you see a difference with Ian?
How was the presentation?
And this is what she wrote me back:
Do we notice a difference with Ian? … OMG!
Amazing! What did you do? He is fantastic. We set up a reward tally where each day he comes home from school having a warning step free day he gets one tally mark. After earning five tallies in a row, he earns some money. Well he just achieved 5 tally marks today. I walked by his teacher the other day and she stopped me and couldn’t wait to tell me about how wonderful his behavior is. She said she knew I would like to know.
The teacher said he had great voice projection and once he got over his nerves, his presentation was great. He knew it off by heart.
Ian was home a lot last week with the flu. We had some great quality time and worked on affirmations and playing games. It was nice to give him a break from the negativity at school and lift his spirits a bit. And school has been very positive since.
Ian is a lot calmer with his brother too. It’s lovely to see them together now.
Thank you for everything.
Coaching is not tutoring
Change can happen and it can happen fast. Kids do not need to suffer at school. They need to enjoy it. If they are not happy, do something about it.
Parents need courage to seek help that is different from tutoring. When kids have problems at school, it is easy to think that they are just troublemakers or that they need some extra help with math or English, when in fact, their problems might be due to being bored at school, sitting next to the wrong kid in class or having a teacher with a different communication style.
If you think your child is a “troublemaker”, consider that he or she might be suffering from this negative label. The problem will be simpler to solve and the solution will be more empowering.
This post is part of the series From the Life Coaching Deck:
- Choosing the Right Career Path for Your Kids
- If-then Parenting Style
- How to Help Your Kid Drive
- The Meaning of Life
- Hyperactive Kids
- Secret Demons
- Making Money Addiction
- Art Fights Depression
- Trust Your Healing Powers
- The Want Muscle
- Abusive Parenting Cycle
- Learning to Want
- Don’t Put Labels on Kids
- Stop Making More Money
- There Are No Hopeless Teens
- How to Have a Good Day Everyday
- No More Disappointment: The Biggest Loser Leads the Dance