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Parenting Coach

Practical ideas for social, emotional and behavioral challenges

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Limit use of the help desk.

What you can do

If your child has the skills or knowledge needed to complete a particular task, set limits on how many times he can ask for your help or affirmation during that activity. You can frame this in a positive way by praising your child’s abilities and making clear how confident you are that he can do it on his own.

The next time your child sets out to do the same task, reduce the number of times he can ask for help. Keep lowering this number until your child internalizes the need to be independent during the task. Encourage his teachers to use short, specific instructions and to indicate exactly what needs to be done before he can check in again with the teacher.

What you can say

“Jacob, you’re so good at science. This is a tough assignment, I agree. But you’ve done similar ones very well in the past. Look it over and tell me which parts you know you can do on your own. After that, you can have three cards to write a question on and give to me, so use them wisely.”

“Call me when you know what you can do on your own and what you think you need my help with. I’ll be your ‘phone-a-friend’ for those three questions. So let’s hop to it. You might find you don’t need all three cards for this one once you look it over. I think you can do it with just two tonight!”

Why this will help

Repeated academic failure often produces what experts call “learned helplessness,” a condition in which kids feel that no matter how hard they try, they don’t have any influence over the outcome. They then just wait for external forces to determine the outcome.

Acknowledging your child’s strengths will help bolster his awareness of what he can do on his own. It can help him figure out which parts he does need help with and how to ask for it.

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