“Andrea” is a former student of mine. Throughout high school, she was a humble overachiever eager to meet any challenge. In cross country and track, she was an all-area performer. She served as member of several student leadership organizations. Andrea was also a straight A student who took an incredibly demanding schedule. She was far from insipid.
I taught AP Psychology to Andrea her senior year. She wasn’t the most extreme perfectionist I’d seen, but she wasn’t the least either. By all accounts, Andrea came from a balanced and loving home and was well-liked by her peers.
I asked Andrea about how much sleep she typically got, what she did to take a break, and how she turned off. Her answers were predictable – she was lucky if she got six hours of sleep on any given night. Every moment of her day was booked with school work, sports practice, and other formal obligations. She said she wouldn’t know what to do with herself without a schedule.
Andrea’s story is common in many American schools. Certainly, there are students who couldn’t care less. But there are many who are the polar opposite. As evidence, check this out.
How do we help kids overcome potentially harmful patterns? Maybe they’ve been conditioned to behave this way. Maybe they just fit with a child’s personality. Either way, parents and educators alike can offer a better direction.
1) Schedule Deconstruction
Brains and bodies need the freedom to rest. To recharge. To flirt with reverie. This is especially true for children and adolescents. They benefit from unscheduled, unstructured time. No lacrosse practice, no homework, no formal responsibility. Help them engage with nature by encouraging a walk outdoors or a trip to the beach. For overachievers, require them to set aside free time every week.
2) Proper Rest
Don’t turn up, turn down! Make bedtime a priority for children and teens alike. Developing minds and bodies require 9-11 hours of sleep each night. If that seems unrealistic, you may need to reevaluate priorities. Busy schedules become exponentially more taxing with less rest.
3) An Emphasis on Effort and Growth
Were you ever offered an incentive for academic performance growing up? You know, get all A’s and you’ll earn $20 or whatever. What possibilities! It’s natural to want to reward children when they do well. The problem with this approach is that it emphasizes an outcome. And outcomes aren’t always controllable. Think about what happens when a child tries their very best and still doesn’t get an A. The logical conclusion is that “your best isn’t good enough,” which isn’t a healthy message to send.
Instead, affirm things like perseverance and ongoing improvement. Not only are they more important in the long run, but they shift the focus away from performance. Children can learn the value of hard work without feeling like they must live up to an achievement-based standard.
Sometimes, striving for less can offer more.
Follow Tim on Twitter @Tim_G_Holland and http://www.timhollandonline.com
How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough – A helpful look at the value of non-cognitive characteristics