Breaking the Cycle of Conflict

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One of the most common things we hear when leaving a student’s house is “I don’t know how you got him/her to listen, he/she just shuts down when I try to give advice about school”. Parents and kids fight, especially about school. Think of a time when you tried to offer helpful advice to your child about the way they study. You recalled your own experience in school. You used solid rhetoric to reinforce tried and true methods of succeeding in the classroom. How did that go? Most likely, your kind-hearted efforts to coach your child were met heavy sighing, eye rolls, and sarcasm. We see it every week.

So, how do we break this cycle? We don’t want students to feel like they are being attacked, bullied, or that all of their hard work isn’t being recognized, but we also want to make sure that students are doing everything within their power to reach their academic potential. It’s a tricky balance to strike. Here are few steps to make it happen:

Step 1: Start with Why

Too often, difficult conversations are rushed, meaning they only perpetuating the cycle in question. Before speaking to your student, think about what behavior, habit, or action you would like to change. Be specific. Old adages like “he’s lazy”, “she’s disorganized”, or “he doesn’t focus” don’t solve much of anything. Ask why the behavior bothers you. For example, if a student does homework while watching Netflix, most parents complain that this doesn’t focus. While this is a fair point, let’s dig deeper to find the WHY. If a student watches Netflix while they are doing homework, then this student stays up later because it takes longer to finish homework. Then, the student is sleepy at school the next day and misses out on key information. The student then becomes frustrated, blames him or herself, or lashes out at parents and teachers, ultimately changing his or her attitude toward school and hurting key relationships moving forward. Thinking through the WHY helps contextualize the conversation with the student.

Step 2: Establish Common Vocabulary & Context

One of the biggest mistakes that creates a negative cycle is not establishing the basics first. Let your child know what you are concerned about, just point out the problem you see, without trying to solve it. Establish the problem, so that there is a shared vocabulary and baseline to move forward. Then (and this is the tough part), allow your student to confirm or reject these ideas. End your statement with a question: “I’m concerned about XYZ. Do you see the same issues?” This is key, and it takes a lot of patience. If both of you cannot establish a problem, then discussing a solution is futile. Establishing a common vocabulary and context ensures that the conversation will remain productive. If the student is not ready to discuss the issue, then leave it alone.

Step 3: It’s Ok to Be Wrong

The best way to end the cycle of conflict with your student about school is to empathize. Provide the space and the silence for your student to be an equal member in the conversation. Acknowledge that one might be wrong… I know that’s a tough one. This will absolutely stun your student, and it will go a long way to establishing trust for future difficult discussions. Next, ask your student to test out your method or the behavior you want to see. Make it clear that they can make the final decision, but that you would like to see them try something new. Self-determination is a big component of adolescence. Let them choose.

Like we tell students all the time, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The best way to break the cycle of conflict between a student and a parent is to change the routine. Use the steps above and let us know how it goes. Sometimes all a student needs is a fresh new voice of wisdom that is not a parent but also not a peer. This is why our academic coaching program is so successful. Learn more on our services page.

Chris Chambers

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