DAD! Can You Come Help Me?
Screams my daughter as she is working on some 8th grade math homework. She is staring hopelessly at the computer screen that displays a typical algebra X-Y axis graph with a triangle drawn on it. I ask her what can I do to help. She looks at me with a long face and says, “I don’t get how to do this.” I realize she’s been working on this math homework for over an hour, and while her words tell me she doesn’t understand the concepts, her body language tells me she is really just getting burned out on the homework and would rather be doing something else. I realized I have a choice at this point as a parent. Do I spare her the difficulties of school work and help her through the assignment, or do I encourage her and express my confidence that she can buckle down and get it done? School is meant to be tough, to push our limits, to help us find our strengths, but at what point does it get to be too hard?
The Lesson of the Butterfly
The dilemma is one parents have been facing for centuries. How much do I help? For example, if a parent did not get good grades as a student in math and wants to make sure that junior does not have the same struggle, they might be tempted to sacrifice long term growth for short term reward. Correct a child’s failure too quickly on their math homework and you will help them to get 100 percent on the current assignment. But come test time, the student will not have the knowledge or practice necessary to replicate high scores. Their confidence will decrease. It’s one of those moments when parents realize that their personal emotional distress can conflict with their long-held values.
Paulo Coelho, notable author and lyricist, refers to it as The Lesson of the Butterfly:
“A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.
The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.
The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shriveled wings, incapable of flight.
What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.
Sometimes, a little extra effort is precisely what prepares us for the next obstacle to be faced. Anyone who refuses to make that effort, or gets the wrong sort of help, is left unprepared to fight the next battle and never manages to fly off to their destiny.”
Some students struggle with grades or attendance while others struggle socially or athletically. Developmental maturation is difficult and necessary. Likewise, seeing someone you love not reach their full potential is a difficult emotional experience.
Help adolescents learn to try again
Focus on the power of not yet, problem solve in the face of setbacks, and embracing the challenges that come with becoming your best self. That is what we call Resilience. The professionals at Life Launch Centers teach youth how to learn to get frustrated (and how to recover), and how to play and be silly while also being increasingly responsible at home or school. We encouraged you to join with your parents to set goals and gain organizational skills, or practice how to flirt, maybe practice your stand-up comedy routine. There is so much to experience when young and growing.
The good news is you will likely learn what it feels like to be judged wrongly and made fun of. You will likely learn what it is like to do your best and fail despite your best effort. You will learn what it’s like to be lonely and wish that someone would cure that loneliness with a simple, kind gesture. We call this good news because it is not a permanent state. Being mistreated by your peer group will help you to gain empathy for others who are struggling. Failure can teach you how to try harder and to improve your best efforts. Loneliness can show that you have the power within to act kindly despite how you feel and create a positive emotional experience.
Whether school struggles are academic, social, or athletic, our ability to push through it, to keep going, to pick ourselves back up, is one of the main lessons we learn at school, and the lesson I chose to reinforce with my 8th grade daughter. I expressed my confidence in her, helped her explore the concept of the math problem, but let her find the answer. I shared with her one of my favorite resilience proverbs, We shouldn’t fear if we mess up, only if we give up.
Do we allow school struggles to make us stronger and become a better person, or do they make us shut down, disengage and feel defeated? The difference is Resilience! Check out these videos from the professionals at Life Launch Centers about the Resilience Model and how it helps with school struggles.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN TO SEEK HELP?
Use the Emotionometer to determine where you are and when you may want to consider additional help.