How We Coach

What Parents Ask Us About Their Children

Author Michael Delman presenting at Hoboken High School

In our 13 years of coaching students and presenting to audiences across the country, we notice several questions come up consistently from parents. We've included these and some answers below to help you learn more about our philosophy.

Why is my kid so lazy? 

As coaches, we have yet to see a truly lazy child. In fact, most children want very much to be successful and productive, but they may lack the tools to do so. Oftentimes, what appears to be laziness in a child is actually a skill deficit. For example, a child who won't do their homework at night may not know how to get started on it; they may feel too anxious or overwhelmed to do their homework and not know how to calm themselves; they may have a poor sense of time and imagine they can complete their homework before school in the morning - in other words, they don't know how to estimate how long the work will take. There can be other reasons that relate to mental or physical health. For instance, a child with depression or a chronic illness may appear lazy because they do not have the energy to devote to homework. Regardless of the reason, it's important to dig deeper into the why behind the behavior you're seeing, in order to find the right solutions for your child.

Laziness infographicDownload our colorful infographic describing 5 symptoms of Executive Function challenges:

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How can I motivate my child?

Parents try to motivate their children in a number of ways: by giving advice, issuing warnings or threats, doling out punishments, and leaning on incentive systems and other external motivators.

This approach has two big problems: first, it keeps our kids dependent on us instead of helping them learn to do things for themselves. Perhaps even more importantly, it misses the fact that kids are driven by their own motives, not ours. External motivation keeps the focus in the wrong place and, if anything, inhibits the development of internal motivation in a developing adult.

Author Daniel Pink corroborates this fact in his book and video Drive, where he explains that external motivation systems, with their traditional carrot-and-stick approach, actually reduce motivation and the ability to think effectively on complex tasks. In other words, there is no way that you can continually motivate your child in any meaningful way. Even praise is not a viable source of motivation. Parenting guru Alfie Kohn points out that without internal motivation, our kids can become “praise junkies” who lose enthusiasm if they’re not constantly receiving a boost from someone else. Much like adults, children need a sense of purpose stemming from within to succeed. Only by tapping into that internal drive can we help them bring their full capacities to bear in whatever they pursue.

When we work with parents who want to help their children become organized self-starters, we always start in the same place - by reframing the question, “How can I motivate my child?” to “For my particular child, what is the intersection of their talent and passion?” Locating that sweet spot provides a meaningful incentive for a child to develop skills and to work hard. A fuller and more effective version of the reframe is to ask, “How can I help my child find what gets them motivated, and how can I set up those conditions, so they find their own sense of purpose and drive?”

Why does my smart child get low grades in school?

Succeeding at school is not all about pure intellect, or IQ. Rather, skills of self-management, or Executive Function skills, are the key to consistent academic achievement. Smart kids struggle in school when they don’t have tools and strategies to manage their academic demands. Here are 5 red-flag statements we hear from students that signal a need to build Executive Function skills: 

1) “I don’t need to write it down. I’ll remember.”

Oftentimes, students think they can remember all their homework without writing it in a planner. Some days that works but more frequently students find they have completed the wrong assignment, or they forget about it altogether.  As for taking notes in class, they make the mistake of thinking that they should only write down what's new or unusual information, instead of seeing note-taking as a documentation of what was covered in class.

2) “I hate that teacher/ that subject!” 

Students without good self-management skills get derailed when they don’t like a teacher or a subject. Their emotions get in the way of their investment in the class, and ultimately their grade can suffer. Successful students make 1:1 connections with all their teachers, because they know that it's in their best interests to build strong relationships with instructors.

3) “But I know I did that assignment…” 

When a student doesn’t have a system for managing materials, completed homework can get lost before it ever gets turned in. Grades suffer when homework completion is spotty, even if a student does reasonably well on tests. 

4) “This work takes forever. It’s so boring.” 

Longer, more complex assignments draw on a student’s ability to maintain their effort over time, or persist, in the midst of the temptation of other (more fun) activities. Without strategies to follow through and tolerate the “boring stuff’, students tend to give up and seek more satisfying diversions. 

5) “I’ve got plenty of time to do homework. It’s only 8:30.”  

Time management looms large as a critical skill for students, and for life in general.  When a student has poor ability to estimate how long tasks will take, and plan his evening accordingly, this can lead to increased stress, last-minute panic, and sloppy or incomplete work.

Why does my child take so long to finish homework?

There can be a number of reasons for seeing that your child's homework time is stretching out until late at night. The volume of work to do may be truly more than they can handle in a reasonable time span. They may have extracurricular activities that prevent them from starting homework until the evening hours. A student may have slow processing speed, which can make it challenging to get through pages of textbook reading or math problems. Another reason could be that the student has trouble settling down and getting started with work and procrastinates until it's impossible to delay any further. The most common explanation that we see, however, is that a student multitasks while working; they text friends, listen to music, watch Netflix, and/or scroll their social media while they are doing homework. Our brains simply cannot meaningfully attend to several things at once; rather, what happens is a constant process of stopping and starting that saps mental energy and makes work take longer. This article, in Psychology Today, has a useful little test that you can do with your child to investigate the toll that multitasking takes on one's productivity.

Please see these pages below for comprehensive information about Executive Function in students:

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