My husband says all disappointments are a result of unmet expectations.
That’s a good sentiment when it comes to managing my expectations of the weather on a day I’ve organised an outdoor event, but it gives me chills when I think of its implications on how we parent and teach Wonderfully Wired children.
We expect certain things from the behaviour and performance of a Wonderfully Wired student and then feel and communicate disappointment when those expectations aren’t met. I’m learning that not only is this approach ineffective, but we are causing more damage to the child’s future performance!
The psychologist Dr Ross Green calls it Incompatibility when a parent or teacher’s expectations don’t match a child’s characteristics. By characteristics he means the child’s skills, preferences, beliefs, values, personality, goals and direction.
Perhaps you expect that your child should be able to get up in a timely fashion and make it to the car, dressed, organised and ready for school. Dr Greene, (who will be a guest on the podcast later this season), talks about how we respond to the behaviour by fighting, nagging and coercing instead of understanding why the expectation wasn’t met and addressing that difficulty. The behaviours, he insists, are only symptoms.
He argues that kids do well if they can (Read: If they are not doing well, it’s not a lack of motivation but evidence that they are struggling in some way). Responding to how a child behaves when they can’t meet an expectation isn’t getting to the heart of the struggle.
My guest on this month’s podcast, Julie Bogart would be so proud, if we could take a big step back and ask better questions:
was the expectation realistic?
why was the child having difficulty meeting it?
Bogart teaches us that when we respond to the ‘disappointment’ of our unmet expectations we lose influence, are less effective and ultimately our relationship with the kid suffers.
When we do that, the student concludes, as do teachers and maybe even parents, that SHE is a disappointment, and that SHE needs fixing.
“There are no educational emergencies” says Julie Bogart on the Tilt Podcast earlier this year. “Your child is where your child is. And we work with the child as a human being, not a grade, not an age, not a neurotypical or neuroatypical deficiency. We work with the child in front of us.”
I spent the past three months near my dyslexic son’s boarding school to work with him daily. Judah was failing many of his subjects, not managing to stay organised and meet expectations of deadlines, assignments and class contribution. The school felt unsure that he would succeed in conventional school. I’ll admit: It sounded like an educational emergency to me.
If there was an emergency, it wasn't the actual challenges Judah was facing – the emergency was that he was on the verge of believing the message of disappointment of expectations (his own included) that he was receiving. I’m convinced choosing whether he would believe that message or trust his brain and ability to learn was a watershed moment for him.
Judah lacked some skills (mostly executive functioning skills such as organisation and time management). He also needed a better understanding of how his brain works and permission to learn differently. These are some of the challenges Wonderfully Wired kids face. But they are just that: Challenges are not unexpected for any student and challenges aren’t emergencies.
With tools, my son and yours can do better with what he finds hard. Kids do well if they can.