This school year one bright young man in my class (I'll call him Calvin) just refused to do much work. He turned in very few assignments, rarely turned in any homework, and sometimes wouldn't even turn in or complete in class tests. He was fully capable, but didn't have the support at home nor a personal history of success in school. So, he created this vision of himself as someone who could not do well, therefore he didn't do well.
You should know I am a rather strict teacher with very high expectations for my students. I want the best from them every day, and Calvin was absolutely not giving his best. Using the tough-love approach I am known for, I let him know how incredibly capable I knew he was, and when he wouldn't turn in work, I had him do it while other kids were doing more "fun" activities. Yet, Calvin was resolute in his stubbornness. I contacted his parents, moved him to different spots in the room, but he just wouldn't do the work. It seemed like neither my "tough" nor my "love" was affecting him.
Then, this month something incredible happened. I moved him to a new group within the classroom, a new set of students. He felt like he was part of a new community, and the "captain" of this team, a sweet young lady, took Calvin under her wing. She went through his papers everyday: "Take this one home and finish it. Recycle this one; you don't need it. Put this one in your writing folder." And, he came to school one day with his homework completed.
The other students were stunned, and they were proud of him, and I praised him like never before. Because of that, Calvin saw himself in a different light. He realized that all the words I had said to him earlier were actually true; he was capable and smart and could be successful. Calvin started doing his work. He smiled when people noticed his efforts. He began to offer more than what was asked of him.
So, what's this have to do with Safety-Net Parenting? Calvin proved to me that although I was telling him he was capable, it meant nothing to him because he knew he hadn't done anything that deserved that praise. He had to get out of his comfort zone and do, before the praise meant something. So, I guess as a parent I think we need to keep our eyes open for when our children take that step, get uncomfortable, and actually try, because that's when we need to praise the most. Had I or Calvin's peers missed the opportunity to point out our appreciation for his effort that one day he brought in all of his homework, he could have easily fallen back into his rut and thought "See, what's the point of even trying?"
Praise effort. Praise improvement. And, make the praise legitimate and valid. It really does make a difference to our children.
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