TIPS FOR UNDERACHIEVERS
B Y C . R I C K
E L L I S , E D . D .
DON'T SOME high-ability children achieve to
their potential? There are numerous reasons. Included in the list of roadblocks
to excellence are perfectionism, unrealistic self-expectations, super sensitivity,
poor social adjustment, excessive criticism of self and others, low self-esteem,
frustration with classroom demands, and rebelliousness against repetitive
In addition, high ability does not exempt children from
learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, the negative effects
of divorce, as well as other emotional problems. These difficulties are
often the main cause of underachievement. Boredom often compounds the problem
of underachievers especially as these children move on to higher grades.
Parents can help children achieve their potential and avoid these roadblocks
by using the following guidelines.
1. BE A MODEL.
The most important thing you can do as a parent is to
display the same characteristics that you want your child to exhibit. Children
should see that efforts and outcome are related. Children should observe
your creativity and conformity, feel your discouragement and elation, and
view both the internal and external rewards that result from your effort.
The sharing of personal feelings about achievement should be geared to
their emotional and intellectual levels. Elaborate explanations about the
business world are not necessary. Your behavior and attitude are what is
2. PROVIDE A REALISTIC VIEW OF ACHIEVEMENT.
Children respond best when a realistic and positive view
of achievement is presented. Children must understand the amount of work
that is involved in success. Yes, work is boring at times, but feelings
of accomplishment at the end of a project far outweigh the disappointment
if the work is not done.
3. PROVIDE LIMITS.
You are in charge of your children. While they may have
excellent verbal and debating skills, children should not be given complete
control over their lives, particularly concerning behavior. Regarding day-to-day
discipline matters, the parent's word should be final and not up for negotiation
or debate. This fruitless interaction leads to escalating conflicts and
ensures heightening rebelliousness. Letting children decide about important
matters provides power without the required level of wisdom. This is of
particular importance when children are young.
4. ALLOW CHILDREN CONTROL OVER THEIR LEARNING.
Once positive behavior patterns are established, kids
need to feel control of their own destiny. Piano lessons or advanced academic
programs may not be the best thing for every child. Children feel more
invested in activities when involved in choosing that activity. Some children
thrive in after-school science programs, while others may develop stomach
problems from the increased pressure. Previews of various activities are
helpful in deciding areas of interest or motivation. Parents can better
function as "guides on the side" when assisting their children in choosing
advanced academic experiences and extracurricular activities.
5. GIVE CLEAR, POSITIVE MESSAGES.
Communication from both parents should be consistent
and convey values, such as the importance of education and responsibility;
respect for individuality; and the belief that creativity, fun, and recreation
are the foundation for a positive and productive lifestyle. Even in single-parent
families, children sometimes receive mixed messages. Expectations may be
high, but when a test is failed, inappropriate amounts of affection and
nurturing are given to the remorseful child. Parents sometimes engage in
such behavior due to their own guilt over the fact that the child is not
in a "better" environment.
6. WATCH OUT FOR SUBTLE MESSAGES.
While just talking to another adult about your child
is neither good nor bad, the potential is there for sending the wrong message.
When a child hears that the only thing that is shared with grandma is the
child's grades, grades then become the most important thing. While the
direct message to the child is to "do your best", the child also "hears"
grades are all that matters. These inadvertent messages can be about behavioral,
emotional, or physical characteristics and do have a powerful impact.
7. FOSTER HEALTHY COMPETITION VS. WINNING AND LOSING.
If a goal is unrealistic, defeat is inevitable. If life
is looked at as a challenge and learning experience, then everyone is a
winner. Failure can result in creative problem solving, reassessment of
goals, or the realization that no one can be tops all the time. The most
important lesson is that attitude and perseverance are the keys to success,
not beating the other person.
8. PROVIDE REASONABLE STRUCTURE AND ORGANIZATION
. Disorganization is often the biggest obstacle for the
underachiever to overcome. While medication is becoming increasingly popular
as a means of addressing this problem in the ADD child, parent's attitudes
are most influential. With disorganized children, there is often one parent
that uses disorganization as a passive-aggressive tool in a rocky marriage.
In this situation, the child is only choosing sides. Children sometimes
rebel when both parents are "neatniks." Parents should be consistent and
provide some flexibility regarding structure. This will foster creativity
and guard against a compulsive lifestyle.
9. ALLOW FOR CREATIVITY.
There is no rule or easy trick to assist your child in
developing to his or her capacity. Teacher resource stores and bookstores
carry or can order materials that will assist you in providing fun activities
for your child. You may have friends with interests similar to your child's.
They can act as mentors in that area. Museums, schools, and other area
resources provide programs that help light the spark in creative children.
Also, Compuserve's MENSA gifted forum can be a valuable resource for pen
pals, activity ideas, and discussions on interesting topics. Parents should
be careful, however, not to involve their children in too many activities.
This can lead to burnout and prevents internalizing of newly developed
skills and abilities.
10. COMMUNICATE WITH SCHOOL PERSONNEL.
Teachers can be a valuable resource. They have had the
training and expertise to address many of the issues related to underachievement.
Parent-resource centers contain helpful materials, and gifted program coordinators
posses valuable knowledge in this area. Most teachers are rarely called
on to assist in maximizing the potential of a child and would look forward
to the opportunity.
Dr. Ellis is both a school and clinical psychologist,
and director of The Center for Excellence/ Psychological Services, specializing
in identifying and addressing the needs of gifted underachievers. For further
information, call 757-640-1882.
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