“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” This quote by Joseph Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy, urges the soul under attack to hunker down and work harder, putting forth extra effort to battle adversity. The pithy sentiment, designed to inspire a perseverance mentality, often encourages us when we are surprised by obstacles to some plan. I have been motivated by the sentiment and challenged to “beat” whatever obstacles seem to be thwarting my efforts at success. I have even tried using it to motivate others (my children!) to achieve a goal when they seem to be losing momentum. Sometimes, however, even a good slogan fails.
Sometimes, students seem to “check out.” They are not motivated to work hard at assignments; they let deadlines come and go; they profess to have no need of help, but still cannot produce a result; they appear supremely disinterested in everything. What is a parent to do? I suggest a three-step plan of attack: assess, diagnose, and treat. We need to identify the specific problem, determine the nature of the problem, and help our students find a workable solution to the problem.
How, specifically, is the student struggling? Are instructions being missed? Are assignments being left undone? Has the quality of work gone down? Is an attitude of “good enough” developing? Has class participation dropped off? Has the spirit of cooperation disappeared? Has your student “checked out”?
When a student seems to “check out,” they may be acting out of laziness, tiredness, fear, lack of resources, rebelliousness, lack of perspective, a crisis of confidence, or even complacency. These attitudes manifest themselves in actions—or a lack of action—that get our attention as homeschool teachers. The actions get our attention, but they are not the crux of the matter for us. After all, the assignment is not as important as the student; the mind is not as important as the heart. We want to determine what the problem is, so we can help them overcome it. We want to assess the problem, so that we can respond in an appropriate and helpful way, not just react to the results of the problem. We need to take a good look at our students and consider their past experiences, their present challenges, and the heart of our child. Is our student tired from an overabundance of activities? Too much of a good thing is still too much. Is our student afraid of failure? Afraid of a new challenge? Afraid of not finding immediate success? Is our student in need of resources—books, research materials, our attention, extra instruction—we need to provide? Is our student struggling with a lack of perspective, unable to see “why this matters/how I will ever use this”? Is our student complacent, not feeling challenged enough? Luckily, we know our students like no one else does; when we stop to assess our student’s behavior and needs, we are able to respond in ways that will bring relief to the situation.
Perhaps we need to enforce rest times and a reduction in the number of outside activities they are engaged in. As parents, we may be called upon to help our children say “no” to good things in order to have enough time to live well. Perhaps we need to encourage more exercise or simply something fun! We may need to help our student embrace new challenges, making sure value is placed on effort and attitude, not just results and quick mastery. Students need to see hard tasks as a joy and challenge, not as a test or punishment. We may need to provide more resources—more oversight, more hands-on help, or more materials to meet a current need. We may need to remind students why we work at certain skills/subjects that seem unnecessary to them; wisdom will allow us to share insights our students do not yet have.
How do we help our students when the going gets tough? I believe we do it by loving them enough to notice the problem, by figuring out the real issue, and by helping them to address the root of the problem with strategies designed to correct wrong attitudes and actions before they become bad habits. This is what the “tough” parent does!