Advertising
Advertising

A Proven Way to Make Underperformers Do Much Better

A Proven Way to Make Underperformers Do Much Better

You know your child is smart. She exhibits intelligence every day, and family friends have remarked about how bright she is. But when report card day comes it’s like someone is evaluating a different child. What happened on the way to school? Did she travel into an alternate universe?

At first as the bad grades start to emerge, you think your child will pull out of it. You just need to help her with the homework, help her understand the concepts better. Yet your attempts to help are like banging your head against a wall. The will to perform is just not there.

You’re not alone. Plenty of children and teens are underperformers. Child psychologist Dr. Sylvia Rimm [1]says, “Underlying these children’s poor study habits, weak skills, disorganization, and defensiveness is a feeling of a lack of personal control over their educational success.” Some kids just don’t feel personally invested in getting good grades.

This is becoming a real problem because your child isn’t learning what it means to work hard and succeed at something. School is “boring,” the teachers “suck,” the other kids are “jerks.” You’re pulling teeth just to get her to finish and turn in assignments, and when test time comes, it seems like she’s tanking on purpose.

If your child doesn’t learn how to perform up to her potential in school, how will she be able fulfill that potential in real life?

The key is to connect your child’s educational goals to her life through strategy, affirmation, and rewards.

Advertising

Introduce Values-Based Self-Affirmation

Stress is a huge factor for kids in school. You can remember what it’s like, but there’s nothing quite like being there. Values-based self-affirmation [2]is a proven method of confronting stress and empowering your child to cope with it positively.

In multiple studies, African-American and Latino American students thought about and wrote about what was most important to them. These students face a lot of stress due to their minority status, and it causes them to underperform. They wrote about their values at critical times of stress during the school year—at the outset, before tests, and around holidays.

The students saw a 30 percent improvement in performance, and their grade-point averages were much higher than students who didn’t do values-affirmation assignments. This also worked for female college students in physics.

Brain scans [3] show that self-affirmation increases activity in the self-related and reward-related areas of the brain. Values affirmation also reduces cortisol response [4]in students, effectively lowering stress levels and heart rate.

Sit down with your child when she’s feeling stressed out about school and ask her to write about what she values—her relationships, her interests, her passions. Ask her to write a little bit about how her values relate to her future. Do the exercise with her, and keep it up as the school year continues.

Adopt Strategies that Work for Professionals

The people who teach and tutor for a living and do it well depend on engaging their students. Chances are you may be pushing your child away from performing well by putting on pressure and expectations that aren’t necessarily helping your child engage with the material.

Advertising

To take advantage of strategies for engaging underperforming students [5]

Make it relevant: Talk about and show your child how school subjects
apply to things she really likes—e.g., her favorite movie had a scriptwriter
who learned reading comprehension in English class, an actress who got
good enough grades to go to art school, an accountant who learned how to
crunch numbers in math class

Make it engaging: If there are any subjects your child is doing well at, or at
least making an effort to understand, praise their effort; ignore the negative
and focus on the positive—it’s proof she can make an effort with other
things, too

Focus on emotion: How does it feel when your child does well at
something? How does it feel when she blows it off and performs poorly? Ask
open-ended questions

Note what stimulates her intellect: Pay attention to the intellectual
challenges she does want to tackle, as they may be much more difficult than
what she’s getting at school; think about ways you can connect under-
stimulating challenges to those that stimulate her

Don’t forget physicality: This can come in the form of rewards she can
touch and feel, or punishments that take away physical livelihood; it can
also be an interactive, physical method of learning

Advertising

Create structure: Your child needs you to model organization and
structure; craft a homework routine and stick with it

Focusing on these strategies will help you align with what her teachers are doing at school. Talk to her teachers and ask what strategies they’re using the most. Find out if they’ve seen any bright spots, any moments when your child has been engaged. Request regular updates about any sort of positive engagement, and focus on that engagement in conversations with your child.

Follow Through with Rewards

Self-affirmation will help your child understand she can do it. Now it’s time to seal the deal.

Your child’s everyday life is full of stimulus. Her interactions with friends are rewarding, entertainment is rewarding, technology is rewarding, even exercise is rewarding. All of these things cause her brain to release stimulating chemicals.

Interactions with her boyfriend and close friends cause her pituitary gland to release oxytocin [6], a hormone related to social bonding. Her experiences with entertainment, technology, and any sort of stimulating substances cause her brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter directly linked to motivation and rewards. Dopamine release is heightened in teens [7], causing them to take risks even when they’re aware of the consequences. And exercise stimulates the release of endorphins [8] .

If there’s no stimulus involved in doing well at school, chances are your child is bored and doesn’t connect schoolwork to reality. And with good reason: when we do work and do it well, we get a paycheck. Why shouldn’t it be the same with school?

Advertising

You don’t necessarily have to pay your child for getting A’s, but it doesn’t hurt. Here are some ways to offer rewards:

Pay attention: Positive attention from you is a reward—it’s a social
stimulus; pay heightened attention to academic life, delve deep, ask
stimulating questions

Involve her in a study group: This is a way to connect social life to
schoolwork; talk to her friends’ parents about setting up a group

Offer concrete rewards and don’t avoid punishments: A study group is
all fine and good, but what if they don’t do any work? Use a favorite activity
as reward for work completed, and remove privileges when she
underperforms

Underperformers need consistent rewards to connect academic performance to their everyday livelihood. They’re smart enough to do well in school, but they’re at a time in their life when the only thing that matters is having fun. Rewards may sound old-school, but they work.

Author’s note: How do I know rewards work? When I was in school, my parents consistently paid me for every A and B on my report card. I graduated from high school with a 3.98 GPA.

Need some more advice? Your child may be withdrawing from school because it’s too much for her—there are bullies, deadlines, pressure to make friends. There are a lot of fear-inducing factors. Here’s a list of books to help make school less scary . The more interested and less afraid of school your child is, the better she’ll be at executing a great academic performance.

Reference

More by this author

Dan Matthews, CPRP

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

How to Change a Negative Attitude That Is Destroying You Why Happiness is a Choice (And Why It’s a Smart One to Make) 15 Ways to Stop Overthinking and Worrying About Everything What Is Life About? 9 Ways to Find Your Meaning in Life What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Trending in Psychology

1 How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing 2 How to Be Happy: Why Pursuing Happiness Will Make You Unhappy 3 The Desire to Be Liked Will End You up Feeling More Rejected 4 Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering 5 How to Do Meditation at Home to Calm Your Anxious Mind

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on May 7, 2019

How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Work in any competitive field long enough, and you’re bound to run into a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a powerful image. A shepherd watches over his flock to protect them from harm. He’d chase away any predator that tried to make its way into the flock. A clever wolf wearing the skin of a sheep as a disguise can sneak by the vigilant shepherd and get into the herd undetected.

The story isn’t just a colorful description–it’s a warning to all of us to beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They may seem innocent, but they have ulterior motives. They’ll use different tactics to camouflage their intentions.

The person who is kind to you, but undercuts you when you aren’t around is a wolf in disguise. A wolf in sheep’s clothing might pick your brain for ideas and then pass them off as their own to get a promotion. They’re always looking out for themselves at the expense of everyone around them.

Wearing a Disguise Has Its Advantages

People don’t go out of their way to manipulate others unless they’re getting something out of it. Hiding their intentions gives wolves the chance to manipulate other people to advance their own agenda. They know that what they’re trying to do wouldn’t be popular, or it might cause struggle if they presented themselves honestly.

Advertising

    They’ll be able to do what they want with less interference if they put on an act. By the time people figure out their true motives, the wolf has what it wants.

    Signs That Someone Is a Wolf in Disguise

      Advertising

        1. They live to take power instead of empowering others. A wolf uses people as stepping stones to get the things that they want. They don’t care what happens to anyone else.[1] A wolf at work might make you look bad during a presentation to make themselves look amazing in front of the boss.
        2. Wolves seem sweet on the outside, but they’ll show you their teeth. If wolves revealed their true identity, people wouldn’t associate with them. They develop a friendly or kind persona, but they can’t keep up the act 24/7. Eventually, they’ll reveal their aggressive tendencies. A wealthy person who likes to break the law may make sizable charitable donations to convince people that they are kind and thoughtful. These donations largely keep them out of trouble, but if someone calls them out, they destroy that person’s reputation to stifle the criticism.
        3. They manipulate through emotions to get what they want. Wolves know that they can get ahead by appealing to your emotions. They find out what you want and need, and they give you just enough to keep you quiet and compliant. Imagine that your boss is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and you want to ask for a vacation. She might try to play on your guilt and feelings of insecurity to get you to skip vacation or take fewer days off.
        4. A wolf will charm you first. Wolves are experts at manipulating the people around them. They appear interested in whatever you’re doing, and you’ll get the impression that they care. After they get you where they want you, they do just enough to keep you on the hook. This is the coworker who may start out being your friend, but they end up dumping responsibility onto you. When they see that you are growing frustrated, they’ll surprise you with something to charm you some more. Then, they’ll continue to do whatever they want.
        5. Their stories are full of holes.  Calling a wolf out is the surest way to make them squirm. When this person tries to come up with a story, it won’t make much sense because they are improvising.[2] The classic example of this is the significant other that you suspect has cheated on you. When you ask them why they came home so late, they’ll either become upset with you, or they’ll make up a weak explanation.

        How to Spot a Wolf

          Know What’s Real So You Can Spot the Phony

          Do some homework so that you have as much of the story as possible before you work with them. Research how they respond in certain situations, or give them hypothetical problems to see how they respond.

          A job applicant might tell you that she’s always positive and thinks of herself as a team-player. That’s what every employer wants to hear. During the interview you ask applicants to work in groups to solve a problem to see how they handle the situation. The applicant “positive team-player” is bossy and negative. You’ve spotted the wolf.

          A wolf will tell you something that ultimately benefits them. Gather evidence that proves or disproves their position, and see what happens. Chances are, when you choose the side that supports their agenda, they’ll act like your best friend. If you disagree, they’ll become aggressive.

          Spotting a potential wolf–especially if you are one of the sheep–can present you with some challenges. If your gut tells you that a wolf is lurking among all the other sheep, pay attention, and make sure you take the next step.

          Advertising

          Ask Questions, the More the Better

          There’s nothing wrong with asking questions to uncover the truth. The safety of everyone in your group is at risk. Since wolves often make up stories, you may be able to call them out when their tales lack details.

          When they state an opinion, ask “Why do you think that?” or “How do you know it’s like that?” They’ll have trouble coming up with enough information to pull off the lie.

          Since wolves are always pretending to be something they aren’t, they don’t usually have a clearly thought-out reason for what they say. In a debate, they won’t understand the root of an issue.

          They may also tell you what they think you want to hear, but when pressed for more information, they won’t have anything to add. Their knowledge is superficial. No matter how much you try to encourage discussion, they will not be able to carry on a conversation about the subject.

          Advertising

          Wolves Are Everywhere

          As much as we want to believe that everyone has the best intentions, it isn’t always the case. Some people only do things to benefit themselves, and they don’t care who they hurt in the process.

          Wolves in sheep’s clothing can be found in almost every setting. You can’t get rid of them, but if you can spot them, you can avoid falling into their traps.

          Reference

          [1] Association of Biblical Counselors: Three Ways to Spot a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
          [2] Power of Positivity: Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing

          Read Next