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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.

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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.

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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

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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?

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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.

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Published on October 30, 2020

11 Essential Philosophy Books That Will Open Your Mind

11 Essential Philosophy Books That Will Open Your Mind

There are numerous ways to build your mindset, but none are as profound as reading philosophy books. Through these books, some of the greatest minds around ask questions and delve deep into thought.

While there isn’t always a clear and distinct answer to the many questions of philosophy, the entire field is a gateway to a higher sense of self. It gets you to think about all manner of things.

Below, we cover some of the essential philosophy books that are best for those who are just starting or looking to expand their mind.

How To Choose a Good Philosophy Book

Before getting to this list, we’ve researched ideal philosophy books to help you expand your mind.

We’ve found that the best philosophy books excel in the following criteria:

  • Complexity – Philosophy isn’t a subject that you can’t dive into immediately and understand everything. The books that we selected are great for people making the first leap.
  • Viewpoint – With philosophy, in particular, the author’s views are more important than in your standard book. We want to ensure the viewpoints and thoughts being discussed still hold up to this day.
  • Open-mindedness – Philosophy is all about asking perplexing questions and unraveling the answer. You might not reach a conclusion in the end, but these books are designed to get you to think.
  • Culture – The last criterion is culture. A lot of these books come from early philosophers from centuries ago or possibly from recent years. These philosophy books should paint a picture of the culture.

1. Meditations

    One that you’ll find on many of these types of lists is Meditations and for good reason. It’s the only document of its kind to ever be made. The book focuses on the private thoughts of the world’s most powerful man who advises himself revolving around making good on his responsibilities and the obligations of his position.

    We know enough about Marcus Aurelius to know that he was trained in stoic philosophy and practiced every night on a series of spirituality exercises. These exercises were designed to make him humble, patient, empathetic, generous, and strong in the face of whatever problem he had to face off. And he faced plenty of problems since he was basically the emperor of roughly a third of the planet.

    All of that is poured into this book, and you are bound to remember a line or more that will be applicable in your life. It’s a philosophy book staple.

    Buy Meditations here.

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    2. Letters From a Stoic

      Similar to Marcus Aurelius, Seneca was another powerful man in Rome. He was a brilliant writer at the time and was the kind of guy to give great advice to his most trusted friends. Fortunately, much of his advice comes in letters, and those letters happen to be in this book. The letters themselves provided advice on dealing with grief, wealth, poverty, success, failure, education, and more.

      While Seneca was a stoic, he has a more practical approach and has borrowed from other schools of thought for his advice. As he said when he was alive, “I don’t care about the author if the line is good.” Similar to Meditations, there are several brilliant lines and advice that are still relevant to this day.

      Buy “Letters From a Stoic” here.

      3. Nicomachean Ethics

        Aristotle was a famous Greek philosopher at the time with profound knowledge. He’s named after a form of logic as well called Aristotelian logic. Through this book, Aristotle writes about the root of all Aristotelian ethics. In other words, this book contains the moral ideas that form a base for pretty much all of western civilization.

        Buy “Nicomachean Ethics” here.

        4. Beyond Good & Evil

          Friedrich Nietzsche played a big role in the philosophical world. He was one of the leading philosophers of the existential movement, and it all came through this particular book. He is a brilliant mind. However, the issue with a lot of his work is that it’s all written in German.

          Fortunately, this book is one of the slightly more accessible ones since it’s translated. Within the book, he breaks down the paradoxes of conventional understandings of morality. By doing this, he sets the stage for a lot of the 20th-century thought process that followed.

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          Buy “Beyond Good & Evil” here.

          5. Meditations on First Philosophy

            In Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes breaks his book down into six meditations. The book takes a journalistic style that is structured much like a six-day course of meditation. On day one, he gives instructions on discarding all belief in things that are not guaranteed. After that, he tries to establish what can be known for sure. Similar to Meditations, this is a staple and influential philosophical text that you can pick up.

            Buy “Meditations on First Philosophy” here.

            6. Ethics

              Written by Benedict de Spinoza, this came at a time during the Age of Enlightenment. Enlightenment was a movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries and with that, many schools of thought emerged and were presented through books.

              Out of the many influential philosophy books published back then, Ethics dominated during this period as it discussed the basis of rationalism. Even though we’ve developed further beyond that, Ethics can introduce new ways of thinking from this particular school of thought.

              Buy “Ethics” here.

              7. Critique of Pure Reason

                Immanuel Kant is another great philosopher who brought together two of history’s biggest opposing schools of thought into a single book. Those schools being rational thought and empirical experiential knowledge—knowledge gained through experience.

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                In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explores human reason and then works to establish its illusions and get down to core constituents. Overall, you can learn more about human behavior and thought processes and thus, open your mind more to how you think and process everything around you.

                Buy “Critique of Pure Reason” here.

                8. On the Genealogy of Morals

                  Another piece of work from Nietzsche that is accessible to us is On the Genealogy of Morals. According to Nietzsche, the purpose of this book is to call attention to his previous writings. That said, it does more than that so you don’t need to worry so much about reading his other books.

                  In this book, he expands on the cryptic aphorisms that he brings up in Beyond Good and Evil and offers a discussion or morality in a work that is more accessible than a lot of his previous work.

                  Buy “On the Genealogy of Morals” here.

                  9. Everything Is F*cked

                    The only book on this list that’s been written in the past few years, this book by Mark Manson aims to explain why we all need hope while also accepting that hope can often lead us to ruin too.

                    While many of the books on this list are all practical, this one is the most realistic one since not even the greatest of philosophical minds could predict things like technology, Twitter, and how our political world has shaped.

                    Manson delivers a profound book that taps into the minds of our ancestral philosophers, such as Plato, Nietzsche, and Tom Waits, and digs deep into various topics and how all of it is connected—religion and politics, our relationship with money, entertainment, and the internet.

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                    Overall, this book serves as a challenge to all of us—a challenge to be more honest with ourselves and connect with the world in a way we’ve never tried before.

                    Buy “Everything Is F*cked” here.

                    10. Reasons and Persons

                      One of the most challenging philosophy books to read on this list, Reasons and Persons will send you on quite the trip. Through a lot of painstaking logic, Derek Parfit shows us some unique perspectives on self-interest, personhood, and whether our actions are good or evil.

                      Considered by many to be an important psychological text around the 20th century, the arguments made about those topics will open your mind to a brand new way of thinking.

                      Buy “Reasons and Persons” here.

                      11. The Republic of Plato

                        Written by Plato himself, this book is the origin of political science and offers a brilliant critique of government. As you would expect, the critique is still important today. If you’re looking to understand the inner thoughts of Plato, this is one of the best books around.

                        Buy “The Republic of Plato” here.

                        Final Thoughts

                        Philosophy books take a while to digest as they provide profound knowledge and leave you with many questions. With many of these philosophy books, you need to take your time with them, and you might have to read through them a few times as well. And with every read, your mind will only expand.

                        More Books to Open Your Mind

                        Featured photo credit: Laura Chouette via unsplash.com

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