Very often, we tell our kids to “do your best!” But what happens if they don't know how to do that? My mother's classic comment was “if you’d just apply yourself.” I never knew what that meant. And that's where parenting launches into high gear!
One of my favorite courses in grad school was “Concept acquisition” – that is, the study of how anyone acquires the concept of “two” or “girl” or “apple.” The major realization was and is – each of us sees or perceives “distinctive features” that someone else may not even notice, but clearly, for the learner, identifies a TWO – and is not a GIRL, not an APPLE.
Let’s take that further: in studying “in the zone” we find that, over time, everything becomes boring. But what re-ignites interest and directed motivation is “finer and finer levels of detail”, such as, in bowling, getting the 7-10 split once every fifty times, not once every hundred. Golf is a better metaphor. When my friend and I took up golf, we knew we were getting better when our tee shot was only one fairway off, not two or three. These exact same concepts are how you help your teen “do their best.”
As in bowling or golf, we needed a lesson in very specific actions or grip or release or stance or approach. I once took an at-home study course in which the entire first module was about what to eat before starting, how to sit, where to sit, etc., etc. You may need to guide your teen in some of these prelim steps as well.
I am a huge believer in the effectiveness of micro-goals –the essence of all success and a close cousin, no, brother, to ‘finer level of detail.’ Encourage your teen to work in short bursts, much like Salman Khan of the Khan Academy recommends for at-home, virtual learning.
And DON’T FORGET – compliment the heck out of them each and every positive, even small step forward, as they get closer and closer to “doing their best.”
REMINDER: we are all our own worst critics, as is your teen OF THEMSELVES. Say nothing negative unless they ask – and be very gentle and instructive, not negative and destructive.