My 9-year-old son struggles in school. I tell him academics are important for success in life. I remind him that he doesn’t want to fail and be held back because he’ll be bigger than the other kids. His 7-year-old brother excels at school, sports and friendship. The other day my older son said none of the other kids at summer school talked to him that entire week. I said he should go up to them and start conversations about things they are interested in. He seemed sad. I’m divorced and trying my best. How can I help him?
Strip your brain free of the fear that if your son is not a perfect student in elementary school he won’t get into a good high school and that will shut him out of a fine university, which means he’ll be a failure in life. It’s a lie perpetuated by universities and the people who love them. Remember, this is life: There are no guarantees. There are homeless people and plenty of underemployed folks who attended Ivy League and other prestigious universities. So stop trying to shame your son into studying harder by saying he could be held back and that he’ll look like a giant next to the other kids. Instead, see his strengths and help him to build on each one. For example, a lot of kids who score average or low grades excel in things traditional education doesn’t measure, like emotional or spiritual intelligence. They are sensitive and hyper-aware of subtleties in people that others miss. These children often grow up to become psychotherapists, ministers, salespeople, writers and artists. And, your son may be depressed. (Wouldn’t you be if your daddy shamed you? Or your parents divorced?) Or he may be bored. Regarding the latter, once he finds a subject he enjoys, explores and excels in, his other grades should rise a bit, too.
When your son says no one at school talked to him all week, pretend you’re Swiss. Be neutral. If you act like his information is accurate, it solidifies his fears about himself. But you don’t want to pooh-pooh it, either. Just teach him how to challenge his negative beliefs. For example: “None of the kids talked to you all week, is that true?” “Yeah.” “Let’s go back through the week like detectives and see if we can find times the kids at school did talk to you.” Take him through the week day by day, if needed. You will find a moment, even if it’s another kid saying, “Hey!” Then your son can begin to shift out of the black-and-white thinking (“I never make friends” and “They always ignore me”) that causes so much pain.
After that you can talk about creating the kind of relationships he desires. But be certain to teach him about mutuality. It won’t be fulfilling for him to talk to kids about what they are interested in, if he’s not fascinated by the same topics.
I am surprised that you have not written about The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. What’s your opinion of it?
There’s a saying in the Talmud, a book of Jewish wisdom, that when we miss or ignore God’s call, later we receive “the daughter of a voice.” That means the invitation is still extended but it’s softer, not fully mature, so we must be quieter and more open to hear it. The books from which The Secret is derived are stronger, clearer and more direct than The Secret. So I would advise people to go old-school and read books like The Think & Grow Rich Action Pack by Napoleon Hill. But study the intense marketing campaign for The Secret and notice when it hooked you. That will tell you a lot about yourself.