It’s exciting when school ends for the boys because it means, I too get to sleep in on a weekday morning. I too have a fairly relaxing week, filled with jaunts to the creek, u-pick farms and road trips. So when I heard that my son was recommended to go to summer school, I was a bit disappointed.
When he found out it was four days a week, not one … well, you can imagine how devastated he was. How could I convince him to do something when I was not all that excited either? As a parent, I saw the pros, he would learn to read and spell better, but I wasn’t sure if that was going to sell to a 10 year old.
“Don’t they have prizes and gift certificates for you?” I asked hopefully.
“They’re just bribery.” He said sulkily.
Of course, it is moments like this that my child shows me what he’s learned when I am not paying attention.
I knew I wasn’t going to make him. There would be no point. Getting him to comply to one action does not ensure future actions nor does it build connection. So, this is what I did instead.
Step 1: inquiry. What is going on in his world?
“What is it about summer school that upsets you?”
“You told me it was going to be one day a week.” He glared.
Step 2: Get on the same page.
“So you’re disappointed to find out it will take more days?” He nodded. “You’re upset because you think I might have lied to you?” He nodded again.
Step 3: Clear the smoke. If there are any misunderstandings, straighten them out.
“I promise you, Jing Wen, I knew it was four days, that’s what I remembered telling you, and I would not have told you otherwise.” I was so grateful our trust bank was full. Even though we were not agreeing, I knew our connection remained strong. Then I consoled, “I’m sorry if there was a misunderstanding.”
Step 4: Get further understanding of his plight. There is a positive intention behind every action.
“What would you lose if you went to summer school?”
“I can’t sleep in.” He grumbled.
Step 5: Make rapport.
“Tell me about it.” I agreed readily.
“Then why do it?” He pressed.
Step 6: Okay, I got his attention, state my case.
“For me, some of the coolest and most interesting things I’ve learned were through reading. I hope you would be able to read and to read in joy. That’s why I’m not going to make you. But I would like to ask: how else can I support you?”
He replied with silence.
Step 7: Organize our thoughts.
“Here, let me write this down. Tell me what you would gain from going to summer school and what you would gain from not going. Just so we can see clearly how our choices are going to affect us.”
“I get to sleep in, have my mornings to play, eat breakfast and go to the bathroom.” He listed.
Step 8: Reassure that you understand and get the facts straight. Humor helps.
“All those are important things. I like to take my time in the morning too. What if I told you that I will support you by making sure you have a nice breakfast before you leave. Also remember, when real school is on, you leave home at 8am. For summer school, you leave home at 9:45am. There’s lots of play and bathroom visits you can do in 1 hour and 45 minutes.”
He smiled in spite of himself.
“What would you gain if you went?” I inquired. He didn’t respond but I could tell he was listening. I waited for a moment then continued, “I can think of a few things: you will read more fluidly and spell correctly. You will be able to understand better what you’re learning in school. You will be able to do your homework with more ease. You can enjoy books to read even when dad and I are busy.”
Step 9: Remind him and myself of what’s important.
“I just care about you and I want you to be happy. Enjoying the richness of books and reading is just one way, it’s one of my ways. I’m open to learning yours and I’m open to any ideas you have on how I can support you.”
He still looked grumpy but I said all I needed to say. And I respected that important decisions need time to digest.
Step 10: Give him space.
Two days passed and I did not bring it up again. One night right before bed, he came over to me with his homework folder and said, “I have homework to do.”
“Would you like for me to help you?” I asked.
“Yes.” He said grumpily.
I was happy he even brought it up, so I was not going to press on his attitude. We did his homework together and we read.
The next night, he brought his homework to me again. This time, there was no attitude.
By the third day, we were breezing through the homework and reading Sounder together… it was a book I had always wanted to read as a child and knew he would enjoy (based on his love for Where the Red Fern Grows).
My parents didn’t read to me when I was a child. They didn’t even speak English. But what I’ve learned is when we know the past, we can bow to it, make peace with it, learn and perhaps do something different because we can.
I’m so pleased to spend these moments reading with him. When I am old and grey, I shall look upon this old tattered book and remember crying with Jing Wen next to me.
I don’t know how he is going to do for the rest of summer school. I can’t know such things. What I do know is he came to me, he listened and we are still connected.