Q: I find it hard to make my 10-year-old daughter take pleasure in learning. She seems satisfied to follow a slow-paced learning and even living style. I would like her to be as interested in reading and writing as she is in other things unrelated to her education.
A: What a great question! Your daughter is in her early middle school years, only rounding the corner on her tween years. There is incredible and rapid growth to come, physically and emotionally. For a better understanding of the developmental stages of children, check out a good age-by-age guide online or in books. I like the one on the Hey Sigmund blog (heysigmund.com). I also recommend Lisa Damour’s book “Untangled” and Eliza Reynolds’s “Mothering & Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong Through the Teen Years.”
I like your question because you are still in a position to be a positive influence on your daughter. Let’s begin by looking at your language. You write, “I find it hard to make,” and this is your first block. We don’t make humans do anything. And although this is frustrating, you are simply not going to make your daughter take pleasure in learning. In fact, there is lots of evidence (behavioral and cognitive) showing that the more one feels pushed or coerced, the more likely it is for that person to push back and move in the opposite direction.
In its most pure state, we can see this force in a normal 2- or 3-year-old. When you say, “Hurry up!” the child will slow down. When you say, “Hold my hand!” the child will begin to run away.
Every human has this instinct. We are not built to be bossed around. We simply don’t like it. That doesn’t mean that we give up parenting our children; it means that bossiness, threats and coercion are not useful tools when we want to raise obedient children.
And now you have a 10-year-old! I am presuming she knows her mind and is well on her way to adulthood. Yes, her hormones are swimming, and she still may have frequent bouts of immaturity. But her likes and dislikes are pretty well formed. Her temperament is real and ought to be respected, and like many 10-year-olds, she will not be pushed around, especially when it comes to learning and schoolwork.
And here is where I am baffled: In a country where the leading cause of death in middle schoolers is suicide, where anxiety is at an all-time high for children, where play and a slow way of living are heralded but not put into action, where we make ourselves mentally and physically sick with busyness, I am perplexed at why her “slow-paced learning and even living style” would be a concern for you.
Maybe it is cultural. Maybe it is how you were raised. Maybe it is the pressure you place on yourself. I don’t know, but I will tell you this: You want to raise a child who has a slower living style. This is the elusive balance that everyone seeks. This is the goal that sends people on retreats to far-flung places, to doctors for medical fixes, to therapists for emotional respite, and to addictive substances to quiet the mind.
This characteristic of your child ought to be recognized, celebrated and encouraged.
And with respect to her being interested in “other things unrelated to her education,” I would have you research the great minds, thinkers and doers of our world. Yes, many were good students, but many more were looking to the sky with imaginations and to the ground with curiosity. They were questioning norms and challenging theories. They paid attention to details that school did not offer, and from these minds sprung cures, art, music, writing and theories that have profoundly changed our world.
Does your daughter need to attend school? Yes. Does she need to complete her schoolwork? Yes. But I am challenging you to open your mind to these unrelated things as other paths to learning. Place your bias to the side and have her read about people in these fields. Have her write letters to the leaders of these topics. Do your own learning and actively engage your daughter in conversations about the subjects she is interested in.
She is 10. You are either going to get on board and find her to be an interesting and worthy daughter, or you are going to lose her as she matures. Yes, your parental job is to promote learning and completion of school, but your truest role is to facilitate her growth into adulthood and everything that comes with it. Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are. This is your test right now: See your daughter fully, accept her, encourage her, grow with her and keep the faith.