“Let’s” not “You” – We’re in this together! When I work with a client in therapy, I usually ask some variation of “What do we want to work on today?” I know that I’m not the client (really, I do). But this inclusive technique is a subtle way of modeling connection and setting boundaries.
Gifted kids often feel that they must do everything solo. They’re the smart, unique ones, after all. They don’t work well with others. They move too quickly or too abstractly or too strangely for collaboration. With all those factors in play, it is all too common for gifted kids to feel that they might as well go it alone. None of these things are true, by the way, and they go against best practices in education and our basic human need for connection (oh, is that all, Dr. Matt?)
Making social connections takes time and practice for sure (which is whole other article – shameless plug alert!), but it mostly takes repetitions. And the best way to get the repetitions for practice is to practice with one’s teacher/parent, especially during times of distance learning where opportunities for meaningful peer interactions have drastically lessened (yes, Fortnite counts, but even that only does so much). That relationship with trusted adults is essentially ironclad and gives a lot of room for leeway and for controlled failure. Far more so than a child’s peers, adults have the skills and the developed brain to manage the child’s behavioral and emotional outbursts that disrupt relationships in other settings.
So when you talk to your kids about learning, education, or homework (or all three if you are a homeschooler), set up the conversation thusly: “What can we do today?” Framing conversations in this manner lets your children know that you are in this together. It also gives you an opening to address limitations and boundaries. “Today we are doing math. I will be teaching the lesson. You will be taking notes and trying some practice problems. I can help you in these ways (be specific) and your responsibility is to do/try these things (be specific). Do you have any questions? Let’s get started.”
Using “let’s” instead of “you” helps address anxiety by establishing roles (teacher/student) and the way those roles will work (you do XYZ/I do ABC). Children respond well to structure and roles, especially if those terms are communicated from a shared perspective rather than a didactic “top down” power dynamic. When the roles are shared clearly up front, you will anticipate some of the help-seeking behavior and give yourself a structure to refer to when challenges inevitably arise.
This strategy also gives your child space to voice their opinions or concerns. Children need to feel empowered to succeed. Often when we see challenging behaviors at home or at school, we can ultimately trace those behaviors to a kid who feels disempowered and is responded by asserting control wherever they can. If you say “let’s do math,” and your child responds with, “Can we start with history instead?” they’re communicating a need and they are playing within the teamwork model that you’ve established. If it works, I would say follow their lead.
We are all in this together, after all. Let’s be clear and make that fact work for us.