Building a Better Student: Empathy

woman next to pile of books

Have you ever watched a child struggle with a homework assignment or a school project? They sit at the table and grimace, one hand supporting their head while the other flips through a lesson that they don’t understand.

Sometimes you get exasperated, and you want to say, “How can you not get this? It’s so simple!”

A friend of mine had this conversation with a client, who offered a solution: You – meaning the adult – go sign up for a lesson in something outside your comfort zone.

At first I chuckled at the suggestion, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. We approach our kids’ school assignments from the perspective of an adult world, where we show up each morning and do the same job for eight hours, then go home, only to repeat the process the next day. Not many new things are thrown at us, and we’re conditioned to perform essentially the same tasks all day long.

Now look at life from the perspective of a student. You work hard to master one subject or theme, and, as soon as that’s finished, you’re handed something completely different. Then another. Then another.

Dare I say that we, as adults, are spoiled? We don’t get too many new lessons to trip over on a daily basis, so we respond to our student’s frustration with a sense of bewilderment.

What if you did sign up tomorrow for a class on something totally alien to you? What if you were given a short time to master something brand new? How do you think you’d do?

This is not a suggestion that you stop encouraging your son or daughter to try harder; it’s a call for empathy.

The last time I took a college class, Ronald Reagan had just been elected president and Raiders of The Lost Ark was tops at the box office. In other words, I haven’t had a homework assignment in ages. I can show up at the radio station and do my morning show with my eyes closed, and I can crank out one of my syndicated columns in less than an hour.

But put me in a classroom today and ask me to learn calculus . . . and I’ll likely soon have my head on one hand while the other flips through the book.

We should definitely help our kids push the boundaries of their talents, and making their lessons easier is not the right answer. But if we could walk a mile in their shoes, and once again experience the mental anguish of just not knowing the answer, we’d likely be better mentors.

Put yourself in a new and difficult environment. It’s good for you, and for your child.

Dom  Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty-three years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people embrace the idea that Smart Is Cool. More info at www.DomTesta.com

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