Involvement, connections matter more than grades
Michael Thompson, Ph.D., is a consultant, author and psychologist specializing in children and families. He is the supervising psychologist for the Belmont Hill School and has worked in more than 500 schools across the United States, as well as in international schools in Central America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
For nearly 35 years, he has worked as a clinical psychologist, school consultant and international speaker on the subjects of children, schools and parenting. He’s authored nine books focusing on the emotional lives of boys, friendships and social cruelty in childhood, the impact of summer camp experiences on child development, the tensions that arise in the parent-teacher relationships, and psychological aspects of school leadership.
Thompson is the author of “Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow,” which was released by Ballantine Books in May 2012. He and co-uthor, Dan Kindlon, wrote the New York Times best-selling book, “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys” (Ballantine Books, 1999).
A dedicated speaker and traveler, Thompson has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, ABC 20/20, CBS 60 Minutes, The Early Show and Good Morning America. He has been quoted in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time and U.S. News and World Report and has been a guest on NPR’s “Morning Edition” with Susan Stamberg, “Talk of the Nation” with Ray Suarez and the Diane Rhem Show. He wrote, narrated and hosted a two-hour PBS documentary entitled “Raising Cain” that was broadcast nationally in 2006.
Thompson is a past member of the board of the American Camping Association and is on the Advisory Board of Parent Magazine. Thompson lives in Arlington, Mass. He is married to Dr. Theresa McNally, a psychotherapist, is the father of Joanna, 27, and Will, 21, and a recent grandfather of Aubrey, born in February 2012.
For more information on Michael Thompson, visit his website at www.michaelthompson-phd.com
by Nathan Warner
The Connect Effect linked up in Rogers on Feb. 25 with author and veteran clinical psychologist, Dr. Michael Thompson.
Dr. Thompson flew in from his home in Arlington, Mass., to tackle tough questions from nearly 200 parents and teachers about their children’s relationship to school and learning. He also held workshops with students earlier in the day asking them about their relationships with school, their parents, and their teachers.
The event was organized by Rogers High School DECA students who were in Minneapolis this past weekend presenting their Connect Effect project at the state DECA conference. Thompson is co-author of the New York Times best-selling book, “Raising Cain: Protecting the emotional Life of Boys” as well as many other books on childhood development and education, including his most recent one, “Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow.” Throughout his talk Monday, Thompson alluded to his book, “The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Achieve Success in School and in Life.”
Thompson stressed that for parents and teachers to understand their children’s reaction to school, it is paramount for them to remember how they felt about school growing up.
“How many of you here have spent an entire day following your student around a typical class day?” Thompson asked the audience. Only one woman, named Sandy, raised her hand. Thompson asked her to describe how it felt. “Long,” she replied. “When I ask teachers who have followed a student from class to class, they use words like ‘exhausting,’ ‘confusing,’ ‘boring,’ and ‘too many transitions.’”
According to Thompson, few parents or teachers would ever want to go back to school. “When people say they want to go back to school, they’re talking about college,” he smiled, “with long coffee breaks with friends and adventure and studying when you want to with no one looking over your shoulder. Nobody who says they want to go back to school is talking about 6th grade.”
Thompson challenged parents to stop expecting school to be exciting and enjoyable for their kids, when their own memories are not so rosy.
Similarly Thompson feels many parents have too high of expectations for their kids. “Many parents are over-focused on grades,” he said, “when I’m more concerned with their friendships, their involvement and connection with their teachers and class.”
Thompson described a parent who was driving his son to distraction with pressures to get good grades and get into good schools. “I asked him what he was worried about,” Thompson recalled, “and he told me ‘globalization.’” Thompson said it is natural for parents to be worried about where their child’s place is going to be in the world, especially now that it is a global marketplace with many students competing with children halfway around the world for jobs. He cautioned against allowing this to become a pressure on children.
“If the world has changed around us, our children’s brains haven’t,” Thompson said. “They still have the same brains that you had when you were their age. No amount of pressure is going to change that.” He added that parents must deconstruct their dreams for their children and follow their children’s unique journey. “Watching our children struggle in their journey is one of the toughest jobs of being a parent.”
Parents and teachers, according to Thompson, need to understand that school is not a competition. “Your son or daughter is living today to the fullest,” he said, “but you as a parent are focused on the future.”
Thompson said many parents and teachers do not understand that by the 4th grade a child’s academics are pretty much set. “Barring some ‘aha’ moment for your child, if they consistently get B’s, from grade to grade, then no amount of added pressure is going to make them an A-student.” Thompson said that this can devastate parents who have high expectations or anxieties about their children academic future. These same parents oftentimes use fear and intimidation to try prodding their children forward. Thompson said these tactics can make boys distant and unreachable while girls can become terrified and paralyzed.
“I remember asking a terrified little 6th grade girl what she was so afraid of,” he recalled, “and she replied, ‘I’m afraid there won’t be a school for me because I’m not good enough.’” Thompson stopped and looked out at the parents. “Where did she get that idea?” he asked. “She got it from her parents who wanted her to get into a fancy, selective, private school.”
Thompson said that what makes a good student is not their grades, but their connection with the people around them, recognition of where they are and what’s expected, and a growing sense of mastery. “For a student to be successful, they need to feel like they’re growing and a lot of that is up to parents and teachers to help them have that sense.” Thompson says he admires kids who work hard and get good grades, but stressed that parents and teachers shouldn’t overlook the fact that there are many successful kids who aren’t in the top of the class because they have invested in connection, recognition, and a growing sense of mastery.
Although he is often mistaken as a school reformer, Thompson stressed he is not. “School is a deeply flawed human institution,” he said, “but it’s the only one we have and we have to work with what we have.”
Thompson said parents and teachers can’t expect one size to fit all. “I interviewed drop-out students and asked them what they needed. ‘Evening school’ was their answer, but we won’t change because teachers and parents expect kids to live by their schedule.”
Thompson closed by comparing the perfect education to a teacher he once saw running with two of his students. “This teacher was running just off their shoulders, a quarter-step behind these two girls,” he said, “They could hear his footfalls and hear him breathe, but he wasn’t so far in front of them that he demoralized them. He was running right alongside – but slightly behind – their journey through school. This is how parents and teachers must relate to their kids: not too much pressure and not too little.”