Recently, we got some negative feedback from our younger sons teacher. Apparently, he is a bit too laid back in his approach to school. We followed up with the teacher (who is an excellent teacher and one we trust), and it seems he was not very engaged in class, and is not participating in classroom discussions.
Of course, this caused a bit of panic for us! We’re out in the world promoting study skills and study habits – and our own son is slacking in class!
Well, it turns out we stumbled on a great – and easy – solution for this a few years ago, when our first born son had this same problem. It’s a little trick that works so well you won’t believe the difference in attitude and behavior in just a few days. Even better, the kids think it is hilarious and are happy to try it.
So what is this magic technique? Tell your kids they do not have to actually care about school, or like homework. They don’t have to like it at all. They just have to pretend they care about school and homework.
We used the words:
“You have to pretend to care about school and the work in school, pretend to like it, pretend to care about it, and you have to act as though you care in class. It doesn’t matter if you care or not – either way is fine. You just have to pretend good enough to trick your teachers into thinking you care.”
We told them they did not have to like school. However, we insisted they had to they had to pretend and act as though they really care about school and homework for their teachers.
You’ll have to remind them for a few days, and ask them if they did pretend and act as though they liked school during the day. Ask them for examples of what they did in class that day that demonstrated they were acting as though they enjoyed school. If they give you even the smallest example, that is good enough and say you are pleased with their actions.
This will work magic. You’ll notice a difference in a few days at most, and it’s a great ongoing way to help them overcome difficult spots in school.
Plus, The kids will think it is funny they are tricking the adults with your permission when you first tell them you want them “to pretend to care” instead of actually caring. This will show them you are on their side.
Focus on the actions with this technique. Focus on their actions which the teacher would notice. Focus on the physical actions they do to “prove” to their teacher they care about school and homework.
Do not worry about their emotions – the emotions of motivation and pride will come later, after they are pretending they care about school and homework.
When your kid gets home and you are checking on if they did the pretending to care, all you need to ask them is “If I emailed your teacher and asked them if they noticed any difference in how you acted today, what would they say?
If they say yes the teacher would have noticed, then say “Ok, great – Give me an example of what you did that your teacher would have noticed.”
If not, then say “All you need to do is pretend – just pretend you care. You don’t have to actually care, you just need act as though you care. What can you do tomorrow to do this?”
If they have any success at all – celebrate and praise them for their actions. Reinforce even the smallest actions with praise in the beginning.
Important: Do not bring up the emotional part at all if they tell you the teacher would have noticed, only focus on the actions the teacher would have noticed and praise them for these actions. Celebrate any actions, no matter how small.
Why does this technique work? Well, here are a few reasons we think it works so well.
First, it is far easier to control actions than it is to control emotions. It is easier to act as though care about something, and do all the things a person who actually cared would do, than it is to force an emotional reaction and genuinely care about it.
Asking kids to “pretend to care” instead of actually caring about school it is something they can visualize doing. Raising their hand, participating in class, working on homework – the kids already know what they would be doing in class if they cared. They can see themselves raising their hands, and asking questions, and getting homework done.
Changing their emotional state to actually caring would be very difficult. How could they even start to do this? And – what if the class is actually boring? Changing feelings is hard to do – so you would be giving them a difficult task, and one they may not be able to accomplish.
This focus on action rather than emotions gives the kids – and really anyone who uses this technique – concrete steps they can control and accomplish. They can control their actions, and usually they judge if they are successful or not pretty easily. This “pretending” is something they can do and be successful at doing.
Second, kids are allowed to feel what they want about school. You give them permission to feel whatever they want about school and homework. This gives them an additional level of control – they can feel and keep true to their own emotional states while also complying with your demands for positive action.
They are able to do exactly what you ask of them without having to compromise their feelings and own conclusions. You are honoring their feelings about school, acknowledging school and homework can be boring, dull, and even frustrating.
This is helpful in their emotional growth, and great for their adult life. Nearly every job that exists has some amount of tasks which are unpleasant, or maybe boring, but need to be done anyway.
College is filled with lots of homework which is far less fun than going out with friends. Life is filled with tons of unpleasant tasks – like taxes and paying bills – which need to be done even if we do not want to do them. You can probably think of 10 things in your life you do not want to do for some reason. Yet, these tasks have to be done.
Giving your kids a simple technique to help them do these unpleasant tasks is going to be helpful to them today. But it will help them even more later in life, in real world jobs, and in college when it really matters.
Third, this technique eliminates the need for motivation to be present before taking action. The technique actually thrives on lack of motivation, and turns the lack into action without any internal struggle.
When motivation is necessary before action takes place, you need to generate a feeling before beginning anything. Generating a feeling at will is hard. If you do not succeed in generating that feeling of motivation, well then the actions do not take place either. All of a sudden, kids will have failed twice – first in not getting motivated, and then in the lack of action. Kids will feel even worse than they did before, even though nothing has changed!
Placing action before the motivation is far easier. Actions are something kids can control. The results they will get from just doing the actions will quickly change their entire attitude in class.
Many times actions precede feelings. Current research is discovering that emotions can be caused and reinforced by our actions – that we feel and reinforce an emotion because of how we are behaving. This method of doing actions to produce feelings is used extensively in the modern treatment of depression. We are harnessing the same technique but for a happier reason- to help our kids do great at school.
A few days of pretending to care will give them incredible positive feedback from their teachers and really make class much more fun for them. Over a few weeks, they will forget they are pretending, and just continue doing the actions because it’s more fun.
They will want to participate in class, do homework, and the rest to continue the successes they are experiencing. The motivation will come from the actions caused by them pretending to care about school and homework.
So if you want to get your kids to like school, have them pretend to care! If you want the exact words we used with our kids to get them motivated, sign up here!