What to do with those overachieving teenagers

Right now, a bunch of parents are sighing. They’re sighing because they can’t believe that ANYONE would complain about having children who are highly motivated. They’re sighing because other people’s kids make straight A’s while their own are happy with C’s. To them, parents complaining about overachieving children is like thin people complaining that they can’t gain weight. “Oh, pu-lease!” they exclaim. “Like THAT’s a problem!”

But to those of you who have high-strung, highly stressed kids, it is a very real concern. And not one you can necessarily freely discuss with your friends, for fear of loud sighs heard ’round the neighborhood. When your kids strive to be the best, no one wants to hear you complain about it. So this week’s blog post is for you. A chance to exchange ideas about what to do with kids who hold themselves to very high standards – sometimes impossibly high standards – and make everyone around them miserable in the process.

Here are my tips for dealing with these kids. I encourage you to add your own!

  • Remember that this is a personality trait, and one you’re unlikely to change. It is who your children are, and it is wonderful. You will never be able to “reason” with them or change their way of thinking, so let it go.
  • What you CAN do, however, is help them to maximize their strengths and channel their internal motivation toward more efficient productivity. What I mean by this is that rather than telling your children not to study six hours for an exam, you can help them to find ways to study more efficiently. They will appreciate your help in this area and your understanding that the test is very important to them. You will become a source of support rather than an additional thorn in their already bleeding sides.
  • While you can’t control their minds and how they think about grades, winning, or otherwise coming out on top, you can control your expectations and how you verbalize them to your children. Always emphasize doing their best and being proud of that, versus end results such as grades or awards. They already want those end results – that’s the beauty of internal motivation – which lets you off the hook. You can be the loving support rather than the rabbit spurring on the greyhound.
  • Help your children to prioritize in every area of their life. Model for them what is truly important by prioritizing in your own life. Make sure that they know that family, character, work ethic, balance, religious beliefs, and fun are all important aspects of their life. It’s great to work hard, but they should play hard, too.
  • When you know that your children are making choices that will place undue burdens on them (taking a full schedule of AP courses, taking on too many responsibilities, eliminating their social lives in order to juggle more work) step in and intervene. It’s okay to say no and you must teach them at a young age that saying no is a life skill.
  • Help them to unwind by insisting on a relaxed family dinner and by providing short diversions (an evening walk, an ice-cream break). Remind them that brain breaks will actually help them to learn better.
  • Be the shoulder they can cry on when they don’t achieve their goals. Encourage them in their areas of greatest strength and help them to turn other areas into entertaining, low-stress side interests or hobbies. This will help to minimize the disappointment that comes from unmet expectations.

What have you done with your kids? What works for you?

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4 thoughts on “What to do with those overachieving teenagers

    • I completely understand that! Usually, our kids pick up these traits from us. We have the benefit of hindsight and can see where we stressed over things that really didn’t matter, but they don’t have that advantage. Or do they? Maybe that’s another thought – point out to them times when they were overwrought over something that they now realize wasn’t that important after all. Developing the ability to put things into perspective will save them much heartache down the road.

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  1. My daughter is one of those, highly gifted, and has huge standards for her self. My trouble is that it has gone to her head. She feels higher that those around her. She feels she is beyond being disciplined at home and has become quite the teen. I just want to keep her grounded. So hard. Yes, complaining about my child is never accepted, but it is hard having a kid that is like this. I just hate for her to shoot her self in the foot by being above or thinking she is above others.

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    • Does she take advanced classes at school? Usually, those classes are filled with smart enough kids that there is always someone who does better and keeps the others grounded. Now, this someone may be your daughter, so I would continue to look for challenges for her – camps, workshops, Governor’s Honors Programs, and so on. But I would also have a frank discussion with her and let her know that arrogance is off-putting. I really wouldn’t tiptoe around that. It’s a tough discussion to have and I don’t blame you one bit for not wanting to have it, but you will be doing her a huge favor. Chances are that if you see this attitude at home, her peers and teachers are seeing the same attitude at school. She may be struggling with this and need some help finding the delicate balance of being rightfully proud of her accomplishments while showing graciousness to those who struggle with learning. Perhaps tutoring other students would help her to understand that she has a gift and the best way to use her gift is to help those who don’t have it.

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