Education: On Being “Behind” by Carlynn McCormick

Susie is six and can’t count to thirty without missing a few numbers.  Johnny has almost finished eighth grade but hasn’t started pre-algebra. “Oh dear, oh dear, my child is falling behind.”

Just as one child can be given the label “Attention Deficit Disorder” because some adults cannot tolerate his activity level, so can another child be given the label “behind” because he does not match up with some adults’ scholastic expectations.

The definition of “behind” that applies from the unabridged Random House Dictionary is: In the state of making less progress than. The question parents and teachers must ask themselves is, “making less progress than whom?”  When we think this through, we see it is no different than asking “being more active than whom?”

The adults in a child’s life should be careful not to put their own expectations or worries about academic progress on their child.  The truth is a child is uniquely himself; activity level, scholastic aptitude, cleverness, imagination and every other attribute must be gauged against the individual.  When this is understood, labeling a child is no longer appropriate.

Perhaps you understand this concept perfectly and prohibit anyone from labeling your child – but your child labels himself?  What can you do?

When a child considers that he is behind, it is because he is comparing himself against someone else or others, rather than against his own potential.  This situation must be addressed: you don’t want your child feeling unhappy or embarrassed or to lose self-respect because he thinks he’s “behind.”

Talk with him.  Let him know that we all have strengths and weaknesses.   Don’t evaluate for him.  Listen and find out what he considers his strengths and weaknesses to be.   You may, of course, guide him to ensure he does not dwell only on weak points.

Then let him know that he need not compare himself to anyone else.  Discuss that when one is “behind” in something, it is because he considers that he could have done more than he did, or he planned to do more and didn’t get it all done.  What is important here is his consideration about himself and his actions.

Give him the example that if one considers he is behind in his chores it is because he didn’t get them all done.  In the case of chores, he can simply complete them right away or devise a step-by-step plan to complete them in the near future.

The same is true of learning.  If one wishes to know the capital of California, he can simply look it up in an atlas right now; if he wishes to know the capital city of each state in the union, he can devise a plan to research them over a period of time.  Have your child give you examples of setting goals and working toward them until they are accomplished.  Have him give you examples of how he can apply this to his education.  Help him to see that although others can guide him, he is ultimately responsible for being “ahead” or “behind” where he wants to be.

The bottom line – a student should only be in competition with himself.  Your child will probably be relieved to know education is not a competitive sport and that he need not judge himself by the accomplishments of others.

At this point, you can show your child how easy it is to use one’s strengths to overcome areas of difficulty.  He simply needs to find a strong purpose (a good reason) to conquer the difficulty, a decision (intention) to actually conquer it, and the willingness to work at it (practice or drill) until he succeeds.  Discuss this with your child and listen to his ideas.  Such discussions should increase your child’s confidence and help him to be more at home with himself.

Courtesy of Carlynn McCormick, Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Tina Turbin


Posted in Advice, Children's Health, Education, family, Helpful Tips, Research
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15 Responses to Education: On Being “Behind” by Carlynn McCormick

  1. Samantha says:

    oh my goodness this was EXACTLY what I’ve needed to read! I am homeschooling my two children, Jonathan, 10, and Cynthia, 9, and I am often very anxious about this. I took out my two kids from school because they were already behind and their teachers just weren’t able to give them the attention they needed, so I decided to just work with them myself. We are gradually getting “caught up,” but this article has alleviated my worries so much. Thank you thank you thank you!

  2. Shawna says:

    I’m so happy to read all your pro-homeschooling articles, Tina, that you post on your blog. I’ve been wrestling for a while with whether or not to pull my kids out of school because they’re in private schools that are pretty expensive but they’re still not even THAT much better than public school and why spend so much money on school? I could just quit my day job and homeschool them myself. So that’s what I’m going to be doing starting next school year! I’m really excited about this decision and I look forward to getting tons of great tips from you on my homeschooling journey:) Thanks, Shawna

  3. Gillian says:

    Hmmm I agree that we need to assess students according to their own individual abilities, but at the same time I think that when students start off their schooling really badly (meaning they aren’t helped enough to make sure they really grasp basic reading and arithmetic skills), they may appear less able than other students who received good educations until that point.

  4. Zandra says:

    I am so impressed with all your homeschool articles as I never really hear about it on other authors’ websites, just on blogs and websites that are geared toward homeschooling in the first place. I am also really intrigued by what seems to be a growing trend across the country–charter schools. These schools are independent and unique on a school by school basis, and may be a great alternative to parents seeking a solution to their children’s terrible education in the public school system. We are currently on the waiting list for two schools in the area, one is a magnet school with a math and science emphasis and the other is kind of like a half-school a couple days a week to balance out a homeschool education. These schools are FREE because they’re part of the public school system but they are free to do as they like. This is also really important when it comes to something else I worry about–mandatory psychotropic drugs or psychiatric treatment for children who are in public schools. I heard about a case recently about a child in California getting put in a psychiatric institution without his mother’s consent after being put there by his elementary school. Scary! Anyway, I recommend you guys all check out charter schools in your area! Zandra

  5. Dolores says:

    Ms. McCormick is so right about this! Our daughter Carrie was really behind in reading and math in public school so we put her in a remedial class and she ended up doing great, went to college, and is a successful CPA. Our son Dillan didn’t even start talking until he was FOUR, and now he’s a lawyer! Don’t worry, parents, if your kids don’t seem to be keeping up with the other kids. Sometimes you just need some extra time and attention and then after that you’ll do great!

  6. Lucy Stelman says:

    My thanks to Ms. McCormick for her articles on education which always offer a fresh perspective that you really don’t hear very often! I just came across one she wrote called (or something similar to this): “Is Homework Dangerous for Your Child?” When I came across it I couldn’t help but laugh at loud because it seemed like such a funny question, but by the end of the article I saw how homework could stifle a child’s love for learning! My kids don’t get much homework at their school and I think that’s great because they get to be kids and we do a LOT of reading at home, always going to the library and things like that. Just because they’re not doing homework doesn’t mean they’re not learning.

  7. Janine says:

    Tina, what a great article this is! I believe you’ve posted some articles before by Ms. McCormick, if I’m not mistaken, and I remember really liking it (although I don’t remember what it was about unfortunately LOL)! McCormick raises some excellent points here. I like that she really thinks outside the box.

  8. Britney Stryker says:

    I really love how the idea of goal setting is brought up here with learning because it’s such a vital skill for kids. And what does it matter if your kid’s a little “behind” others if he ends up learning how to set a goal and reach it. This will make him far in advance of others!

  9. Janet says:

    I started homeschooling my niece last year, who’s 15, and I couldn’t believe how even though she was an average math student she didn’t even know how to work with fractions and integers. We have been spending the year relearning basics such as arithmetic, grammar, and writing fundamentals. So technically she’s not in Algebra 2 yet, making her “behind” other students her age, but now when she gets there she’ll actually understand it! So look carefully before you label students as “on track” or “behind” because you never know!

  10. Nadia says:

    I have been homeschooling my kids for 2 years and they have been doing better than ever academically. They went from being behind, which really alarmed me, to being WAY ahead of their age group. So just because a child is behind where they’re “supposed” to be doesn’t mean it’s that hard to get them caught up. Teachers and school administrators can really scare you but don’t listen to them!

  11. Samantha Greenwood says:

    My kids are all in public school and doing very well but I feel that I’m very lucky because they are naturally bright. I will never switch to homeschool as I work full time and our schools are good here where I live, but I’m always very active to make sure my kids understand their lessons and homework. I’ve found this to be helpful and probably is a big reason as to why they’re doing well. And I mean VERY well–all three are on the honor roll regularly!

  12. Nadia M. says:

    It’s funny how when I was in high school the homeschooled kids seemed really weird but now they seem to be extra bright and well-loved by their parents. My kids are doing well in school, but I still fantasize about homeschooling them sometimes and I respect parents who choose to do that.

  13. Francesca V. says:

    Tina this is an amazing article. Please post more!

  14. Doloresq says:

    I have been hearing so much about homeschooling. I know of 2 different families on our street along who are doing the homeschooling thing and there kids are wonderfully bright and still social, playing sports with my grandsons in a local league.

  15. Shawna says:

    @ Zandra you’re totally right about charter schools. They really seem to be taking off, huh? I homeschooled by two kids until they were 7 and 9 and after that we found a great charter school and they’re doing very well. If that school wasn’t around they would definitely still be in home school.

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