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SET (Support, Empathy Truth) as a Successful Approach to Homework Attitute Problems

alec vanderboom

One of my hardest hurdles of homeschooling my kids is their giftedness. Before I started teaching my own kids, I had this idea that giftedness would make homeschooling easier. Yet I was missing out on one of the beautiful frustrations that often accompany a gifted mind--acute emotional sensitivity.

Emotional sensitivity is awesome. I've got it in spades and so does my artistic husband. Yet it takes a bit of maturity to use emotional sensitivity for good-- such as coloring a dramatic still life, rather than screaming bloody murder because one of your beloved crayons has a broken tip.

If there are any X man comic readers out there, my homeschool looks more like Francis Xaviers Home for Gift Youth where the new, untrained mutants frequently blow things up accidentally, more than the refined creativity synergy that is Julliard in New York City.

Today, I experienced a strong tension in the teacher/student relationship. Grace came to my rescue. I'm currently doing research on how to better support with a person with a personality issue. It had nothing to do with my teaching relationship with my son. Yet since I reached the end of my rope in homeschool far quicker because of morning sickness, I gave it a try.

SET is an acronym for "Support, Empathy, Truth." Someone with BPD needs the emotions talked about in the start of a conversation, instead of focusing first on the facts. I couldn't believe this thing worked so well in a homeschooling problem.

The problem I had today was the my 3rd grade son, wrote a fantastic piece of dialogue for his writing assignment this morning. I wanted to work on the proper placement of quotation marks. So I spent a few moments explaining the rules. I then rewrote his work with proper punctuation, proper spelling, and use of low case letters instead of the all capital letters he is so fond of using. At 8:30 AM, I gave him the assignment of copying my notes for his final draft. I fully expected this task to take less than 7 minutes.

At 8:55 AM, there were six words copied on the page. Six words that managed to have fantastically worse spelling than his original draft. This was after two "check-ins" me.

It was one of those painful moments when I felt so disrespected by my kid. He's got to be thumbing his nose at me, right? There are no learning disabilities or ADD issues in sight. He can do the work. He's done writing work in the past. What is it about today that makes a normal school assignment a gigantic heroic effort?

I blew it the first time we talked about his attitude towards this assignment. The second time I used "Support, Empathy, Truth." I told him that I wanted to be his teacher this year. I talked about how hard it is to be working and have your teacher say "You're not working hard enough on this assignment." We talked about his emotions for several moments. Once I made a firm connection, I totally switched gears.

I talked Truth. I said "You hate doing school work. That's a normal 8 year old boy thought. You are probably going hate school work today, tomorrow and the day after that. Yet when you are 25, you might have your dream job on Saturday Night Live. You have awesome ideas in your head. At sometime you are going to want to jot those ideas down for your boss. It's going to hard for your boss to read this draft (I pointed to his work) rather than this draft (I pointed to my draft). That is why we do picky final editing work. We want our ideas to be as easy as possible for other people to read, besides us."

I was really surprised because only the Lord knows how often I've given similar motivation speeches in the past, but after the easy warm up of validating his emotions, my eight year old son was surprising receptive. We finished the Grammer Pep Talk with making specific, measurable goals. I set the kitchen timer for 5 minutes. I told him how many words I hoped he would get on paper before I came back to check on him. It took a total of 20 minutes to get about 50 words copied on a sheet of paper--but the slow work was accompanied by a much calmer student and happier teacher.

Here is hoping tomorrow's copying session only takes 17 minutes!

(A lifeline in my homeschooling process has been the "Exploring the Emotional Needs of Gifted Students".)