By Scott Lutostanski

When it comes to students, the ability to initiate a task can be one of the most daunting and challenging skills to master. It can also lead to some of the most emotionally charged moments between children and parents.

Think about all the issues that arise from a struggle to initiate. Missed homework assignments start to pile up, long term projects get put off until the last second, tests don’t get studied for, chores around the house don’t get done, and all-night cram sessions become the norm. These are just a few of the academic outcomes that can rear their ugly head.

The human element of initiation problems can be even worse. The emotional toll that this can have on students is deep-rooted and impactful. It can lead to feelings of frustration, a lack of confidence, the urge to give up, or an emotional meltdown. And this is only the student. Lack of initiation can increase the tension in the household. Everyone’s stress levels rise: children, their siblings, and parents. Some parents will resort to backing off and letting things play out. Others will hover and monitor even more closely. Whatever the case and however it plays out in a given house, the one (usually) constant theme is toxic interactions. The school struggles, the inability to complete assignments, and the immobility of the student can lead to negative, emotionally-charged communication. These types of interactions will not make it more likely for a student to initiate.

So what is at play in these situations? A student wants to do well in school and is frustrated by their lack stick-to-it-ness. The parents, stressed out about the student, want to support, but often cross the line of support that the student is willing to receive. From the parent position, it is an incredibly delicate and sensitive situation. Often times, the question that arises is How do I help my student in a productive way so they can get more schoolwork done?

Herein lies the power or presence. When students’ dysfunction reaches a level where they are unable to work, presence is the way to toe the line. What does this mean? First, students must do their schoolwork in a “public place” in the home. Bedrooms, offices, or basements won’t work if someone isn’t present. This will also eliminate the “pop in” to check if the student is actually doing homework. Once the student is set up to work in a public place in the home (think: kitchen counter, dining room table, coffee table, etc.) the parent just needs to be present but not interacting with the student. In fact, the parent should be mostly ignoring the student. They can make dinner, respond to emails, do the dishes, or read a book. It doesn’t matter, as long as they are giving the student space by not communicating. People get more independent work done in groups. Whether it is a study group at the library, a conference room at work, or in the kitchen at home. There are social factors at play that encourage and motivate.

There is power in merely being present. This gives students space to get started, use their talents, and finish work. It can also soothe parent concerns about work completion. The goal is to not interact with the student at all. No questions; no hovering; no watching. Presence is all that is needed.