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Why you should NOT go into summer thinking your child has nothing to work on

This is the time of year when we parents are deciding what we want to have our children do to occupy their free time this summer.  In order to make decisions about this, we reflect on what teachers have been telling us all year about how our children have been performing in school.

One of the most common but camouflaged “rattlesnakes” that can fatally bite parents and their children comes in the form of a myth that if your child has high enough grades, they do not need to work on anything this summer.

One of the key reasons parents give their child “the summer off” is they naïvely overvalue the role of grades in assessing how well their child is living up to their potential academically and overall.

You may think “if my  child is getting all A’s, or all A’s and B’s, you think ‘all is good’ “.

While grades may reflect how well your child is mastering a certain content area, they rarely help you truly grasp how well your child is reaching their potential.  And grades certainly do not clarify where your child’s current set of cognitive, learning, or emotional skill gaps are.  And yet, no matter how well your child is doing, it is their skill gaps that will most likely sneak up on you or your child and derail their development quite easily, at some point in their future.

Think about it this way:  if you think of a pouch filled with water, you can think of all of your child’s strengths as the material that pouch is made of.  You can also think of any skill gaps they have as holes in that pouch.  No matter how strong the material is, even just one hole can deplete that pouch of water very quickly and undermine that pouch from being able to fulfill its sole purpose: to hold water.

The same principle applies to human functioning; one hole  – in the form of a  “personality thorn” or  a “learning gap/disability” can undermine the all the other strengths, no matter how numerous.  Case in point:  if your child has test anxiety – a well validated scientific phenomenon – it can undermine all of their other great academic qualities such as being a hard worker, curious, and studious.

By the way, my most popular blog by far (read by over 5,000 people) talks more about the personality traits that derail even good people: https://www.doctorbrunner.com/the-psychological-rattlesnakes-parents-miss-but-which-bite-their-children/

That’s an incredible challenge we face his parents: to always be assessing where the holes are. Our children change drastically from infancy to late adolescence, and the location and type of holes there are constantly changes with them.   We also find that developing itself varies greatly from child to child.  The best way to appreciate and accelerate your child’s unique developmental pathway is to always be building on your current understanding of what their functional profile looks like.  In other words, further discovering their assets and where their liabilities are in terms of their learning style, their physical or athletic style (for those competitively engaged), and/or their personality profile and style.

Remember, if you are unsure about where your child’s skill gaps are, you can utilize the precision offered by those child/adolescent specialists who specialize in helping you and your child get a 360 degree view of the strengths and skill gaps. More and more, parents come to me not because there is a clinical problem, but because they want to accelerate their strengths and tap into hidden potential. Adolescent athletes benefit greatly from this kind of work, for example, as they learn to conquer performance fears.

In case you didn’t know:  just about every sports team and Fortune 500 organization uses behavioral science to identify untapped talent and accelerate the strengths of their valued people.  Learn more here: http://greatpeoplescience.com/

How can you be the most realistic parent?   Your safest bet is to keep the image of that pouch in your mind, as you work hard to talk with teachers or other adults who work with your child to ask them this critical question:  where are my child’s skill gaps?

Now, you will not always get honest answers on the first go around.  We live in a society that is so politically correct is so superficially complementary, and often you have to make teachers feel like they have the freedom and safety to go ahead and be brutally honest with you about where your child’s skill gaps are.  It doesn’t matter if your child has an A in the class; the more critical – the better predictor- of how well your child is developing is for you to have a clear sense of where the current skill gaps are.

Don’t be one of those parents who raises a fragile and overprotected child, as you are only setting them up for unemployment when they compete against the children who were raised by parents who demanded more transparency and accountability from their child.

A parent I work with told me that while a teacher who works with their son initially claimed the son was “doing fine”, when she followed my advice and pushed to get more specific information, there was an outpouring of great information about where that child was struggling emotionally and behaviorally.

Let’s face it…if you’re one of those parents whose main reference of how well your child is doing is their grades, you are not working hard enough.  Work hard to understand by truly listening to others, by being humble enough to be open to the criticism that other adults may have of your child. Create an atmosphere of openness and humility whereby those who teach and coach your child will readily approach you when there is an issue so that you can be more preventative, rather than only hearing about it after it is been going on for months or years.

Great parents regularly seek out input from those professionals working with your child, and just about demand to hear about were the skill gaps are rather than just accepting praise and walking away.  Don’t be naïve, be realistic.  Every child has a set of strengths and a set of skill gaps.  Get to know their strengths, so you can accelerate them.  Get to know their skill gaps, so you can help fill them in.

One of your goals for this summer should be to have 5 to 10 skill gaps that you are going to have your child work on so that they broaden their toolbox of skills as you ramp them up to succeed in the next school year.

Here are examples of skill gaps that often get missed with boys and girls (who may be getting very good grades) that you need to make sure you are vigilantly watching out for:


-Problems with reading comprehension or writing or other “low arousal” (i.e., less stimulating) challenges (when corrected leads to much greater academic achievement)

-Problems with procrastination and/or time management (if corrected early you can head off major homework battles or academic crises later on)

-Problems with emotional reactivity or poor ability to manage distress (when corrected results in a child who can adapt and get over the common emotional humps of stormy adolescence)

-Problems with expressing feelings to the point where they regularly build up and then you get dangerous explosions ;  the “over-internalizer” (if corrected you avoid having the boy who explodes on the field or in class – by the way, this leads to clinically significant anxiety)

-Social awkwardness which can include a tendency to obsess on certain topics (when corrected early you avoid having the boy who becomes isolative and depressed because they  have trouble fitting in.)


-Under-identified depression or mood dysregulation problems that are simply chalked up to be normal for females (when corrected results in a whole host of psychological problems being prevented)

-Low self-esteem that is overly tied up in physical looks or superficial features (when corrected results in more independence and less folding to peer pressure)

-Problems with mathematics, including abstract reasoning with higher-order concepts (can be corrected with tutoring or cognitive remediation that can take your child to the “next level”)

-Body image problems driven by unrealistic expectations or social anxiety (when corrected this leads to much greater self confidence turning into higher goals being set)

-Fine or gross motor coordination problems too easily dismissed as result of not being athletic (these can be corrected easily with occupational therapy and lead to much greater physical confidence)

Your overall and ultimate parenting challenge is to raise a well-rounded child who enters adult life with insight into not only how to leverage their strengths but how to compensate for their skill gaps.

Want more information?  Read my other blogs that have developmentally focused tips!

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Meet Doctor Brunner

Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brunner is a Tucson based psychologist and published expert who has a 20 year track record of clinical excellence, scientific research, teaching, publications, awards and podcast interviews.  He is the senior author of a psychological measure adapted into 14 languages worldwide, and has written over 250 blogs, many of them have gone viral.  He is revolutionizing the field of career guidance with his fresh and trademarked approach that is spreading like wildfire. Sign up here to be notified of soon to be published book, Find Your Real Me: Career Guidance Making You Truly Free.