Speakers Bureau: The Self-Driven Child

The St. Bernard’s community was fortunate to hear from William Stixrud, Ph.D., and Ned Johnson, authors of The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives.  The authors met with the faculty in the afternoon and in the evening, spoke to over one hundred parents in the small gym.  
Dr. Stixrud and Mr. Johnson shared their thoughts on the causes and potential solutions to today’s unprecedented numbers of children struggling with anxiety and lack of motivation.  The authors argued these challenges are linked to the fact that young people increasingly feel that they have little control over their own lives – and thus often feel helpless, resigned, or overwhelmed.  A low sense of control is the main contributor to stress.  On the other hand, a strong sense of autonomy provides us with the right state of mind to make smart decisions, and when we make mistakes, learn from them, and recover.  Adults need to take a step back from micro-managing our children and give them the message, “I trust you to make decisions and to learn from your mistakes.”  Resisting solving their problems for them will make them stronger in the long run.
In both sessions, Dr. Stixrud and Mr. Johnson discussed ways to give our boys intrinsic motivation, motivation that comes from within, rather than controlled motivation such as boys getting good grades just to please their parents.  Self-driven motivation comes from three things: a sense of competence (studying and practicing), a sense of relatability (respecting and admiring one’s teacher for example), and most importantly, a sense of autonomy.  When it comes to homework, parents should view their role as one of a ‘consultant’ – there to help and offer advice, but not do the work for them.  Dr. Stixrud and Mr. Johnson told us that one of the most important things we can say to our boys is, “I love you too much to fight with you about your homework.”
In addition to a sense of control, our boys need more downtime, and more sleep.  Losing just one hour of sleep results in lower cognitive function and self-regulation.  The authors also recommend a “passionate pursuit of pastimes,” a hobby or skill that requires full attention and determination, but in a low stress environment.  The sense of mastery that comes from this exercise will give them a much needed sense of autonomy and reduce anxiety.
The parent talk was video-taped, and we hope to make it available to parents soon on the Parents Association Resource Board.  Copies of The Self-Driven Child are available at the Corner Bookstore.  Many thanks to the Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson for their informative visit.