Do You Need Help, or Do You Need a Plan?


A student just rushed desperately into my Learning Center. “I need help! Do you have time?” she asked.

Since she was not one of my regular clients, I had to tell her that I had no more than five minutes. But she could have all five of the minutes I have!!

“So, I need major help doing this history essay on Rome. But I lost the assignment sheet, and –”

I cut her off. “You lost the assignment sheet? How are you planning on writing the essay.”

“I know! That’s why I need help. I just can’t figure out what to write.”

“When is it due?” I asked.

“Today!!!!!!!” she moaned, and I shot her that grown up look. You know, that Exasperated-You’ve-Got-To-Be-Kidding-Me glare (luckily, I’ve perfected the art of doing glare playfully).

When I gave her the following instructions, it was like a lightbulb going off in her head:

Step One: Go to the teacher and ask for a new assignment sheet. I happen to know he’s available RIGHT NOW!

Step Two: Ask the teacher for a brief extension so that you can write with some relative peace, without freaking out.

Step Three: Come back to me if you still feel confused, and we’ll make a new plan.

An hour later this student was busily working away in our school’s study lab. I checked in and discovered that she’d successfully received the information she needed, including an extension (she’ll email the essay to her teacher tonight).

I smiled at her. “Sometimes when you think you need help, what you really need is a good plan, huh?” She nodded and smiled back.

This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an academic coach! Kids can usually do the academic work that’s expected of them; when they freak out about the work, it usually means they don’t have a clear way to approach their assignments. What they need is a plan. Modeling how to make a plan is one of the most important things we can give our kids in order to mitigate their stress.

Have you experienced the same thing — that having a solid plan decreases stress? How does this play out in your life (or the life of your teenager?). I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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