Thriving School Psych Thriving Students

The Bucket List

It is not often that I am at a loss for words. I know, you are surprised, right? But recently, I did an assessment with a 15-year-old boy who was in a special school for kids with emotional disabilities, and part of this assessment was to interview the parent. Now, I try my best not to be judgmental about parenting.* I mean, lets face it, it is a ridiculously difficult job, especially if your child has special needs.

So I was interviewing the mom about what she thought were her son’s strengths, and she replied, “He ain’t got none.” Wow. No strengths? I tried to guide her to some non-traditional strengths in case she thought she could only answer about academic strengths (he was significantly below grade level).

Me: Um, okay…what about hobbies? Does he like to do anything special? Is he good at a sport or a hobby or something?

Parent: He likes basketball, but I don’t let him play.

Me: Erm, uh

Parent: I don’t let him play because he does too bad in school.

Me: Well, I’ve seen him play basketball here and he seems like he’s pretty good!

Parent: Not really.



Me: Ummmmm. Well, sometimes kids are not always the best athletes, but they feel good about themselves when they improve, or when they are having fun with their friends playing basketball.

Parent: Are you saying that he has no self-esteem because I won’t let him play basketball?

Me: No, I’m just saying that kids tend to do better when they feel good about themselves in at least one area, and it doesn’t have to be school.

Parent: Oh.

Me: Let’s see, other strengths…sometimes kids are not strong in school, but are street-smart and get along well with others. How would you describe your son, Jared?

Parent: Street smart? HA! He’s street dumb. I tell him all the time.


Right. I was speechless. How could you not think of ONE single strength?

At the meeting, after I tested him, it turned out he did have some strengths. He was an artist. He made beautiful drawings. He learned well visually. He had a friend at school that he was kind to. He was also pretty resilient for having such a negative parent. I gave my schpeal about self-esteem:

Let’s imagine this table has a bunch of little buckets on it, and each one is a part of self-esteem and we can fill them up. Now, there isn’t just one single bucket called “Self-Esteem” because there are a lot of different types of self-esteem. If we want to help Jared feel good about himself, we need to think of all the buckets we can help him fill up, like “Self-Esteem in Math,” “Self-Esteem in Basketball,” “Art Self-Esteem,” or “Friendship-Making Self-Esteem.” Then, if you aren’t very good at one thing, maybe reading, then you have all these other buckets that you can rely on to feel good about yourself.

Parent: I know, I am always telling him how smart he is, how great he is in basketball, and all that.


Sigh. I really hope she does.

*I had a recent slip up in being a Judgy Judgerson in the Apple store though, when a parent was screaming at her 5 year old child that she was going to “break his finger if he flipped her off again.” I wanted to intervene, but thought the mom might not appreciate my card at that moment.

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Comments on The Bucket List

  1. Lucy says:

    Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I have been reading yours now, and I really enjoy your insights into education!

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Darnell403 says:

    I just wanted to say that I'm lovin' your blog! I'm interested in school psychology and I stumbled onto your page while researching the field.

    Good stuff!

    Great writing and story-telling as well! Keep it up!

  3. Tim says:

    I too enjoy your blog and FB page very much!

    I stumbled here just as Darnell did, while researching and finally paying attention to my passion/interests, which, regrettably, I denied in college while instead listening to other voices. Perhaps it's too late, but I'm pursuing them now anyway.

    I've already chimed in on FB regarding your asterisked "judgy" (cute word) incident, but I just want you to know that I didn't perceive your words as judgmental whatsoever.

    Although abuse and bullying are hot-button issues for me, I realize that these are difficult emotional situations, which are often startling as well, so give yourself a break – don't beat yourself up! Hopefully, we reflect, learn, become wiser, and next time react more as we would like.

    So, it's all good, methinks, but then again, you have the experience and degrees, and I don't.

    Oh, did I tell you that I really like your writing? Thank you for sharing your wisdom, insights, and humor.

  4. linseyc says:

    Parents! I worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters for awhile in college as a case manager going to houses and doing parent interviews. It's amazing what little faith so many parents have in their own children!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Is it possible that this parent has only heard what was wrong with her son and what needed to be corrected, how to help him behave, achieve, etc better? Teachers can be brutal in their negativity about students and those with emotional needs, especially if manifested behaviorally. It is very possible that after your first conversation that parent was reflecting (one can always hope) about it and thinking, well yeah he is good at basketball, drawing, etc. I see kids beaten down frequently about what they can't do and really need reminders about what they can do. That might go for parents about struggling students as well.

  6. Airun Jae says:

    That first conversation sounds like it was brutal. Way to keep digging though!

  7. Anonymous says:

    That hurt to read. I can only imagine what it's like to grow up with parents who don't believe in you. I would imagine she probably has a lot to say about his bad grades but doesn't do much to tangily help.

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