Back to School Series: The Struggling Student
Every child may reach a point in their school in which they are struggling in some form or area. For some students this may be a short time period that is easy to sail past, but for others it can difficult to help them get back on track.
The key to helping your student is to address your concerns immediately. It is normal to try and wait it out, hoping that issues will resolve themselves, but if the longer a problem continues, the harder it can be for them to catch up.
When your child starts to struggle in school, especially if it’s a new concern, first rule out any physical issues such as vision or hearing problems. If these problems have been ongoing and do not seem to improve with extra help, consistent schedules and close monitoring, it may be appropriate to talk to the school about conducting an evaluation for a learning disorder. There are many programs available to children who have been identified as having a learning disorder and your school can help you to formulate a plan for getting your child the support they need. If you are able to rule out physical issues and learning challenges, you can then your focus on items within your home and child’s environment.
Here are some steps to help your struggling student:
Have a consistent plan in place for your child’s homework and school routine. For example, every night after dinner you will sit down with them and go over their homework. In addition, every night before bed they need to have their bag packed up with everything that is needed. Laying out their responsibilities clearly will help them to focus on the expectations for their work. If your child splits time between two houses, work to create a consistent environment with standard rules and expectations.
Let your child learn how to organize himself. Talk to them about their responsibilities and remember that it’s okay to let me them make mistakes. If your child forgot their assignment on the kitchen counter after they had been reminded to pack it in their bag, it’s okay for them to have to deal with those consequences without you running back home and handling it in for them. Many times kids will need to make their way completely through these lessons before they truly learn them.
Be prepared for helping them with their homework. When working with your child, know that it’s okay for your child to get frustrated. We often hold higher expectations for our kids than for ourselves. If we allow ourselves to get frustrated over a tough work assignment, it’s okay for kids to get frustrated over an school item. The key is to help them communicate their feelings and as parents to not take on ownership for them. Their frustration isn’t personal and they don’t need to be ‘saved’ from negative emotions. This is a great opportunity to teach them how to deal with an unpleasant emotion instead of avoiding it.
Take a break. If their frustration is growing and your exchanges are getting tense, take a break, regroup and then start again. Don’t try to rationalize with them when they are struggling. Taking 5 minutes to cool off could save you an hour at the kitchen table trying to push your child through a tough assignment. Getting a clear head and letting them blow off some steam can leave them refreshed and ready to start again.
Let them make mistakes! Do not take over unless the teacher asks you to. It’s okay to work through the problem with them, but show the work on their sheet so their teacher can see the areas they may be struggling in. If they always hand in clean assignments without markups or corrections, their teacher will not have any way of knowing that they struggled for an hour on the math problem.
Understand the expectations. If they are continually struggling each night and spending hours on their work, talk to their teacher. Ask them for an expected timeline so you can gauge how long it should be taking them. If the teacher believes it should take the average student 30 minutes to complete their work but your child is taking 2 hours every night, a plan needs to be put in place with you, your child, and their teacher.
Don’t wait to communicate. If you have concerns don’t wait for the next conference, give the teacher a call or send an email. Ongoing communication will help to ensure you understand the expectations that have been placed on your child and it lets the teacher know areas where your child may need additional help. Your child’s education is a team effort between the school, teacher and all parents.
Support the teacher. If you have concerns with the teacher, address them with the teacher. Do not discuss them with your child. Your child needs to learn how to work with a wide range of individuals. While they may not like this particular instructor, it’s important not create an opportunity for your child to deflect their behavior or difficulties on a “bad” or “mean” teacher. Work with the school and address the concerns and issues honestly without joining your child in complaining or criticizing. Blaming the teacher or school will not help address the concerns and remember that you are only hearing one side of the story. Fueling dislike or blame will not help your child to concentrate in the classroom and to work their hardest. If your issues are not being addressed with the teacher, contact the principal, the school social worker or a guidance counselor to ask for resolution.
Making a plan, working with the school and finding ways to encourage your child can help them to feel supported and to work through difficulties they may be having. Know that no child will get through their school years without any struggling or conflict. It’s a part of the process with them learning how to be responsible, managing their time, and learning the tasks at hand. By focusing on concerns when they arise, you can help them to not only move past the difficult stage, but to learn from it as well.