It’s report card time and time to see how the first half of the school year went. If your child’s report card reflects solid grades and good work habits, some sort of celebration is in order. One of my co-workers learned that her daughter earned a 96 in an advanced math class. She offered to buy ice cream, but her daughter wanted her bedroom painted instead. Fair enough!
If, on the other hand, you were disappointed in your child’s progress or performance, there is still time to turn things around. You and your child can press the reset button by looking for ways to improve on things that you have been doing. Think about changes that can be made on many possible levels.
- If your child has poor sleeping habits, try establishing a bed-time routine that gradually steps down the amount of activity and stimulation in the household. A well-rested brain functions better.
- If your child wastes time in the evening and then stays up late doing homework, set a firm cutoff time to stop working, shut down the computer and place everything in the backpack (which will “live” in a designated spot in another room). Then start winding things down toward bedtime. Provide prompts and reminders earlier in the evening to serve as fair warning. It may take a couple of incomplete assignments or disappointing test grades to get the real message across. Don’t cave in though, because it is essential that students develop good work habits, including learning how to effectively manage their time, if they are going to be able to sustain their success throughout the school and college years. Showing up for class exhausted and inattentive will eventually take its toll. Throwing together projects at the last minute and cramming for tests will also lead to poorer quality results that your child will take less pride in. I know this first-hand from my experience as person who went through school with undiagnosed ADHD.
- If your child is overwhelmed by an over-packed schedule that doesn’t leave enough time for schoolwork and “down time,” consider taking a break from one of the activities. Unless your child is talented enough that a sport or cheerleading scholarship is a real possibility, they might be better off burning the candle from only one end. Keep the activities that give them joy, and set aside those that are on the schedule just because of habit.
- If your child has an IEP or Section 504 accommodation plan, review it to see if it adequately addresses her current needs. It might be time to update the accommodations and supports to match performance expectations that tend to get higher each year. Get your child’s input so that any changes are going to be ones that they think will be helpful and will cooperate with.
- Re-establish lines of communication with teachers and other school staff. If your child will have different classes for the 2nd semester, there may be new teachers who may not be aware of his special needs or the fact that you are a concerned and involved parent who expects to be considered an equal part of your child’s educational team. Set a positive tone and let them know that you are looking for this semester to be better than the last one.
- Look for any other areas where a change for the better might be possible: diet and nutrition, general health and well-being, mental health, organization (personal and/or household), social skills, etc. Consult with trusted friends, family and professionals to see if they have any suggestions.
If things are going great, keep doing what you are doing. If not, try something different that might lead to better results. Remember, there can be no growth without change!
Homework is a fact of life for most students from 1st grade to high school graduation. It is intended to be an opportunity to practice newly acquired skills, review what has already been learned, and apply or extend instruction beyond the classroom. If the homework is appropriate for a student, they should be able to complete their work with very limited assistance from their parents. Parents are expected to show an interest in their child’s education and monitor their homework as well as the class work and tests that are sent home. They should make sure that the child has a reasonably quiet workspace and needed school supplies. Many parents will find it necessary to either prompt their child to get started on their homework, or ask them if they have already done it. What they should not do is take over the assignment and end up doing most of the work themselves!
I will occasionally hear a parent use the word “we” in away that makes it quite clear that they are way too involved in their child’s schoolwork. “We studied for this test…”, “We do homework for __ hours every night”, “We don’t understand the assignment,” “We are taking Algebra I,” etc. I sometimes challenge the parent to think about whether their excessive involvement is actually against the child’s best interest. Here are a few things to consider:
- Helping too much may keep the child from learning how to function more independently. Ask yourself: Am I teaching my child that he must have the full attention of an adult at all times? Can my child learn to use a textbook, dictionary or computer to look something up, rather than just asking me question after question? Can my child read the directions for themselves instead of handing me the paper with the expectation that I will explain, demonstrate and/or guide them step-by-step through the entire assignment? Does my child even attempt to do work on their own, or have they completely accepted that they “can’t do it.”
- Helping too much may mask the actual challenges that the child is having. The teacher who sees correctly completed homework coming back to school everyday won’t know that you spend 3 hours each night re-teaching everything, or pretty much giving your child the answers to the questions. This keeps important information about the student’s learning from being available to guide instruction. It could also lead to educators concluding that the child is “doing fine” when you ask the school to provide extra assistance or evaluate the child for special education services.
- Helping too much may lead to unrealistic expectations. The student may end up being placed in classes that are too difficult for them when they could possibly be more independently successful in a class that moved at a slower pace or required a more manageable number of work products. The student may feel pressure to get all A’s and B’s when they are really just an average kid who would probably earn mostly C’s under normal circumstances. A student who has been “helped” all the way through school may set (or be pushed toward) unobtainable career goals, unless the parent plans to go to law or medical school with them. And then what? Instead, each child should get the message that, as long as he is doing his best, that he is good enough!
- By trying to protect your child from failure, you may also cheat her from experiencing her own success. It seems that some parents are afraid that their child will be traumatized by getting a low grade, turning in an unimpressive product, or having to tell a teacher that they had trouble with an assignment. They forget that some risk and struggle is often necessary for growth and the ability to overcome adversity. Making things appear to be okay is not the same as developing real competence.
There is much value and satisfaction gained when a person can say that their achievements, great and small, were truly the result of their own efforts!