Getting out the door in the morning is hard enough—but it’s even harder if you’ve got a school-aged child who wants to be anywhere but the classroom. So what’s a parent to do? Whether your little student is struggling in the classroom or having trouble with bullying during recess, there are things you can do to help make the school day better. We had a few experts weigh in on the subject, keep reading to see what they had to say.
First: Figure Out Where the Problem Is
Unless you've got that unicorn-of-a-child who actually tells you everything about her school day, getting kids to give you the lowdown on their weekday world usually takes prodding. So, instead of asking, "How was your day?" try asking more specific questions:
- Who (and what) did you play with at recess?
- Who did you sit next to at lunch?
- Who do you like the most in the classroom?
- What do you like best about your teacher? What are some of your teacher's rules?
- Who was your best friend today? Who would you like to become friends with (and why)?
- What was the hardest thing about today? The easiest?
- Did you raise your hand and answer any questions? Why or why not?
Then ask the counter-questions: Who don't you play with? Who don't you like? What don't you like about the teacher? Was there anything you didn't understand?
Start to notice any patterns. Does your child seem to have a best friend? A lot of friends? No friends? Does your child seem comfortable speaking in class? Is she understanding the work? What is she liking (and not liking) about her school day? Once you understand a little more about what's happening during the school day, you can start to tackle any issues head-on.
Understand How Your Child Learns
Some kids who consistently struggle in school have what doctors call a "learning difference" (as opposed to a learning disability), according to this Spoke article. These kids are actually very smart, yet struggle to learn core subjects like reading, spelling and math simply because they learn in a different way—or at a different pace—than their peers.
"Unfortunately, their lack of success with learning makes them feel bad about themselves and can affect their desire to learn," write Dr. Deborah Ross-Swain and Dr. Elaine Fogel Schneider. "When children face daily tasks or situations in which they consistently fail, they will feel defeated, frustrated, sad and anxious. Constant academic struggles and lack of success are huge robbers of confidence and joy in bright children with learning differences."
The best thing a parent can do is to validate the child's learning process—and work with it.
"Frequently they hear: “You need to try harder;” or “You need to listen better;” or “You have a bad attitude,” the doctors wrote. "Comments like these from parents and teachers only make them feel worse. They also act as confidence and joy robbers."
For more tips on how to help kids who are learning different, see the Spoke article here.
Develop a Relationship with Your Child's Teacher
Not every parent can find time to volunteer weekly in the classroom or take on the role of Class Mom. But do what you can to get involved—whether it's joining the PTA, volunteering for special events or simply being there to help with homework or studying. And, most importantly, develop a relationship with your child's teacher.
"You want to meet the teacher. You want to have them know who you are," says Janet Lehman, a Florida social worker, who is the co-creator of The Total Transformation program, an e-workshop that helps parents take control of their children's behavior. "Even if you’re not having any trouble at all, you want the teacher to know that school is important to you."
Talk to the Teacher in Charge of Lunch and Recess
Your child's primary teacher isn't necessarily the same person who's overseeing lunch and recess (when the veritable jungle of social hierarchies will be established for your kids). Find out which teacher oversees these important social times and set up a time to chat. Then, ask them about how your child is doing. Does she sit with the same kids during lunch? Does she seem happy and involved during recess? If the teacher isn't sure, then ask them to keep an eye out and to report back with you.
Check with Your Pediatrician
Sometimes, kids have trouble at school because they're having trouble seeing the whiteboard or hearing the teacher's directions. It's best to rule out any medical reasons your child might be struggling in the classroom. Your pediatrician can also guide you in the right direction if she thinks your child should be assessed for learning disabilities including ADHD or dyslexia. Just make sure you're honest with your doctor about your concerns so she knows what to look for when she examines your child.
Keep in mind, if any sort of learning disability is suspected, your child has a legal right to school-provided services and/or special accommodations. (Read this article from Understood.org to better understand how Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 Special Education Plans can help your child.)
Have a Tranquil Space Set Up for Homework
Don't expect your child to breeze through homework if the only place she has to study is the kitchen table (while you cook dinner and your other kids watch Wild Kratts.) Set up an inviting study space for your kids and they'll have an easier time settling into their work. Need some ideas? Check out our favorites here.
But Be There to Help Out
While it's easy to send your child to her room with the instructions of "Come out when her homework is finished," helping your kids with their homework—or at least being in the same room while they're working—shows your child that you care about her success at school. It also helps you see where your child might be struggling and where you might need to help even more. "I know, it's exhausting. You have no time for yourself," Lehman said. "But that's part of the sacrifice we go through as parents." See more tips on how to make homework fun here.
Ease Up on After-School Activities
Does your kid rush from school to baseball to piano lessons to swimming ... all before heading home for dinner, homework and family time? Then, Lehman says, it may be time to ease up on the recreational activities.
"Activities are terrific," she said. "But if there are academic problems, you don't want them falling so far behind or being so physically exhausted that they can’t focus on homework."
How do you know when it's too much? It's simple: If sleep, relationships, or schoolwork is suffering, your child may be overscheduled. "If you feel like, academically, your kids are having difficulties, then as a parent you have to be able to say, 'OK, we're not going to be doing swimming this year,'" Lehman said.
Make a Time Management Chart
Organizational skills don't come naturally for most kids, even when it comes to the little things they have to do at home (dinner, homework, teeth-brushing, etc.) So teach your kids how to make a time management chart by visually mapping out every minute of your after-school schedule. This way, it's easier for them to set aside time for homework—and get it done! Some kids love a checklist, so try leaving boxes for them to X out when each task is completed.
"Hang it on the back of their door, in their bedroom, in the kitchen," Lehman said. "It teaches them to have some patience. They have a schedule. They’re going to need to learn that, say, between 5 and 6 that is for free time and they need to do their homework first."
Not sure where to start? Check out this genius after-school time management hack to keep kids organized.
Set Up Play Dates to Help Build Friendships
So what if your kid is doing great in school but seems to have trouble making (or keeping) friends? Well, then, it's time to pull out the class directory and start setting up some play dates. Many kids are more comfortable in these sorts of one-on-one situations, Lehman said, and building friendships outside of school can carry those connections (and subsequent confidence!) into the classroom.
If your child is having trouble with her social skills, make sure he knows that this is a normal battle even grown-ups face. "Socializing is hard for everybody, not just children," Lehman said. "Adults have a hard time socializing with each other, too." If, however, socializing is causing severe anxiety for your child, it may be helpful to take your child to a counselor or social skills group to find ways to ease that anxiety.
If Your Child Is Being Bullied
Most schools take the issue of bullying very seriously, so the first inkling you have that your child may be getting bullied—even if you think it may just be a little playful teasing—bring the issue up with child's teacher. If the issues persist, take them to the principal. And remember that bullying doesn't always happen in the schoolyard. Online bullying can be equally traumatizing.
Read this article to learn some important warning signs that your child may be being bullied—and how you can help.
Don't Dismiss Your Child's Anxieties
Of course, a child who is having trouble in school often struggles at home, too. This means, for instance, homework sessions may come to explosive ends, with heated emotions or frustrated declarations of "I give up!" or "I can't do it!" And while a parent's first instinct might be to reassure kids or push to them to get back on track, it's just as important to validate their frustrations and just let them vent.
"Parents are tired at the end of the day, sometimes they don’t feel like dealing with problems the kids are having and they kind of blame the kid, and say, ' Why can’t you do this?' But it’s really important to be as patient as you can." says Lehman.
— Melissa Heckscher