What if I told you that bubbling right below the surface is a conversation that your child’s teachers would love to have with you – but probably won’t? It’s a conversation that needs to be had for the benefit of your child, but it isn’t an easy one to start. Its overall message? Stop enabling your child. Stop placing blame. And STOP doing your child’s work FOR them.
Hold your child accountable.
If your child constantly forgets supplies at school, charge gas money from their allowance to go back up and get what they need. If they never have their homework planner/agenda filled out, make them log onto their classroom’s website or online learning platform (most classrooms haven some form of online resources and communication) to get the information they need.
We have seen it work. Suddenly, the child who doesn’t want to part with cherished allowance money is remembering to bring things home! And the child who is tired of painstakingly copying the online homework calendar begins to use the class time provided to write homework assignments down.
Natural consequences work at all ages. It’s just about taking a minute to decide what the natural consequence should be, remaining involved enough to see when that consequence needs to be doled out, and enforcing it consistently – every time. This will look different household to household, depending on parent work schedules and evening activities. As long as there is consistency within your plan, you should see results.
Help your child take ownership.
Problem solving is one of the biggest skills we see lacking in our students. Many students don’t even know where to begin when it comes to finding solutions. Example: Middle school students will often be found completely disengaged from the lesson, not participating at all, because they forgot their pencil or don’t have paper. Um, raise your hand? Ask a friend? Quietly walk over to the student supplies area and get what you need? These are simple problems to solve, but our children aren’t encouraged enough to take ownership of their problems and solve them independently.
Talk to your children about how to solve their problems – even better, have them talk through multiple options and then choose the best one, reasoning WHY it is best. (The option of raising your hand to get a piece of paper interrupts the lesson, whereas the other two solutions don’t.)
Help your child learn organizational and time management skills.
This is a BIG one. Not many schools have classes designed to teach executive functioning skills like organization and time management. But, it IS NEEDED. And parents, we need you to do it. Plain and simple. We will help; don’t think we aren’t willing! But if you knew how much instructional time was being lost because of misplaced papers or an exploding binder, it would make you cringe.
Children actually need to be directly taught how to organize. It’s the next step up from basic sorting skills. Have your child tell you WHY they keep their supplies and papers where they do. Is it logical? What do they need access to most often? Do they use their homework planner to help them pack their backpack at the end of the day? For the always-tardy-middle-schooler, should they plan on taking two binders to third hour so they can make it across the school to 4th hour without a trip to their locker? These are things many children won’t think through without your help. Encourage them to bring everything home once a month to go through it together – but have THEM do the sorting and organizing. You are there to guide, facilitate, and question only!
Now, let’s talk time management. You approve their activities. You pay for their activities. You play chauffeur to and from their activities. But do you help them learn to manage their time amidst all these activities? Help them find routine. Help them learn to make the most use of their downtime at little brother’s soccer practice or their travel time in the car (play quiz games with your child to make this a time of interaction).
And help them learn to estimate time. When you get wind of the big science project due next week, have a conversation with your child about their plan – placing emphasis on predicting how long each step of the plan might take. Besides avoiding the bad habit of procrastination, this helps your child learn more about their individual work pace, something they will rely heavily on through high school, college and in the real life business world.
Have an overwhelmed child?
Don’t place blame or make excuses. Help them through it! Setting timers can be very helpful. Pick an age appropriate time interval and have them work on just one subject for that time period. When the timer goes off, reset and switch subjects. Then, take a snack break when the timer goes off before resetting for the third subject. A child’s full page assignment of math problems looks less daunting when they know they only need to work on it for 10 minutes at a time.
So, how can you best support your child’s academics at home?
Have conversations with them about the books they are reading in language arts. Comprehension is one of the biggest challenges struggling readers face. Have them talk you through how or why they solved the math problem the way they did. Understanding number sense and the theory behind algorithms is a difficult, required skill in the Common Core math classroom. Ask them questions about their science and social studies; teaching someone else is one of the best ways to learn!
And finally, work WITH your child – not FOR your child.
The ideas should be theirs. The critical thinking should be done by them. Otherwise, what is the point of all this? The grade is certainly not more important than the process of learning the skills; don’t let your actions say otherwise.