- Meet with your child’s teacher: Call your child’s teacher and ask for a meeting. Tell her what you are seeing at home—and then ask what she has observed in the classroom. Ask her for any ideas she might have to help your child get back on track.
- Set up more structure at home. A common problem for many kids is a lack of structure in their after school schedule. Make sure sports or other clubs do not come first, with homework being fit in at the end of the day (when your child is exhausted). This is not a good lesson to teach your child because it gives them the message that play comes before work—and is therefore more important than work. Clubs or sports should not come before school work and family time for your child. The bottom line is that schoolwork has to be prioritized, and a structure has to be set up so it isn’t squeezed in at the last minute.
- Be realistic in your goals: When you structure your child’s study time to help him bring his grades back to an acceptable level, be realistic in your goals. Remember, it took time for your child to get behind, so you need to allow time for him to catch up. Get actively involved in your child’s homework by reviewing it and helping with study strategies. I also recommend that you try to be present during study time. I know that many parents work and can’t be at home with their children after school. As a working parent and grandparent myself, I completely understand and sympathize with that situation. If you or your spouse can’t be there, try to get your child into in an after school program or ask another trusted adult to be there with them.
- Don’t restrict your child from privileges until his grades improve. Understand that restricting your child from all of his privileges until he brings his grades up usually backfires. In effect, you end up taking away something that might actually motivate your child to improve. Instead, I recommend that you require your child to study for a certain amount of time each day to earn those extras that night.
- Talk to your child about what’s going on. Have a frank conversation with your child about his grades. Say, “Look, I’ve been letting you manage your homework on your own, but it’s not working. Now we’re going to set up a study time every day where I supervise your work. We can talk about not doing that once your grades get back up where they need to belong. But in the meantime, we have to seriously set aside some time to work on this.”
At some point as a parent, you will likely be faced with the dreaded email from your child’s teacher telling you that your kid has crossed the line and that you need to come in for another conference—or the principal will call to tell you that your teen has missed the last week of school altogether, unbeknownst to you. Leave discipline for acting out at school to school officials—don’t punish your child twice. Maybe you’ve discovered that your child’s grades have plunged from acceptable to barely passing. What’s a parent to do? Carole Banks, MSW addresses the top four school emergencies parents struggle with the most. 1. Acting out in school When your child acts out in school, it can be worrisome, frustrating and embarrassing. On top of the actual misbehavior, you fear that he’ll make a bad name for himself—that his reputation as a troublemaker will follow him from grade to grade. You may also feel judged—and blamed—by teachers and other parents for what your child does at school. Some kids act out when they’re feeling left out or left behind. Make sure that your child is capable of doing the class work he is being asked to do, for example. Being behind (or ahead of) the class can create boredom, frustration, and anxiety—which may lead some kids to act out verbally or physically. I want to stress that for the most part, you should not give consequences for school misbehavior at home, unless your child is damaging school property or hurting others physically. That’s because punishing your child at home is not going to give him the skills he needs to behave more appropriately. In some cases, letting the school hold your child accountable is enough, but in chronic or severe acting-out situations, it will be important to work with the school to get of what is going on. You may then need to work with some local supports to address the behavior. But for the most part, leave discipline for acting out at school to school officials—don’t punish your child twice. Understand that in this case, giving consequences is far less important than figuring out what your child needs to do differently the next time he wants to act out. In other words, if you say, “You have to stay in your room because you acted out in school today,” you’re not addressing the behavior and it will not help your child because you’re not teaching him anything—except how to do time. Sometimes parents assume that their kids will figure out things on their own, but if you’re dealing with a chronic issue, you have to face facts: your child has not figured it out by himself and he is not likely to do so. You need to help him. So talk to the teacher—that’s your best first step. Take it from there. You need a sense of why he’s acting out and what’s happening in order to know how you can help your child change. And pay close attention to what your child is saying at home; he should know that all experiences are okay to share. A word of caution: One important lesson James Lehman teaches us is to support the school authorities in front of your child. If your child hears your criticism of school officials and his teachers, he is likely to be disrespectful to them in class—and also to you, later on down the line. 2. Dropping Grades If your child’s grades are dropping, rule number one is to become an investigator. In other words, really find out what’s going on with your child. Is he having problems at home or with other kids at school? Is he having a tough time adjusting to middle school or high school? Are his study habits poor—and can you work on that together? For some kids, learning disabilities and medical problems may play a role. And for still others, drug and alcohol use may be the cause of falling grades. The main thing for you to do is find out the “why” and then come up with a plan to help your child. Here are some steps you can take immediately: