Problems At School? How To Handle The Top 4 Issues
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. 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
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
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
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."
And remember to ask your child about his day and show that you are interested;
ask questions that require a longer answer than "yes" or "no". On the Support
Line, I've found that when parents really make a consistent effort to keep up
with their kids, they are seldom caught unawares when it comes to dropping
grades or poor school performance.
3. "I hate my teacher!"
Every so often, your child will have a teacher with whom he just can't seem to
get along. Sometimes it's a simple personality conflict; other times, your child
is having difficulty responding to authority. I think that the very first thing
to do for your child in this situation is validate how he feels. Don't agree
with him and say, "Yeah, you're right; your teacher is a jerk.? When you
undermine the teacher's authority, you are giving your child permission to
disrespect her. On the other hand, you should allow your child to share with you
what it's like in class. Don't tell him he's wrong or that he shouldn't feel a
certain way. Once your child has been heard, he'll be more receptive to hearing
your ideas about what he can do to make the situation better.
If your child is old enough, he has to learn to accept the fact that certain
teachers require things that he might not agree with. It's a fact of life that
not every teacher is able to give your child what he would like to have. It's a
fact of life that some teachers are quite strict; they're not warm and fuzzy. As
a parent, you definitely would not want to ask them to do their job differently.
Instead, work on helping your child. Say something like, ?You know, you're going
to meet a lot of people in life, and you have to learn how to get along with
them. Even though this teacher isn't your favorite, part of your job this year
is to get through it, be respectful and do your best. I wonder how we can figure
out how to do that?? (There's nothing wrong with asking the teacher for some
ideas, as well.)
If the teacher does seem to be at fault, meet with him or her and share what
your child's experience has been. You will want to try to find some middle
ground if at all possible. You might also want to bring in another administrator
or official, like the school social worker, to this meeting. This will keep
things civil and give you some support should you need it later.
4. Skipping school
If your child is skipping school-either playing sick or skipping out of
classes, again, you first need to investigate and find out why. Is your child
failing, being bullied, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or does he have
physical problems? Some kids develop anxiety around going to school; they can
have stomach aches or headaches as a result. Younger kids might cling to parents
and cry. A lot of kids will say they're sick in order to avoid school because
they have anxiety about it. If there's an anxiety issue at play, a visit to your
child's pediatrician to determine whether counseling is in order might be your
best course of action. A skilled counselor can gently get your child over the
hump and teach them ways of coping with their nervousness around school. So the
reason why your child is missing school chronically needs to be understood so it
can be resolved. For example, if your child is being bullied, you will need to
work with the school to make sure your child is protected and that it stops.
It's no secret that failing to attend school can lead your child or teen to
become involved in risky behaviors, especially if he is not supervised
consistently at home. If your child skips school chronically, you may have to
involve community services and ask them to address the underlying reasons for
school truancy. The juvenile justice system does not like the idea of kids
skipping school and loitering around town, so there may be hope there. You might
call up your local police department and say, "I can't get my child to go to
school. Are there any resources available in this community to help me get him
back on track?"
Understand that if your child is chronically skipping school, it's usually the
result of a problem that has built up for quite some time. Often it's the end of
a long string of problems, rather than the beginning. For this reason, I believe
this is an issue that's important to nip in the bud at an early stage. So when
your child's grades start dropping or he's coming home moody and sad, intervene
then. Keep the communication open and always stay interested in what's happened
to your child from day to day-it will pay off in the end, I promise you.
("Problems At School? How To
Handle The Top 4 Issues" reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents)
by Carole Banks, MSW
Carole Banks is a Parental Support Line Advisor
The Total Transformation Program. If you are a Total Transformation
customer, you can access the Parental Support Line for help with challenges
you're experiencing with your child.