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Parents: What to Do When Your Kid’s Struggling Academically

Earlier this week I wrote an article for teachers entitled 9 Ways to Help Failing Students. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that giving advice to teachers is simply not enough. Ultimately a student’s success is determined by the student himself, but there is no one more influential in that student’s life than his or her parents.

Parents: What to Do When Your Kid's Struggling AcademicallyThe problem, though, is that a lot of parents are just not sure how to help their kids. So parents, let’s take a look at some practical suggestions of how you can help your student succeed at school.  (And teachers, this could be a great post to forward to parents who are looking for direction.)

What to Do When Your Kid’s Struggling Academically

  1. Accept responsibility. When your kid is struggling, it’s so easy to blame the teacher, but you have to realize that, as the parent, you are responsible for raising your child – and that includes his or her academic success. Yes, you have delegated some of that responsibility to the teacher, but you are still ultimately responsible. Hopefully your student has a good teacher who is doing all s/he can to help your child, but even the best teachers have many students and only so much time. As the parent, you can make the biggest difference in your young person’s life (including academics), but you have to accept that responsibility and take it seriously.

  2. Expect their best. It’s so important to expect the best of your kids, no matter what their best looks like in the form of a grade. For some, their best may be a C; for others, it’s an A. God is more pleased when a student who’s capable of a C gets a C than when a student who’s capable of an A gets a B+. We need to be the same way. It’s not about what grade our kids get, it’s about whether or not they are doing their best. Always focus on this, and talk about it with your kids. On one hand, this should take the pressure off because it helps them realize that succeeding academically is not impossible (if you do your best, you’ve succeeded). On the other hand, it presents a great challenge: doing your best means a lot of hard work. But it’s doable. (By the way, I would say that at least 98% of the time, a student who is doing his best will get at least a C. Except in advanced classes, it’s extremely unusual for a student who’s genuinely doing his best to fail.)

  3. Communicate with the teacher. Talk to the teacher about why your student is struggling and what you can do at home to help. Make sure you’re thinking win-win here: you are both on the same team and both want your child to succeed. Ask about how the class is structured and how your student acts in class, but don’t make the teacher feel like you’re giving them an inquisition. Approach this conversation with an attitude of “I need to understand the situation so that I can best help my child.” It really doesn’t matter at this point how good the teacher is – there’s not much you can do about that. Just focus on what you can do & how you can collaborate with the teacher to best help your student succeed.

  4. Make sure they’re doing their work. So often when students are struggling it’s because they are either not doing all their work or they’re doing it haphazardly. Homework is typically given to help students practice or better understand the material. If they’re not doing their work, not only are their grades likely being penalized for that, but they are not learning the material as well and thus will likely struggle on quizzes and tests too. So if it’s not happening, you’ve gotta’ step in and make it happen.

    Here’s the key: If your student hasn’t been turning in his work, you need to start insisting that you see every piece of homework every night. It’s just too easy for kids to say they finished it when they haven’t. (I’m not even saying they’re outright lying. Sometimes they think everything’s done but they’re just not organized enough to realize they forgot about their history assignment and only finished half their math.) If your student’s not using a planner, get them one and insist that they use it.  If necessary, require them to have their teacher sign it at the end of the day (this should be their responsibility to go to the teacher, not the teacher’s responsibility to remember to go to them). Then go over it with them each night, checking each assignment against the planner (and any online postings if your school has them.)

  5. Help them with their work or get a tutor. I believe that the first place to look for a tutor should be you, the parents. So if you’re able to, help them study, quiz them for their tests, and help them through problems they don’t understand. However, if you’re finding that you’re just not helping, consider getting a tutor, and getting one as soon as possible. If you can’t afford to hire a tutor, see if a friend or family member could help. Or encourage your student to study with a class member who does well.

  6. Limit distractions. Often students struggle because there are so many other fun activities vying for their attention. If you’re finding that your child or teen can’t focus on schoolwork, consider limiting distractions such as TV, video games, smart phones, and social media. I’m not saying to ground them as a punishment. I’m saying that if these things are keeping them from succeeding you need to think about limiting them. I had one 7th grader who was failing pre-algebra, but when his parents limited his video games, his work and results improved dramatically. This takes guts, but if it’s what’s best for your child or teen, it will be worth it. Be sure to talk to them about it and explain why you’re making the decision. Maybe include an incentive – if you show me you can do your best at school while watching 1/2 hour of TV a night, we’ll consider allowing you to watch 1 hour.

Parents: what have you done to help your student succeed at school? Teachers, what suggestions would you add to this list? Share your thoughts with a comment below.

 Photo by Cayusa

What to Read Next
Best Classroom Consequence Ideas
  • Limiting distractions is a big help for children who are struggling. Sometimes they can get so distracted, they almost look as if they have ADHD. Another suggestion is to work to help maintain their self-esteem. Help them find activities (academic or otherwise) that they are good at and enjoy. As they begin to succeed in these areas, that sense of accomplishment will help them push through more difficult tasks.

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