No matter how hard you try, your child may struggle academically at some point in his school career. Here are some strategies to help you both cope when the going gets tough.
Let your kids get frustrated. When kids are having a hard time with homework or a school-related subject, they often explode with anger. And parents wonder “What did I do wrong?” “You didn’t necessarily do anything,” advises Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “Sometimes when kids feel misunderstood at school or frustrated by a subject, they get angry or provoke the parent — as a way of making you feel as helpless or angry as they feel. It’s almost like your child is saying, ‘would you hold my hopelessness for a while?’ Or ‘I need you to feel what I am going through, so I am going to make you angry.’”
Take a break. If your child says “I can’t do it!” and throws the pencil down, take a little break. Maybe she needs to rant and blow off a little steam. Come back in five minutes and start fresh. (Those five minutes could save you an hour of struggle.) This also gives a child a chance to “save face” and start over, without even discussing the previous difficulty or outburst.
Don’t always try to have a rational conversation. When kids get very upset about school, the upset may get in the way of their being rational. So wait it out instead of arguing or grilling children about the situation. Once they cool down, you might be able to talk it through.
Let your child make his own mistakes. It’s hard not to correct a child’s homework, but most teachers ask you not to take over unless your child asks for your help or the teacher requests it. Teachers generally want to know what the child understands, not what the parent understands about the material.
Put a time limit on the work. Most teachers will not expect younger kids to work longer than a half-hour on homework from any particular subject, but ask your teacher for a time limit. If your child struggles (while actively trying) and exceeds the limit, write the teacher a note explaining that’s all that could get done.
Contact the school. If homework or a project is turning into a dreaded battle, talk with the school. Don’t wait for your next conference. It’s obviously time for some new insights and new strategies.
Help your child learn how to organize himself. This is a life-long skill that can be taught, but it can be challenging to do so. However you can help your child discover the organizational tricks that will work for him by sharing some of your own. “It’s very difficult to teach children to be organized if it is not in their nature (or yours),” says guidance counselor Linda Lendman, M.S.W. “Encourage your child to label everything. Develop strategies, like the ‘must-do list’ before you leave school (put math book in backpack). Schedule a weekly ‘clean out the backpack and clean off your desk’ time so papers don’t build up. Be patient, and try not to place blame.”
Recognize that school work will never be conflict-free. No one ever raised a child without a homework battle. “There is no conflict-free homework strategy for most kids,” says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “At times, kids will find it fun and fascinating. Other times, it may be something they just have to do, and you have to help them find the structure for getting it done.”