When your children, especially teens, struggle with school, parents can easily fall into nagging, coaxing and hassling or even punishing when in reality none of those things work and sometimes actually make it worse. One mom wrote to us about her 13 year old son whose grades starting going down in the previous schoolyear and hadn’t improved. She and her son communicate well and she is looking for guidance on how to keep the lines of communication open while addressing her concerns Here are some action steps toward handling the problem while staying connected:
Step 1. Ask your son if he is willing to talk about school with you.
Step 2. If he says yes, ask about his goals for each class – what would he most like to be learning and does he have any ideas about grades he wants to achieve in each.
Step 3. If he says no, ask him if there would be a time in the future when he might feel comfortable talking about it. If he says no, back off for a good while. If he says yes, try to schedule a good time for both of you to chat.
Step 4. If he articulates any goals for any classes, ask him what is helping him be successful in the cases where he is achieving his goals and celebrate that with him. And then ask what he understands to be the barriers in the cases where he isn’t achieving his goals.
Step 5. If he begins to reflect on the barriers he may be experiencing, be curious about how he experiences those barriers. Try to understand them from his point of view. Ask what he has done to address the barriers in the past, any ideas he has about how to address them now. Maybe watch this hysterical TED talk on procrastination together and ask him if that is true for him in any way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arj7oStGLkU&fbclid=IwAR2dU06yb1nO9WwdRaJASTY_zM4JJ2v4S-3H2R5TQgj553VmmYYBbUlg0Jk
Step 6. Ask him if he’d be interested in your thoughts about addressing the barriers.
Step 7. If together you come up with any ideas about how to proceed, discuss how effective each of you believes those ideas might be. Ask him what he anticipates would be the outcomes of those ideas.
Step 8. If he decides to try one or two, make a time 2 – 3 weeks in the future when you might talk together about how it is going. Ask him if there is anything he wants from you during that time period in terms of support and decide if you can offer what he wants. Refrain from reminding and coaxing during that time period unless he specifically asked for that kind of help.
Step 9. Do your best during this process not to catastrophize in your own mind or with your son. See this as a challenge to address together and remember to consistently celebrate his positive behaviors and contributions. And listen, listen, listen.
Clearly your child may not engage at all. In that case, go back to ground zero and continue to focus on keeping lines of communication open. Or you may go through a few of the steps and he may just stop there. Keep in mind that homework and school progress belongs to your child and you will best remain a consultant and cheerleader. If you see more of an academic decline going forward, express your concern and try a meeting with teachers that includes your son. If all else fails, talk with the school psychologist or social worker to make sure you aren’t seeing symptoms of bigger concerns. If indeed you do suspect bigger issues, press your school to complete a comprehensive assessment to get clear about what is needed.
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