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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
by Carole Banks, MSW