Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Your Child, Their Teacher, and You: A Team For School Success (Back-To-School Lesson 6)

You have to know your child's teacher, preferably before "Open School night." Definitely before they have to contact you to address a problem that arises. There are several reasons for this. Your child needs to know that you feel his school life is important enough for you to be involved; and that you KNOW what's going on in class (children occasionally mislead their parents about what's expected of them in class). If you have a relationship with the teacher you can intervene more quickly and effectively if problems arise, including being able to respond to your child if they raise an issue with you, like: "My teacher is mean, ... too strict;" or "My teacher says we don't have to study that much;" or even, "Mr. Jones says video games are good for us." The teacher should know that you are supporting her expectations, as well as knowing that you are advocating for your child when needed.

It's a good idea to have phone contact with the teacher by the second or third week of school. Make it clear to them that you want to be contacted if they have any concerns about your child's behavior or school work. Find out when is a good time to reach them if you have a concern. Unless there has been a problem, I think you don't need a face-to-face meeting until Open School Night. If a problem does arise, respond immediately, in person (if possible). Include your child, and develop a plan which includes each person's responsibility, i.e.. yours, your child's, and the teacher's. Consequences (for everyone) should be understood, though maybe not always stated. For example, if the teacher doesn't do his part, they are going to see a lot more of you, and if necessary, so will the principal. Again, you don't have to threaten them with consequences, as this may negatively influence the relationship between the teacher and your child. This is a team, and you are the coach. Sometimes more involved (when needed), usually not as involved if things are working well. Let everyone do their jobs. That's how a team works best. Remember to give them credit for the good work that they do. And, stay involved, more or less as needed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Homework, Not My Job (Back-To-School Lesson 5)

Your child's homework is your child's responsibility. The sooner they know that (and you know it too), the sooner they'll be more responsible in getting it done. If you do it for them now, you'll be doing it forever, or at least until the schoolwork gets to be too advanced for you. Then who's going to do it? By then it may be too late for them to develop the good study and homework skills that they need in order to do well. I am not suggesting that you be totally uninvolved, but your child needs to learn early on that getting homework done correctly, turning it in, and knowing how much studying to do (and making time for it) is their job, not yours. This includes them knowing when to ask for help. The younger they are, the more "hands-on" involvement may be necessary. It is important to check their work, and to be available if they need help. Also if getting it done has been a problem in the past, it makes sense to develop a contract which includes rewards and consequences for putting in (or not) the necessary effort.
Generally, I suggest allowing the teacher to handle the consequences of your child not handing their work in (or doing poorly on a test), unless the teacher needs your help. Keep in mind that sometimes school failure is a sign of a deeper problem. Make sure you are aware of any stresses that may be influencing your child's school performance. And help them manage it before it develops into a larger problem for your child and your family. Getting homework done should not be a struggle. It should not be too difficult for him or her to do. And remember, it is not your job.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Managing School Stress (Back-To-School Lesson 3)

If you think back you may find that school was not particularly stressful for you. If it wasn't, then probably there were at least some days, or certain grades you were in, that were more stressful than others. Whether it was the year that you had that 'bad' teacher, or the time your best friend in school moved away, or the week that your sibling was sick and you worried a lot ending up with poor grades and getting into trouble (and nobody knew why). Normal events. Now throw in the occasional fear that the class bully might somehow find his way to you, or the worry that the air raid siren (today's "school lockdown" rehearsal) might really mean that we are under attack. Especially since there was typically no explanation (by anyone) why, who,nor how we would be attacked. But I somehow felt safer hiding under my desk, and felt joyous, breathing a sigh of relief when the "all clear" signal sounded.

There is no doubt that there are many aspects of going to school daily that can cause your child stress. Most kids (now and then) roll with the punches. They deal with the situation and move on. How can you tell when your child is having difficulty managing school-related stress? Well, sometimes you can and sometimes you can't (until big problems develop; see my blog postings in April on Childhood Stress). If your relationship with your child is strong enough then you likely know what areas your child struggles with. But if your kid is getting into trouble, having problems maintaining his grades, is angry much of the time (especially after school), is getting sick, or talking about reasons not to go to school, then they are not handling their school stress well. And yelling at them, or punishing them can make the problem worse. Or you can help fix the problem, and prevent future problems.

I would say that the most important stress management tool that your child can have is a loving relationship with you. Your child will feel more secure, more confident, and see you as a resource to get help when they need it. Rather than avoid you because you blame them. Very important also is good nutrition and exercise. Breakfast is necessary. Cut down on fast foods, sweets, and white carbs (pizza, donuts, pasta, etc.). And they need regular physical exercise. Not the virtual exercise kids get playing football or basketball video games. Overweight kids tend to have more stressful school lives. Help your child learn problem-solving skills, and conflict resolution strategies. Of course, they learn best from good role models. Teach them to be optimistic, to think positively, and of the value of hard work. Also teach them what stress is, how it effects them, and how to manage it better. And finally, make your home a place for him to look forward to being, rather than a place to avoid. Manage the stress in your home so it can be a place that your children (and you) can get rejuvenated, feel safe, and feel loved.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Contract For Success (Back-To-School lesson 2)

You and your child should plan the upcoming school year. Discuss your expectations of each other, and make an agreement, a contract, describing what you will both do to make this a successful school year. This should include realistic goals regarding grades, homework and study time, bedtime on school nights, and as many other school related concerns as is necessary. Special attention should be paid to areas in which there were problems last year. It may be helpful to develop a contract that focuses on one particular problem area. The agreement should include rewards that you will give for them meeting their goals. I'm big on rewards. I know a lot of parents feel that we shouldn't have to pay our kids for doing what they're supposed to do anyway. But, rewards help a LOT. They don't have to be expensive. Allowance, a special meal or outing, something meaningful to your child that they wouldn't get otherwise. Also include negative consequences that are appropriate if your child doesn't make the effort that they've agreed to.
Some parents are much heavier on the punishments than the rewards. Be careful that you are not. In fact, if the teacher is giving a punishment for some misbehavior at school, you don't have to add another one at home. Even though you have a contract, it's important to remember that this is your child, who makes mistakes (like all of us). It's important to be consistent, but be flexible when necessary. Focus on their successes.