Are We There Yet?: Knowing when it’s time to get help for academic challenges
School is a part of nearly every family’s life, and it seems like a straightforward relationship: We entrust our kids to professionals who will impart wisdom.
But what happens when we get the progress report? You know - that progress report or email or phone call.
It’s no small thing for children who have school confusion and frustration because their self-esteem is so tied to this environment. Grades and achievement often serve to validate or invalidate our child’s sense of self-worth. Being away from home and hearing someone say, “Good job” or “Not good enough” carries emotional weight. Many kids – and their parents – assume that academic trouble = future failure. (Not that this has been proven).
That’s when school-home interactions can get tricky because it’s hard for us parents not to personalize the situation. We question whether our child’s struggles are our fault, “Do they see something we don’t see,” or we question whether the school really knows what the heck it’s doing: “What do they know? They’re just teachers!” Parents can spin into whirlpools of worry and judgment in the blink of an eye.
Is it time to take action? And what action should we take?
Grades (and attitudes) drop for a variety of reasons: learning disabilities, hormonal and brain-chemistry challenges, being teased, mocked, or bullied, illness, inadequate sleep or nutrition, poor vision or hearing, and family struggles. Knowing when to get help and where to go can be confusing:
Extra time with the teacher?
Tutoring outside of school?
Or perhaps it’s as simple as giving your child an earlier bedtime.
As much as we’d like to believe that our child is just “going through a phase,” unattended issues don’t usually resolve themselves. Instead of condemnation and guilt, what if we look at school struggles as opportunities to find out more about how we parents can support our children? Instead of trying to resolve the whole situation, whatever the cause, we can begin to take just a few steps forward.
Your best and most immediate allies are the teachers and school counselors. Not only do they know your child, but they know children in general. Talk to them. Take it one step at a time. If the first step shows a bit of progress, try another step, and so on. If at some point, your “parent-radar” pings and something feels off, or if your child isn’t progressing, ask for resources – your friends and family may know someone who can help.
Don’t nag or yell. It simply doesn’t work and it damages your relationship with your child, who needs love, a feeling of safety, some structure, and some solutions. Keeping up with schoolwork is actually painful for children when they are frustrated, confused, anxious, angry, or sad.
If you’ve tried getting help through school or outside tutoring, and the trouble persists, a 4th or 5th step is to head for your pediatrician. They might recommend that your child be evaluated for learning differences, that your family start some counseling or coaching, or they may want to explore the possibility that there’s a health issue interfering with the learning.
Don’t be afraid. When challenges arise, they don’t mean you aren’t a good parent, or that life will always be a struggle. Challenges are just a call for deeper understanding and additional skills. It’s not personal; it’s just parenting.