Asking your child about his school day often elicits “School’s okay” followed by a hasty exit, especially if it has been difficult for them. Don’t wait until the final school report to discover your child is struggling.
Research shows that children do better in school when parents are involved. A wise parent will get on board with the school and present a united front that says to the child, “Your teacher and I are on the same team”.
Modern parents need no longer rely on scouring the bottom of their child’s school bag for a note from the teacher to know what is happening at school. At school we are using increasingly sophisticated and varied means to promote ongoing communication with parents and engage them as partners in their child’s education.
Be an active partner in your child’s education
An active partnership between parents and their child’s school is very important: “As your child’s first teacher and the person who arguably knows your child best, it is important to talk positively and constructively with the school about your child’s needs, interests, goals and progress.”
Start the new school year on a positive note
Establishing contact with your child’s teacher early in the year and maintaining regular open, honest and respectful communication is the key to avoiding the stress that can affect the whole family when a child is struggling to cope in class.
Make early contact with the teacher and set up the best means of ensuring ongoing communication. Most teachers organise a ‘meet and greet’ session for all parents early in the year to share what your child will be learning (subjects, topics, content) and how they will be learning (classroom activities, processes, technologies). Make a follow-up appointment to discuss any individual concerns or to seek further information.
Use the communication channels set up by the school
These may include parent–teacher interviews requested by the school or by you, emails, text messages, telephone calls, newsletters, the school website or the school Facebook page.
Support your child, his teacher and the school
Indicate to the teacher that you are willing to help in whatever capacity you can; perhaps give a classroom talk on an area of expertise, share skills you have, help with school trips or a school fete, or do something at home.
Work with the teacher to help your child meet expectations
By working with the teacher, you can help ensure your child meets expectations around homework, behaviour, attendance and a positive attitude towards learning, other students and staff. Parents can help a child with organisational and time management skills as well as talking through school matters at home in a constructive, positive way. You will be helping your child to gradually take on more responsibility and function more independently as he progresses through school, while still giving him the support he needs.
Listen to your child on school matters but keep an open mind
Ask questions and encourage your child to suggest possible courses of action. Can he resolve the problem himself? Keep in mind that many day-to-day upsets resolve themselves, however if a problem is serious and ongoing, you may need to contact the teacher to discuss a plan of action. Remember to get both sides of the story before you leap to your child’s defence. Ask, discuss, negotiate and problem solve in a spirit of mutual cooperation.
How will I know if my child is keeping up?
“Sometimes it is the parent who first becomes concerned about academic progress or behaviour at school, or because of the child’s social isolation – for example, not being invited to classmates’ birthday parties. Parents may notice that the child is slower or different when compared with an older sibling at the same age. Often it is the class teacher who has indicated to the parent that the child is struggling and this leads to a visit to the GP. In other instances, it is suggested to parents that their child should be assessed to see if the child qualifies for a concession.
“The nature of difficulties the child experiences vary greatly. There can be concerns about learning, behaviour, socialisation or a combination of these. The issues may be straightforward; for example, a child of average or above average intelligence might have trouble with reading. On the other hand, a child may present with a complex constellation of difficulties – not keeping up academically, problems focusing and sustaining attention, disruptive classroom behaviour, low self-esteem and poor motivation. School difficulties can be associated with a range of symptoms including headache, recurrent abdominal pain, mood swings and manifestations of anxiety or depression. A small number of children have a chronic medical condition that affects their learning, whereas others have a history of developmental delay and/or challenging behaviour that can be traced back to the toddler years.”
Signs your child may be falling behind
“As the school based support team most of the parents who contact us are concerned that their children are not coping well at school. The overwhelming concern is that their children are lacking in, or have lost confidence with, their academic ability. This may become evident at report card time, but there are also indicators that parents can pick up on much earlier in the school year. If your child often portrays their ability in a poor light, compares themselves negatively to their peers or is reluctant to do their homework (or even attend school in extreme cases), then these self-esteem issues may stem from their inability to grasp vital concepts at school.
“Other indicators that your child is not doing well at school can be subtler such as not wishing to join in with family activities or gradually becoming socially distant from their peers. Not wishing to engage in a subject area that they have always appeared strong in may be another. For example, a child who has a strong understanding of mathematical concepts may be struggling with reading comprehension, which in turn creates difficulty with worded maths problems and turns them off their favourite subject.
“Children will often engage in work-avoidance strategies come homework time. Some children would rather get into trouble for not doing their homework as this is less painful for them than letting on that they can’t comprehend the work.
Questions to ask the teacher
“How is my child managing socially?”
This is the most important question to ask a teacher before you ask about grades, as slow school achievement is often associated with not fitting in or being bullied. An unhappy, fearful child will not be motivated to learn. If you discover the unpalatable truth that your child is bullying other children, work with the teacher to form an action plan to improve your child’s behaviour.
“What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses, and how can I help?”
Knowing the answer to this question means that you can encourage your child to pursue interests that give satisfaction and success while being alert to opportunities to strengthen any weaknesses.
“Does my child need any extra help beyond the classroom?”
It is not easy for teachers to tell a parent that a child is well below grade level in any area, but you need the full picture in order to help your child.
It is important to keep your goals in perspective: Your child may not become a star student. Make sure to focus on the effort she puts in and commitment she shows instead of the outcome. If you expect perfect achievement from a child who struggles in school, you’ll drive yourself crazy.