"Back To School" Problems

Last month, I invited readers to email me with their “#1 concern” for their child in the upcoming school year. I responded to each inquiry with suggestions. Overwhelmingly, the top concern was unmotivated children (thus, the topic of this article).

What’s on the minds of moms and dads as the school year approaches and kicks off?

Concerns and expected problems with school:

• Bullying behavior, from both sides of the fence.
• Homework problems: teaching kids to bring it home, do it, hand it in on time and not hate it.
• How to get kids out of bed in the morning.
• Paying attention and behaving in class.
• Unmotivated children.

Here are some suggestions for a reader who’s concerned about her son’s classroom behavior and his ongoing refusal to bring home assignments and do homework:

We are so often presented with issues surrounding school, homework and academic performance, and we understand how this can become a family struggle.

Your son’s job is to go to school and make grades. The household privilege the youngster enjoys is their “pay” for doing their job. The ability to enjoy television time, time playing with friends, games or other things is dependent upon them performing their “job” on a day-to-day basis.

If you must use loss of privilege as a consequence for failing to meet the goal on a particular day, make the consequence for that day only. Incorporate development of a strategy for doing and turning in homework. Have your son make a commitment to use the strategy the next day, and make that part of the plan. In this regard, you become your child’s “coach” in learning how to be more successful at this and their “cheerleader” when they succeed.

If you know that your child is capable of performing at a higher level academically, we have to look at setting up an organizational plan for the upcoming school year. This may require your and his teachers’ involvement as well as setting up a reward system. This may feel a bit juvenile to you, but remember that it is a temporary thing and you are simply coaching and supporting your child in achieving goals.

It may be helpful for you to have a sign-off sheet that his teacher can quickly initial when your child hands in homework. If you are able to track homework sent home and homework passed in and are willing to follow up with your son every day, you can provide a reward for a certain number of check marks or initials, indicating his successful follow through. Discuss in advance a reward that is reasonable to you and one that your child is willing to work toward.

Very often we have to modify, re-evaluate and reassess goals, and that's okay. The goal is to work with the youngster where they are and move forward. Sometimes children are able to make leaps and gains quickly; other times we may find that we have to exercise every bit of patience and consistency that we have as parents to help the youngster even make a baby step.

In response to one parent’s question on getting her child out of bed in the morning, I offered this advice:

Part of the solution for making early mornings stress-free starts the night before. Using the Online Parent Support approach of "consequences," preparation can be made the night before to avoid lots of last minute decisions…In other words, clothes laid out, breakfast choices made, etc. These tasks could be done the night before, prior to watching TV, going online, etc. are allowed.

The same businesslike approach can be used for waking up in the morning. That is, during a family meeting, inform the youngster what should be arranged the night before. In the same way, getting up when the alarm rings should be followed by a privilege somewhere during that day.

An example might be: If your kid gets up when the alarm rings, they can have breakfast made for them, rather than making their own…OR they can expect to get a ride to school instead of taking the bus. If these scenarios are not practical, how about a privilege such as letting your kid go online for 5 minutes before school if he or she gets up when the alarm rings?

Remember, though, it’s not so much about the perfect consequence. It’s about ending the power struggle. And the more businesslike you are in the morning (even though that’s tough!) the better role model you’ll be for starting the day off in a more positive way.

I had this suggestion for the parent of a teenager who won’t get up in the morning:

Online Parent Support teaches that a good place to start would be to sit down with your son and identify any behaviors or situations that interfere with his success. For example, is he sending text messages to his friends all night? Identifying obstacles will not only help your youngster, but allow you to set up limits as needed. Encourage him to avoid certain pitfalls and help him devise a strategy that will work better.

For instance, you can say, “Since texting your friends all night seems to make it hard for you to get up in the morning, no texting past 10pm.” Make sure that you let your kid know it is his responsibility to get up on time for his job and don't get discouraged if you don't achieve success right away. It usually takes repeating the process of coming up with a plan, putting it to use and then looking at what might need to change for the next time around.

To a parent who is worried about her son being bullied again this year in elementary school, I wrote:

It’s going to be important to review this problem with the school. When you do, get a contact or resource person that your son can use to help him at school when he is encountering this problem. Online Parent Support would encourage you to teach him a specific method for walking away from the kids who are bullying him and getting help with this from his teachers. This is a strategy that may need to be practiced several times at home and with his resource person at school before he’ll become comfortable implementing it himself.

One other thing that you’ll need to teach him is that just because the other children are saying hurtful things, it doesn’t make them true. You’ll need to reinforce those qualities about him that make him unique and special so that he has a strong enough ego to withstand these hurtful, mean encounters with other kids.

It is important that he sees that he has a way out of these situations so that he doesn’t shut down. It is important that you praise and reward him when he handles these situations appropriately.

On the flip side of this issue, we heard from parents who want help with teaching their children not to bully other kids for the sake of being “popular.” I offered this advice:

Moms and dads can make “family rules” about most subjects, and this could apply to cliques and bullying. Parents might think about what their values are in terms of being kind to others. Is it as important to you as other issues in your family, such as housework, being polite, etc.? If so, you might tell your children how you feel. You might even have consequences if you find out they have been unkind to others.

You could be “business-like” about this issue. In other words, you could say something like: “We all want to be popular. However, in this family we want to value some things as being more important than popularity. That means we won’t allow bullying or being friends with people who do bully. If you feel pressure to do it, come to us and we’ll find an alternative response for you to use instead of being unkind.”

Thanks to all the subscribers who emailed me with questions. I will be offering more of these interactive features in future issues.

I wish you and your child success in the upcoming school year.

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