"My son did so good in the 6th grade, but now in middle school, he can barely bring home anything better than a C. Any suggestions?!"
When your youngster brings home that report card showing grades that are less than great (and maybe downright pitiful), sometimes it's difficult to know what to do. Do you act like it doesn't matter, have a long discussion with your son or daughter about the importance of grades, or automatically discipline them for having bad grades? While all of these may seem to be tempting options, it's important that you actually work with your children to help them start improving their grades.
If your child’s grades seem to be going down the toilet, here are 25 things you can do to “save the day”:
1. Bad grades can be a result of a variety of problems. So, the first thing to do is take stock of why you child is not getting the grades you think he/she should. Is it just because he/she is lazy or is there another problem? Are they having trouble seeing the board? Do they understand what the teacher is saying? Do they ask questions when they don’t understand? Does he/she have trouble remembering what they have learned? Do you put too much pressure on them to perform and maybe they are not as capable as you think they are? Are they bored? These are definitely questions you should be finding the answer to – without grilling the child. Simply ask them to be open with you so you can work together.
2. What worked in the past? Think about a time when your youngster got his homework done well and with no hassles. What was different? What made it work that time? Ask your youngster about it and believe what he says. See what works and motivates him instead of what motivates you.
3. Have realistic goals. When you structure your youngster’s study time to help him bring his grades back to an acceptable level, be realistic in your goals. Remember, it took time for your youngster to get behind, so you need to allow time for him to catch up. Get actively involved in your youngster’s homework by reviewing it and helping with study strategies. On occasion, try to be present during study time. If you can’t be there, try to get your youngster into in an after school program or ask another trusted grown-up to be there with them.
4. Despite the fact good study habits are, largely, a discipline we instill in our kids, we must always bear in mind that learning through play inspires kids to learn more. So, any opportunity to mix play and learning together should be taken. Hence, making learning play is a study skill. Note TV and video-computer games are not considered play since they increase anxiety and aggression.
5. Don’t restrict your youngster from ALL privileges until his grades improve. Restricting your youngster from all of his privileges until he brings his grades up usually backfires. In effect, you end up taking away something that might actually motivate him to improve. Instead, require your youngster to study for a certain amount of time each day to earn those extra privileges that evening.
6. Teach your child to manage interruptions. He should turn his communications off when he studies. Even better, put them out of site. If the cell phone rings or an email announces itself, what happens? Many students struggle with managing interruptions like these, and work grinds to a halt.
7. Good study skills emphasize relaxing and thinking about the challenge (brainstorming possible solutions) before tackling it. Creating a plan of attack ahead of time is often helpful to the child. In this way assignments can be simplified and completed in small, digestible bites, avoiding any overwhelming feelings.
8. Good study skills mean once homework is begun, no distractions should be allowed. This teaches kids to concentrate on their studies. Some children like to stand up and then sit down while studying. This can increase circulation and aid attention and is okay. Other kids like to put on their favorite study hat when they do homework as a physical reminder to help them concentrate on their work.
9. Give your child a bottle of water. He needs to stay topped up with enough to concentrate fully. Keep a bottle nearby, because good study habits depend on hydration.
10. Homework should be prioritized, with the most difficult tasks completed first, while the youngster is fresh and alert, or, alternatively, waiting until a parent arrives home to tackle an especially difficult problem.
11. It is important that kids begin their studies soon after arriving home, with no noise or distractions to interfere with their doing homework. A desk, adequate lighting, quiet, and a comfortable chair are a good start. Giving school studies the highest priority at home causes kids to give it a high priority in their lives.
12. Kids may have different learning styles. Some kids learn better by hearing, others by seeing a demonstration, and still others by reading. Keep in mind that your youngster may have a learning style that suits him best. Teach to his style. For deeper learning, use all three styles together.
13. Within the parameters you set around schoolwork, your youngster should be free to make his own choices. You need to back off a bit as a parent. Otherwise you won’t be helping him with his responsibilities. If you take too much control over the situation, it will backfire on you by turning into a power struggle.
14. Make sure your youngster is paying attention to the teacher. His eyes should always be on the teacher when she is talking. One way to confirm that he is paying attention is to check with the teacher. A second method is visiting the class and seeing for yourself. Another way is to make sure he is regularly answering and asking questions in class. Hence, when he arrives home, ask him about his class participation.
15. Meet with your youngster’s teacher. Call your youngster’s teacher and ask for a meeting. Tell her what you are seeing at home—and then ask what she has observed in the classroom. Ask her for any ideas she might have to help your youngster get back on track.
16. Moms and dads must use their own judgment to determine, for example, if the kids should play for a short time, after school, before commencing their homework, or if they should dive into it immediately, and how long study breaks should be. What is best will be determined by what works for your family. Remember to praise kids for work completed properly and on time. It may be that your kids will move heaven and earth to get their homework done if allowed to play right after school with their friends. Again, what works best for your family will determine your decisions. Bear in mind, however, that the later in the day school study begins, the less its importance becomes in the youngster's mind and the more likely the youngster will tire before completing it.
17. Putting difficult problems into one's own words can help a youngster understand the problem better, instead of relying on rote learning. Beware of rote learning where your youngster can repeat the solution to a problem, but doesn't understand what she is saying. Therefore, stress to her that understanding the problem is more important.
18. Regular scheduled play breaks are important. A play break can be used as a reward after a particular problem is completed correctly. In this way the completion of a difficult problem is associated with a reward, play. What's more, a play break should not involve TV or computer games, but physical movement like playing with friends or going outside to play with the dog. Video-computer games and TV increase anxiety and aggression. These activities are associated with obesity and decreased learning in school. What's more, they interfere with old fashioned play and, therefore, increase obesity.
19. Rewarding a student for good grades is a judgment call. If it works for your youngster, why not, but remember the bottom line is that our kids learn to enjoy learning for its own sake. This is why making learning fun and learning through play are such excellent study skills.
20. Set limits around homework time (e.g., weekend activities don’t happen until work is completed; if grades are failing or falling, take away screen time so your youngster can focus and have more time to concentrate on his work; homework is done in a public area of your house; homework is done at the same time each night, etc.).
21. A common problem for many children is a lack of structure in their after school schedule. Make sure sports or other clubs do not come first, with homework being fit in at the end of the day when your youngster is tired. This is not a good lesson to teach your youngster, because it gives them the message that play comes before work—and is therefore more important than work. Schoolwork has to be prioritized, and a structure has to be set up so it isn’t squeezed in at the last minute.
22. Stop the nightly fights. The way you can stop fighting with your children over homework every night is to stop fighting with them tonight. Disengage from the dance. Choose some different steps or decide not to dance at all. Let homework stay where it belongs—between the teacher and the student. Refuse to get pulled in by the school in the future. Stay focused on your job, which is to help your youngster do his job.
23. Study habits are learned at home. Parenting means teaching our kids these skills and making them habits. Study skills are so important to good grades that some think grades really measure how well moms and dads teach their kids to study, particularly in the primary grades.
24. Take a break. If you feel yourself getting reactive or frustrated, take a break from helping your youngster with homework. Your blood pressure on the rise is a no-win for everyone. Take five or ten minutes to calm down, and let your youngster do the same if you feel a storm brewing.
25. Talk to your youngster about what’s going on. Have a frank conversation with your youngster about his grades. Say, “Look, I’ve been letting you manage your homework on your own, but it’s not working. Now we’re going to set up a study time every day where I supervise your work. We can talk about not doing that once your grades get back up where they need to belong. But in the meantime, we have to seriously set aside some time to work on this.”
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