Advocating For Your Child

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As parents, we want everything good for our children. We know we have their best interests at heart, but it can be scary to release that responsibility - and trust that others who work with our children feel the same. That fear can lead us to question teachers, coaches, and other professionals who have an influence on our children; which can then make us seem like THAT parent. You know, the crazy helicopter one who teachers see coming from a mile away and opt to run & hide rather than talk to you. But let’s be clear. Advocating for your child does not make you crazy or helicopter-ish. It is your right and it is your duty. And here are 5 tips for doing it well.

1.) Be Informed

Sometimes, we worry without having all of the facts. Take a minute to talk to your child to get their perspective about what’s going on. Be observant and look for patterns. Organize your information and contact log of who you’ve talked to and what you talked about to keep the bigger picture in mind. Know your rights as a parent and know your child’s rights as a student. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand certain terminology or what a professional means when they throw around phrases like “He’s behind” or “She has behavior problems.”

2.) Be specific

Ask lots of questions. But do it because you’re curious, not because you’re being judgmental. Be clear about your concerns. You know your child. Open up about his needs and how you have accommodated him at home to make him successful. Ask your child’s professionals to identify their short and long term goals. What are the next steps for all involved?

3.) Balance the positive with the negative

Be aware of things that are going well and not so well at home. And be prepared to share. Likewise, ask the teachers about your child’s strengths, as well as her areas of need. Children love to be encouraged and hear (often) positive words of affirmation. They eat it up! Capitalize on that!

4.) Build relationships

Establish a rapport with your child’s teachers from the very beginning. “Hi, my name is Natalie and I’m CJ’s mom. I brought you some coffee and doughnuts because I very much appreciate and respect you and the profession you’ve chosen. Thank you for what you do! You’ll be hearing from me periodically as I check in with you on how my son is doing. Here is my contact information.”

5.) Remain calm and focused

Give everyone a fair chance. Relax. Listen. Don’t come off angrily, but instead - be an ally. Don’t let teachers or coaches doubt for one second that you support them! Utilize relaxation techniques or take someone with you if you feel you can’t hold it together and remain poised. You want your child’s team to listen to you! And they will have trouble doing that if you come off defensively.

Does My Child Need Extra Help?

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Parents often wonder how to tell if their child may need extra help. Though every child is different, and every age is different, here are a few tips that may indicate a need for help:

·      Sudden discomfort – your once happy and content student is suddenly anxious talking about school. It isn’t just the shift in discussion where you feel like you’re pulling teeth trying to figure out what happened in school that day now that you have a middle schooler; your child actually becomes uncomfortable discussing school.

o   For some children this could manifest as actual physical discomfort, such as fidgeting or avoiding eye contact.

o   For others, it could be avoidance, such as an immediate and deliberate change of subject.

o   For a few, this could manifest as irritation or aggression. Some students are having such a hard time that they get upset even discussing things that are school-related.

·       Grade decline – it is perfectly normal to have off-days and topics that just don’t click. A bad test grade or two is not always the best indicator that help is needed (could be sleep related, something outside of school, etc.) But, a steady decline in a class grade or grades should be a sign that something is wrong. If your child has dropped a letter grade or more and doesn’t seem to be on the upswing, it may be time to look into some outside assistance

·      Key words – really listen to your child and their attitude when discussing school. What may once have been “fine” may now be “really hard.” Some students drop hints about not knowing what they’re doing, or not wanting to raise their hand because they feel their question is “stupid.” These small additions to your conversations are signals your child is sending to communicate their struggle

·      Trust your gut – you are their parent. You know them best. If you think something is wrong and they need help, then you are probably right. Have an open conversation with them and see where they are and how they feel 

Note: remember that you are the parent. Even us teachers get frustrated because we understand the content our own children are learning, but for some reason just cannot help or tutor them. This is normal. A tutor is a professional who can come in and play a very particular role in your child’s life. They develop a different relationship of respect and communication with your child.

 

Understanding Interims

    This time of year, many parents have received their child’s interim, or progress report, and the teacher’s notes that come with it.  Many schools offer these mid-semester reports in order to communicate with parents, allow the student to make any necessary behavioral or academic adjustments, and to ensure that each child is set up to be as successful as possible.  

     You don’t want to miss this opportunity to connect with your child’s instructors and understanding their interims will give you an inside look into their performance. Whether your child experiences anxiety about receiving grades or is indifferent about it altogether, interims can be an extremely helpful tool for you and your student. Progress reports are usually issued halfway through the grading period and outline your child’s schedule and their grades thus far. These progress reports often include notes from teachers about how your child is behaving in class and whether there are any issues that need to be addressed. Receiving these grades and behavioral notes in the middle of the grading period allows your student to make necessary adjustments. For example, teachers may notice that your son’s grades are lower in classes where he sits further back and encourage him to schedule an eye exam.  Your daughter may have no problem with her math assignments at home, but struggles to focus when in class surrounded by her friends. Some kids may still be adjusting, like 9th graders who aren't used to the workload of a high school student. Nevertheless, by October, you should have a solid idea about where your child stands.  Progress reports allow teachers to pinpoint any difficulties that your child might be experiencing and connect with you to discuss them.

     If your child often tells you, “nothing happened at school” or “we didn’t learn anything”, it can be difficult to know how things are really going.  Interims are a great resource for parents who aren’t getting much information from their children. Teachers often spend even more time with your children than you do, so having open communication between you will often make for a much more successful student. Read the instructor’s notes carefully and keep them in mind to re-address during the next meeting.

     Parents should also look at what rubric their child’s interim grades are based upon. Grading systems vary all over the country and a poor grade doesn’t always mean that your child doesn’t grasp the material. Does your child have a D in a class based off of three grades, or off of thirty? If one bombed test is affecting his or her grade significantly, that is less worrisome than an entire test category showing up in the red. If/when a concern arises, work with your child and his or her teacher to create a plan that addresses the issue.  There is still time for students to bring up their interim grades, but before you know it, the holidays will be here, and report cards will be arriving.

     As educators, we strongly encourage parents to take advantage of parent-teacher conferences after interims have been distributed.  We understand how overwhelming schedules are, but a short meeting with your child’s teacher could greatly benefit him. If you cannot be present for the assigned day, reach out to the teacher and work out another option (whether it's after school or before school, or even via phone). These are a huge opportunity to get a window into your child's classroom and an idea of how they’re doing outside of the home. You may be looking at a simple fix to bring some of those grades up!

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Let's Talk Homework Anxiety

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Homework Anxiety

Anxiety about homework is real, normal, and prevalent. So let’s have a look!

What is it? Homework anxiety is situational anxiety focused on homework time. It’s really just anxiety ABOUT homework, not an actual anxiety diagnosis. If your child is showing frustration and worry that centers around homework, then this applies to them. Note: if your child is showing signs of sleep trouble, headaches, bellyaches, social reclusiveness, etc., then it is a good idea to talk to a doctor about an actual anxiety diagnosis.

What am I looking for? In younger students, this can look like defiance (tantrums, tears, refusal), and in older students it may be more verbalized (“I can’t do this,” “I’m not smart enough to do this”). Since competition is big among students as they get older, it can be worry about friends excelling while your child may be struggling.

How can I help? Patience, patience, patience. If you are frustrated, take a break. Model what you want your child to do. Stick to a routine so your child knows what to expect and when. This routine depends on YOUR child – do they need a break after school, or should they get right to it? Have a homework spot. Use a planner. Make to-do lists. Do your “homework” (bills, e-mails, planning) at the same time so your child isn’t alone. If a child really needs help, have them reach out to their teacher themselves. Positive reinforcement is huge – don’t be afraid to introduce incentives. Remember to give positive feedback. An anxious parent begets an anxious child, so find what works for you and your child to ease the worry and create a positive environment for homework.