Four crucial–and sometimes overlooked–areas that affect learning and how to check them to see how your child is doing. Parenting advice and simple tips I shared this morning on the TODAY show to help your child have a more successful school year
The honeymoon period is over and the school year is in full swing. At this point most parents have a good idea about how their children get along with the teacher and which subjects are hard or easy. But school success is more than just our kids’ opinions about homework, and in our fast-paced lives we can overlook other important areas that affect our children’s learning.
Checking up on those four crucial areas could identify any issues, resolve any problems, and even make the rest of your child’s school year go far smoother. Think of it like your child’s regular doctor check-up, except this one is no cost, doesn’t take as much times, you never have to leave your home and involves your child’s education. There’s no better time than right now to check-up and check-in with your child’s school progress. Here are the four core areas of your child’s education you should assess.
Four-Part Parent Back-to-School Check-Up
Part 1. ACADEMICS: How is your child handling the school load?
Don’t wait to be shocked on that first report card! Now is the time to zero in and find out if your child needs a tutor, a class change, or just needs to hit those books harder.
Grades: Most school’s have a website service parents where parents can review their child’s grades, test scores and absences. Register for that service (it’s free), and then use it at least once a week. And let your child know you’re checking up (you just may see a sudden change in his motivation). If you see a dip in grades or test scores, it’s time for a serious chat with your child. If the problem continues, set up a conference with the teacher to see if this is a learning problem, inappropriate class not at the child’s ability, a tutor is needed or your child needs to study more.
Missing school notes: Being involved in your child’s education is essential, but to do so you have to make sure you’re receiving all school correspondences. Important notes about upcoming conferences, open houses or school projects often end up at the bottom of those backpacks, so now is a great time to have your child to empty his backpack and clean it. If you find missing forms, then set aside “Note Catcher Box” (a basket, tin) in a convenient spot near the front door. Then set a new rule: the minute your kid walks in the door, he opens his backpack and puts any school correspondence in the box. You can check it later, sign it, and then put it back that backpack.
Part 2. SOCIAL: How is your child getting along with others?
Pals play an enormous part of our kids’ self-esteem, and research finds that who our kids befriend can affect their study habits and their overall academic success and feelings of security. While kids don’t need lots of friends they do need at least one loyal buddy. A lack of friends, rejection or bullying makes concentrating on those school assignments a lot harder.
Friend problems: The two places where kids are most likely to be excluded are in the cafeteria or school playground. A quick way to find out if your child has a pal is to ask him to draw a map of the cafeteria or playground, and then mark where he usually sits or plays. Next ask him to mark where the other kids sit or play. Does he have pals? Worry if your child has no friends. If you see a pattern, dig further and then contact the teacher for his or her perspective.
Cyber-bullying: Electronic bullying via internet, cell, text, email or web is escalating. A quick way to find out your child’s online presence is to Google your child’s first and last name and determine how many hits come up. If you see a growing presence it could be a sign of cyber-bullying. Watch especially when your child receives a text or email. If he looks jumpy, worried or covers up the computer, monitor closer. And regardless, now is a great time to review Internet safety rules and change your child’s password.
Bullying: Peer cruelty is a growing problem and usually happens where there is least adult supervision. Hot spots include bathrooms, cafeterias, the corners of the playground, the back of the bus, lockers, and hallways. So ask: “Where are places you or the other kids try to stay away from because you don’t feel as safe?” Is your child avoiding certain spots? Does he run home to use the bathroom? (Forty-three percent of students are afraid to use the school restroom). Heading to fridge famished might be because his lunch money is stolen. If so, develop a safety plan for your child, monitor daily and report your concerns to the school.
Part 3. EMOTIONAL: How is your child handling stress and that school load?
According to a new poll from the University of Michigan, childhood stress is now a top-5 concern for parents, and 56% of parents believe it’s getting worse. Stress affects our kids’ learning and their ability to concentrate.
Activity overload: A U.S. published by KidsHealth.org found that 41 percent of children aged nine to thirteen said they feel stressed most or all of the time because they have too much to do. Nearly 80 percent wished they had more free time. Watch out! Overscheduled kids run the risk of stress-related illnesses. Now is the time to sit down with your child and look at her weekly schedule and all those extra activities. Is there one thing that could be cut to free up time and give your child a chance to decompress? Cutting just one thing can make a difference.
Stress: Have you seen a marked change since school began from your child’s “normal” behavior that lasts everyday for at least two weeks. For instance: Is your child more irritable or withdrawn lately? Have trouble concentrating or have more headaches? Is he quicker to frustrate? If so, could it be stress related? Identify your child’s stress triggers. Reduce those triggers that you can (like that scary shows or too difficult of a math class). Watch also conflict at home, which can spill over into kids’ school life. Find ways to de-stress with your kids and help him learn to decompress.
Part 4. PHYSICAL: How is your child’s health?
Don’t overlook your child’s physical health, which is critical to learning success. Reoccurring headaches or illnesses are often school related.
Sleep deprived: A lack of sleep can have a serious impact on children’s abilities to learn and perform at school. Missing just one hour of sleep can be enough to reduce a child’s cognitive abilities by almost two years the next day. Is your child waking up refreshed and ready to go or are you playing Big Ben to try and get him out of bed. If the later, make sure bedtimes are kept to a routine schedule. Turn off the computer and television at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Take away the cell phones during nighttime hours (62% of kids admit they use it after the lights go out and their parents are clueless). Avoid caffeinated sleep stealers like cold medications, chocolate, or energy-drinks.
Skipped breakfasts: Tune into those breakfasts dishes to check what your child is eating –or not eating. A healthy breakfast is important for concentrating and keeping up with the stamina. If mornings are rushed and your kid is missing that crucial first meal, think of healthy simple options that your kids can grab on the run like ready-to-go bottles of orange juice or milk, low-fat yogurt, apples and whole-grain English muffins.
The secret is to identify one thing that may affect your child’s learning success. Then find a simple solution that works for your family and commit to implementing it until you reap positive change. And make sure you get to your child’s school Open House!
Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert