sweet little girl bored under stress asking for help in hate school concept

In an ideal world, our children would tell us exactly what they need. When Eustachian tubes are blocked, they’d ask for a doctor’s appointment. When they’re excluded from a game at recess, they’d ask how to deal with social dynamics. When they encountered academic problems, they’d ask for clarification from the teacher. Most of us have to work harder than that to really hear what our kids are trying to tell us. When it comes to school, it’s not unusual for us to be mystified by the source of unsatisfactory report cards or obvious gaps in a child’s literacy or numeracy. There are ways, however, to decode the academic SOS signals that our kids are sending.

Physical problems

Sometimes a headache or sore tummy is a way of avoiding an uncomfortable situation. Anxiety about life at school can engender real symptoms. Frequent odd symptoms might mean a trip to the doctor, but they might also benefit from an investigation into what’s on the schedule at school.

Complaints about the Teacher

Teachers make mistakes. They do things that seem inequitable. Complaining can be justified, but the reality is that most teachers genuinely want kids to learn. If your child complains excessively about his teacher, it’s time to investigate it. Make sure to go in with an open mind. Your child could be deflecting frustration and fear onto the easiest target in the room.

Changes in Behaviour

If a usually calm and respectful child suddenly becomes defiant and angry or a gregarious child begins to isolate themselves from family and friends, take note. It could be the onset of adolescent angst or it could be acting out as a result of frustration at school.

No Homework or Too Much Homework

If your child claims to have no homework, rarely studies for tests or quizzes, and does not bring home completed projects or activities to share with you, it’s often a clear sign of lack of engagement or shame and fear about their performance. If your child seems to be bringing home excessive homework, he could be having difficulty completing it during set work-times at school, or they could be taking too long to complete the homework itself.

What to do?

Talk about school and homework in a calm, non-judgemental way
– Consider effort, skills, and attitude toward learning rather than focusing exclusively on grades
– Investigate the problem, but give the teacher the benefit of the doubt
– Keep the lines of communication with school open and work at forming a partnership
– Approach the school administration only after you’ve spoken to your child’s teacher
– Do research into supports available at the school or in the system
– Ask for referrals to a tutor (subject specific) or academic coach (holistic support)
– Help your child with his homework, but don’t do it for them
– Read for pleasure at home every night
– Find activities and games that encourage numeracy and problem-solving

Above all, don’t panic, and don’t take it personally. Your child isn’t the first and won’t be the last to experience problems at school. Stay focused on a finding a solution that suits your child and your family, and remember that you’re not alone.

Pam MacIsaac owns and operates Think Academic Enrichment and Support, which provides reading and writing coaching for students of all ages.