Answers to Parents' 5 Biggest Questions (From Student Success Experts)


One benefit of having over 400 coaches at Beyond BookSmart is the ability to gather insights from such aParent seeking advice from an executive function coach wide field of Executive Function experts. And given how chaotic this past academic year has been, our coaches have become accustomed to answering some of the most pressing concerns that parents have about their kids’ learning. In this week’s article, two of our coaches, Diana Horan and Sarah Varisco, will be sharing their insights to help answer 5 of the most common questions they've been hearing from parents. Let’s dive right in!

Question 1: How can I support my child who refuses my help?

Have you ever been engrossed in a book and someone ruins it by telling you the ending? That’s what it’s like when we don’t allow our children to learn from their mistakes. When you read a story, you discover clues, decipher the text, and make inferences to summarize the plot as you connect with the characters. These are important life skills as well. Even if someone tells you a story, nothing is more gratifying than reading something on your own, piecing together the author’s subtext, and uncovering the plot-line and resolution by yourself.

So if your child doesn’t want your help, let him "read his own book." What I suggest may be the hardest thing a parent can do…wait, watch and listen… Awful, right? All we want to do is help! It’s simple, the less we talk at our kids, the more they want to talk to us. So the next time your kid struggles (in a non-emergency way), keep your face neutral, show empathy with your eyes, and wait. It’s so hard! Let your child come to you. In time, they may be ready to hear from you and embrace your help - or they may become willing to seek help from another source. Either way is a win for a student who is working toward gaining self-advocacy skills.

Question 2: My child takes ADHD meds - why is he still having trouble at school?

The thing about ADHD meds is that they don't teach the specific skills that students need to develop - they just lay the groundwork for learning and applying those skills. For example, when my son started middle school, the teachers in each of his classes told him that he needed a binder. That added up to 6 large notebooks in all. He was supposed to keep the binders in his new locker, then take the correct binder out for each class, not lose them and remember to put the proper ones in his backpack at the end of the day to take home at night. I think you can guess what happened next. It was like asking him to build a desk with toothpicks. Ugh. He missed homework assignments, forgot, and lost his binders and it was a complete mess. So what did I do as a “good” parent? I called all of his teachers and asked them to make an exception so that my son could use just one binder for all the classes. That solved the problem! Things were so much easier with one binder! But were they actually better for my son?

By “taking care” of the problem, I actually took away his voice. My son may even have thought that I didn’t think he was capable of solving the problem on his own. If I could go back in time I would give him the tools to attack the problem head-on instead of doing it for him. So - learn from my mistake! If your child is struggling (even on meds) at school, perhaps they'd benefit most from learning a way to express their needs. If he requires help, let him be the squeaky wheel. Maybe he needs to stand instead of sit, use voice-to-text, work with a partner, keep a fidget toy on hand, or take breaks often. I'll bet he knows exactly what works and doesn’t work for him. You can foster this by helping him to set up conferences, emails, and meetings with his teacher, guidance counselor, or principal. If you go to a conference, take the backseat and let him do the talking. If he feels uncomfortable taking the lead, he can read a letter that he wrote (yes, you can offer him help with some bullet points) and use that as his script. If he is the one to ask for help, he will feel more powerful, accountable, and in control. Giving your child power and permission to ask for help is a life skill. Just provide him the opportunity.

Question 3: Why does it take my child so long to complete homework?

There are many possible explanations for this, but we'll break it down into the 3 most typical scenarios: 

  1. They're diligently doing their homework - there is just a high volume of work to be completed 
  2. They may look like they're doing homework - but are really distracted by social media
  3. They don't understand how to do the homework

For #1, if it is taking your kid a long time to do homework, it may also be taking everyone a long time. With the demands of school, especially during COVID-19, compared to our own school days, students are expected to do much more work at home. As parents, we may need to rethink how much time homework should take our kids. It may be a good lesson for your child to ask their teacher how much estimated time they should expect to spend on each homework assignment. This will give you a good baseline for the typical timeframe. Just be sure not to hold your child to the "average" time of their classmates - it's simply a solid reference point.

For #2, well... the answer is in the question! - social media is the culprit (ding, ding ding!) Most likely, this distraction is itself the central problem. To beat it, first and foremost, they need to get their phone out of the work environment. Put it on silent, and move it to another room (or at least six feet way -consider it another type of social distancing!) This creates a work environment without the most attention-drawing distraction. 

Next, consider trying a program/app that helps with distractions, such as Memory Dewo, Focus Me, or Freedom. Given how much of our kids' learning and homework is online, these are particularly attractive options to consider as they work where your kids are. For other distractions, like boisterous siblings or barking beagles, noise cancelling headphones can make a huge difference, as well. 

And finally for #3, If they don't understand the assignment, a buddy can often be the biggest help. Before starting homework, they can talk to a friend from class about the requirements for the assignment (for a brief 5-10 minutes), so that they can know if they're going in the right direction. Even if there's a general understanding of the material, talking it through with a friend is a great way to make the subject stick. A few minutes of checking in with a friend may not only make the rest of the night go more smoothly but also solidify the information for future assignments/tests. 

Question 4: My daughter says that strategies "don't work." How can I help her if she won't try anything new?

Have you ever tried something that was really hard, like a new yoga pose? Then along comes your instructor and he nonchalantly says, “Just move your foot behind your head.” You think that is never going to happen. The task is too monumental, and you just feel like giving up. But if the instructor had said, "Just move your foot behind you by 3 inches," now that you could handle!

In school, your child may feel frustration like this all day long. Essentially everything may feel like they're expected to do an advanced yoga pose when a downward dog is the best they can muster - for now. School may feel overwhelming because the end goals seem way beyond reach.

Start simple. Help your child gain quick wins.

You hope that your yoga instructor would take things step-by step, so do the same for your child. Help them to break down the problems that they are struggling with so they have small, yet important gains. Conquering consecutive tiny problems may help them build confidence and develop an understanding to tackle their bigger struggles.

Help your child find out the “why” of their reasoning. Are they overwhelmed? Frustrated?  Bored? By helping them figure out the why, you can then help better address their needs.

You might be missing an important piece of the puzzle. Could it be that perhaps their locker gets stuck every day and they are late to class and miss an assignment or they are having trouble seeing the board or understanding the teacher? Maybe they never learned how to study and feel like they aren’t capable. If they won’t talk to you, perhaps they want to write the problem down and show it to you.

Let your child take the lead. Ask them what they are already doing that works.  

If just one thing is working for your child, focus on the positive. The more confident they feel, the more they will want to do, and as a parent, you will feel better too!

Question 5: My son does well at school subjects he loves and poorly at ones he dislikes. How can I motivate him to work at subjects he doesn't like?

First, woohoo- you already have a win! There is a subject that your child likes? Score! Run with it! Encourage them to join clubs, community groups and extracurricular activities based on what they enjoy, and embrace their excitement.  

Help to make learning fun and discover what motivates your child.

If they do not enjoy reading, for example, take a trip to the library or bookstore and let them pick out a book or two. Is there a movie based on a novel they may like, have a movie night to spark their interest in reading the book. Help them to start and organize a book club with some of their friends. My daughter has a difficult time reading so I allow her to take out audiobooks from the library that she downloads onto her phone. She is gaining the love of enjoying a book, which will hopefully encourage her to pick up more books on her own. Sometimes I’ll read the same book too and we can discuss it together.

As another example, my son who does not like math LOVES shopping. When we go to stores, I work math into our trip. If there is a percent off sale on an item, I encourage him to figure out how much it will cost. If I am on a budget, I will have him assist me in staying within the budget during the shopping trip.

Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Think about something you don’t like to do. How do you get started and then see the task through? How do you motivate yourself?

More than ever, parents are witnessing their kids' struggles and are feeling compelled to get answers and support. If you recognized yourself or your child in any of these scenarios from this article, we hope you feel a little less alone and that you have some new ways to approach the challenges you've been observing.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

6 Skills for Student SuccessStudents need to be prepared for the rigors of college demands long before they even step foot on campus. Find out the top 6 skills that educational consultants recommend cultivating in middle and high school students that equip them for success.

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