3 Uncommon Signs of Academic Trouble

This is a serious problem, but this comic is still funny.

It’s report card day! Your child digs through loose papers and crumpled fruit snack bags in order to find it and quickly hands it to you before running off to play. You take a deep breath and open it slowly. You both worked hard this quarter. You asked him every day if he had all his homework done, and he always said yes. His grades should reflect that…right?

Wrong. Your heart sinks as you look at the letters and look again. What went wrong? With all the investment that you put into your child’s education, it can be worrisome, and even anxiety producing, for him to continue to not do well in school. One way to avoid a devastating report card day is to catch academic problems before they get out of hand.

Low test scores or low homework grades are obvious signs that your child is in trouble. But there might be a few signs you may not think to look for.

Mood Swings around Homework or Test Time

I’ve tutored dozens of kids and one thing I’ve noticed with the vast majority of them is when they don’t understand something, their entire mood shifts. A child can come into a session smiling and completely pleasant but as soon as we start long division or I’m asking questions about their book report book, they either get mean or they start cracking jokes. It’s a defense mechanism, and if you think about it, you probably know adults who do the same thing. If your child has a hissy fit every time you ask about homework, it could be a sign that they’re struggling but don’t know how to ask for help.

The Magical Disappearing Homework!

I worked with one student for awhile who had the hardest time getting his homework into the teacher’s hands. The night before, I saw that his homework was done. His mother saw that his homework was done. But at some point between getting on the bus in the morning and the start of the class, his homework disappeared. His report card was a disaster that quarter, and it wasn’t because his test scores were low or he didn’t understand the material. It’s because in elementary and middle school (and even many high schools), simply turning in your homework counts for a lot of credit. When you don’t do that, your grades can plummet.

While he wasn’t necessarily struggling academically, this child was losing his homework and that was a sign of a larger organizational problem that needed to be addressed. Now, he’s finishing up his junior year of high school and is one of the most organized, disciplined students I know–all because someone recognized what was going on.

Test-Induced Illness

I’ll admit it…I’ve done it. You wake up the morning of a test and you can’t get your heart to stop pounding. The pressure of doing well and the overwhelming amount of knowledge that you simply don’t know creates a stomach ache. You do whatever trick you need to do to get the thermometer to give out an inaccurate reading (I won’t give anyone any ideas…) and voila! You bought yourself an extra day to study.

Test-induced illness could be a sign that your child doesn’t understand the material or he may understand it just fine. Either way, stress over tests at this level is unhealthy. This kind of anxiety around academics can turn into a serious problem later on, especially as the pressure increases in high school and college. Know when your chid’s tests and quizzes are and when projects are due. If you have these dates listed on your own calendar and start to notice a trend, do what you can to alleviate some of your child’s anxiety.

If you start to notice these or any other worrisome behaviors, check in with your child. Some children are hesitant to talk about what’s bothering them, so try to create an atmosphere that’s comfortable for them. You could go out for fro-yo and chat or take a yoga or martial arts class together or simply sit for awhile and watch his favorite TV show.

If your child doesn’t even know what’s going on (sometimes they don’t), talk to the teacher. Together, you might be able to pick out different trends that are unique to your child and determine if a tutor, academic coach, or psychologist can help.

Hang in there! And on report card day, don’t despair too much. Approach it with some amount of objectivity and you might be able to notice things on your own that you can do to help your child.

Homework comic
How many kids wish this would work?

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Report Card Time! What to Do With Your Child’s Report Card

report card
Don’t glance at it and toss it away. Report cards are full of handy information!

For some, report card day comes with a feeling of trepidation…a nagging sense of impending doom. For others, it’s a glorious day, a day to celebrate with cake and ice cream. Whatever kinds of emotions come up for your and your child on report card day, it is an important day.

 

I’ve already talked about why your child’s data is important and how you can keep track of grades, progress reports, and other forms of data. Report cards are the culmination of months of hard work. They show you where your child stands in school. Report card day can be incredibly emotional for both children and parents, so I encourage you to take a step back from the emotion and try to look at it with some objectivity.

 

Things you should do with every report card:

 

1. Pick out the positives. Even if your child isn’t doing well academically, in the early years of school, report cards will oftentimes put behavior grades as well. If your child isn’t doing well in math but the teacher notes that she plays well with others, play that up! Show your child the ways in which she is competent in school and she will be motivated to do better.

 

2. Make a note of any major changes. If your child went down a full letter grade in a subject, it might be cause for concern. But don’t panic just yet! Ask your child a couple nonthreatening questions about what might have caused the dip. Think back to when you were in school. Chemistry may have been a breeze first semester but killer second semester. Your child may be having issues with friends or had a long-term substitute for part of the semester. Play a little detective and determine the cause of the change.

 

3. See if there are any trends. If your child is consistently struggling in math, it may be time for you to step in and get some extra help. Or alternatively, if she’s blowing English out of the water, you may have a budding literary genius on your hands! You can do things on the weekends to encourage that interest or talent.

 

4. Read everything. It can be tempting to skim over your child’s report card, especially if you have more than one child, and check out the grades in key subjects. But you might be missing out on valuable information if you don’t pay attention to the other parts. Remember those behavior grades that I mentioned? They can tell you if your child is having trouble socializing, hates to share, is becoming a bully, or is being bullied. Each of these can turn into massive problems later on if they’re not caught and addressed early. Every inch of the report card matters.

 

5. Create a follow up plan. This plan doesn’t need to be heavy or truly detailed. If your child came home with great grades or improved in an area you both were really working on, your plan could be simply to celebrate and continue doing what you’ve ben doing. Or you may need to hire a tutor or academic coach for your child. If you’ve been tracking your child’s data and something doesn’t quite add up, don’t hesitate to set up a time to chat with your teacher and go over anything that doesn’t make sense to you.

 

Report cards don’t have to be stressful. These strategies, with the exception of the last one, require you to look at the paper objectively and do a quick analysis. If you take a couple deep breaths and approach them with a positive attitude (regardless of what letters you see), you and your child will be in a much better place to tackle the academic obstacles ahead.

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