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Use Open Communication With Your Child When They are Struggling in School

mom talks to daughter about school
By Lifestance Health on January 29, 2021

We all want our children to excel at school, but there are many things that can get in the way of their success. Children are sometimes afraid to tell their parents about their problems at school for fear of punishment or disappointment. 

By engaging in open, honest, and supportive conversations about school, you can learn about what obstacles your child may face and help them overcome their challenges. Here’s how you can establish that kind of communication:

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Create a Stress-Free Environment for Communication

Set aside uninterrupted time (no phones or other distractions) for you and your child to talk. It is important for parents to be stress-free, and open-minded to their child’s responses before beginning a conversation about school. Opening the lines of communication with your child is an effective way to identify problem areas and allows you, your child to work together to create solutions.  

Use Open-Ended, Engaging Questions

Calmly ask your child open-ended questions about school that will encourage dialogue. For example, instead of asking, “How was your day today?”, you could try asking:

  • “What was the most interesting thing you learned today?” 
  • “Who did you sit with at lunch today (play with at recess) today?” 
  • “Who is your favorite teacher/subject, and why?” 

Questions like these are not punitive or confrontative and elicit more than a “yes or no” answer. 

Try Direct, Compassionate Questions

If your first types of questions don’t naturally create a dialogue, it may be helpful to move towards questions like: 

  • “Are you struggling at school with your subjects or making friends?” 
  • “How can I/we help?”

If your child sees that you are focused on problem-solving, and not punishing, it could help them to open up about their school experiences. 

Collaborate to Find Solutions

If your child identifies areas in which they are struggling, begin to talk about solutions together.  Does your child need a more structured (or less structured) schedule for homework?  Do they need assignments written down in a notebook?  Can the teacher assign your child a “buddy” to help your child foster friendships at school? Write your ideas down, as these notes will come in handy soon. 

Next, Find an adult at school that your child views as supportive. Meet with your child and the teacher together, assuring your child and the teacher beforehand that this meeting is to problem solve and work as a team to find solutions to their issues. This meeting is not to meter out punishment or to re-hash your child’s struggles.  

To begin the meeting, allow your child to express themselves directly to their teacher; this is a way to empower your child and teaches them to self-advocate. If your child is nervous, bring your notes/solutions to the meeting, so all of their concerns are heard. Your child’s proactive behavior shows his teacher that they are ready to work together towards a solution. The teacher will be much more open to a student-driven, solution-focused conversation. 

If these attempts do not help to foster open, honest, supportive communication between you and your child, and their teacher, please consider seeking professional help.

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