How's your kid doing? Find out - Albuquerque Journal

How’s your kid doing? Find out

Q: School’s on and I’m already worried about how my son will do. How can I figure out how it’s going for him without being too intrusive, and how can I help?

A: It’s at about this time of year that we start hearing from parents who have heard that their child may not be doing “fine,” as they are fond of answering the question “How was school today?”

I suppose, first of all, I should note that my wife and I have not been successful in getting useful information when we asked that of our children or ask it now of our grandchildren. We might as well just skip that self-answering query and move on to more probing ones. For example: “What was the best thing about school today?”, “What was the worst thing?”, “Are there any kids in your class who have been especially nice or especially mean to you today?”, “What are you reading (or what is your teacher reading to you) in class?”, “Anything funny happen to you today?”

I would ask these questions with both you and your child free of distractions, the TV turned off, the lid on the laptop down, the radio turned low. Make sure you respond to the child’s answer with a comment, usually a positive or empathetic one.

It’s interesting to me that children in other developed countries often have much less homework than our kids do and the results of their education is often as good or better. Be that as it may (and don’t let on to your children that some homework may be of dubious value!), American kids have homework and it’s important to help your child get the homework done. And, yes, I believe it’s OK for parents to help with homework, as long as there’s at least equal effort on the part of the child. All too often I hear from kids in my office, “I do really well on the tests, but I have trouble getting my homework in.” Where is the child’s effort and where is the parent?

Distraction should be avoided in general, not just when you’re asking questions about your son’s day and listening to his reply. Distraction robs a child of his time, whether it’s in the classroom or at home. Parents in my practice have used various approaches that sound good to me (there was no Facebook or Twitter when my children were in school and we didn’t have cable!): one parent gave her children a coupon book, good for 14 half-hours of television per week. The children were able to “spend” them as they wished. Another parent refused to have a TV in the house. A third had a homework table; children stayed at the table until homework was done, except for a 10-minute-per-hour rest period which, yes, could be used to look at those all-important social media.

Make sure your child is attending school – not skipping classes, not being held out of school for avoidable absences. I frequently see children in my office during school hours when the patient is another child in the family, often for the parent’s convenience. I see children staying home from school for very minor illnesses, missing out on the continuity of their lessons at school.

Now perhaps I’ve been distracted from the main thrust of your question: how do you find out how your son is doing in school (beyond asking him, which may or may not get an accurate response). Maintaining contact with the teacher is probably effective for a number of reasons: The teacher can tell you face to face how your child is doing; the teacher is likely to watch a child more carefully if she knows she’ll be seeing the parent frequently; and your child will learn that you’ve made the effort because you think education is important. Certainly attend the parent-teacher conferences, but you don’t have to wait until then, if you’re concerned, to make an appointment with the teacher.

I realize that June and Ward Cleaver (in the late 1950s, early 1960s TV show “Leave It to Beaver”) had an easier time staying in contact with their children’s teachers than most two-working-parent or single-parent families can do now, but there are ways. One of my daughters, an artist, uses a day off from her day job to teach an occasional art class in her son’s class. The other, a lawyer and accomplished baker, regularly takes baked treats for the teachers at her children’s school. Most schools are good at finding volunteer jobs for willing parents.

I’m also a big fan of reading. I hope you spent the summer reading with your child and hope you’re continuing to read with him. If he’s just starting to read or has trouble reading, alternating pages in an easy book may be the answer; our libraries are full of great picture books. If he’s older, look over his shoulder as he reads his assigned or pleasure reading … and then settle in with your own book. You’ll be a great example.

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