Keep Calm and Encourage On: 3 Steps to Help Your Struggling Learner (That You’re Probably Already Doing)

It started as a fleeting thought earlier this fall — a comment on an assignment or a lighthearted remark at a class party.

But now, you see more clearly. Your child is struggling — at school.

Maybe it’s the fast-paced learning style of a new grade or the challenges that come with a classroom of new friends. Or maybe, while other parents are talking about straight As and high test scores, you and your child are trying to survive each night’s homework.

While no one wants to see their child struggle at school, it’s important to keep things in perspective.

So before dumping hundreds of dollars into private tutoring or spending sleepless nights worrying about the future, stay calm and remember these three steps to help your struggling learner.

Prioritize Time with Your Child’s Teacher

Chances are you’ll be seeing your child’s teacher soon — possibly at a parent/teacher conference scheduled before the winter break.

Instead of dreading or rushing past this one-on-one time, prioritize it on your calendar and see it as a time to partner with your child’s teacher.

To make the most of your upcoming parent/teacher conference:

Jot down your thoughts beforehand. Don’t assume you’ll remember what you want to share on the spot. In the days leading up to the conference, write down them down and add to your list as you remember things you’d like to discuss.

Give your child’s teacher permission to speak honestly. Use a statement such as “We trust your experience and observations. You have our permission to speak honestly about our child.” By giving your child’s teacher permission to share honestly, you’ll receive great feedback, build trust, and know how to encourage your child specifically.

Listen. Listen. Listen. Now that you’ve given your child’s teacher permission to share, it’s time to listen. Really listen. At the end of the teacher’s comments, summarize them in your own words to make sure you heard her correctly.

Express gratitude. Your child’s teacher has a tough job. Before the conference ends, let your child’s teacher know your appreciation for all she does for your child.

By taking advantage of time with your child’s teacher, you’ll gain helpful insight as to how to best encourage your child at home. Her experience teaching hundreds of children may also give you a perspective that alleviates some of your concerns altogether.

(Easily!) Foster Home-Learning

After time with your child’s teacher, you’ll probably have a host of ideas to help your struggling learner.

Here are a few more to compliment the teacher’s suggestions. These require a library card, a willingness to canvas your home with kid-friendly “decorations,” and a little bit of time in the kitchen.

Read Books – One of the most strategic ways to promote learning in your home is reading aloud with your child. It’s also one of the easiest. With a library card and some book suggestions, you and your child will be ready to grab time together each day reading.

Display Words – With index cards and a marker, label household items your child sees every day such as a door, chair, mirror, etc. If possible, include sight words or other vocabulary words from your child’s teacher. Point out those words as you go through the routine of the day. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your child expands their vocabulary and improves their reading.

Discuss Numbers – From cooking dinner to grocery shopping, the kitchen is the perfect place to surround your child with numbers. Talking about recipes naturally includes fractions, and grocery shopping is bound to include dollars and cents. With just an ounce of intentionality, the kitchen is another place at home where learning naturally happens.

Connecting all three of these in one central location is ABCmouse.com. Packed with interactive lessons and games, ABCmouse.com is an online destination where your child can practice reading, math, science, and art.

Take a Deep Breath — and Relax

Even more important than time with your child’s teacher or a vibrant home-learning environment is your posture towards your child in the midst of their struggles. So worried mom or dad, take a deep breath and relax.

At school, your child is compared to the other children around them. At home, they need to know you love them — warts and all.

More than the pressure to perform or lengthy lectures they’ll never remember, your child needs:

Words of praise when they excel and words of comfort when they fail.
Reminding that their success in the classroom does not define who they are.
Encouragement to persevere through their learning pitstops.

As you stay calm and daily support them, your child will have a stable foundation to navigate both this year’s challenges and the more significant challenges they’ll face in the coming years.

A Twelve-Year Journey

Your child’s education is at least a twelve-year-long journey — a journey filled happy times, hard times, teachers they’ll remember forever, and classmates they can’t wait to forget.

So this winter break, if you’re worried about your child, don’t forget it’s a long journey. And remember, just when you think your child’s learning is plateauing — they might just be on the cusp of exponential growth.

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