5 Tips for Talking to Your Child About School

5 Tips for Talking to Your Child About School

The school year is back in full swing and many students we work with are feeling overwhelmed. Parents want nothing more than to help their children, but often, this isn’t the message their kids hear.

What you say and how you say it can make all the difference in how your child feels and acts, so how do you communicate your concerns to them without it turning into an argument?

Here are a few tips:

If expressing your academic concerns with your child is met with eye-rolls, anger or a fight, you are not alone. The fear of having another frustrating moment is what drives parents away from communicating with their children about school. And, all to often, we see them wait until it’s too late. Failed tests, getting behind in classes or missing assignments make it harder for parents to intervene as their children are already stressed and suffering from low self-esteem.

When we check the facts and see why this is the case, we can actually communicate with students in a more empathic way. The truth is that most schools don’t teach kids how to organize, schedule or prioritize, and most parents don’t know this. Just because their homeroom teacher gave out an agenda, doesn’t mean they showed them how to use it. It’s important to have a quick chat about what you expect and what your child needs as a student before they get too far behind.

How to support your child when school is in session:

1. Ask

Talking to kids about schoolAsk them how it’s going and look at their schedule with them. If you don’t ask, you will assume and this creates mixed messages. Kids and teens are incredibly overwhelmed with the adjustment back to school, and let’s face it, so are parents. But, as adults our brains are far more equipped to problem solve.

Kids and teens are going through major brain construction–it’s part of their biological development. So yes, they may be able to coordinate plans and fire off 50 texts without skipping a beat, but that doesn’t mean they are capable of organizing their block schedule and after-school demands. They need you to show up, speak up and start the conversation about expectations, academic requirements and how they want to feel this semester–as well as how you can help.

2.  Discuss Your Expectations

You have to start the conversation–it’s the only way to tell your child what you desire from them academically.

The saying “just do your best” followed by “why aren’t you trying?” or “what happened in that class?” shuts your child down. This statement sends mixed messages, making your child unsure what it will take to make you proud.

The reality is that children do not want to disappoint their parents, even if they sometimes act as if they do. Help your child create their own reasonable expectations by asking what their goals are for each class.

After you have listened and thought about what their expectations are, come up with your expectations and see if they coincide. When it is the child’s plan rather than your demands, they become much more invested, and real changes will occur.

3.  Listen

Listen to how they feel about school. Don’t interrupt–let them talk. Rarely, if ever, is the problem only about the grade or their classes; however, these can play a significant role in how they are feeling.

Remember a time when you were in middle school or high school–what did your parents do or say that made you feel worse or shut you down?Think about it for a second and avoid making the same mistake. It may keep your child from expressing themselves.

4.  Adjust Your Expectations

It may not be realistic to expect all A’s. As parents, we want our children to be the best and brightest, but it is critical to evaluate how realistic our expectations are. Recent studies show that setting the bar too high often leads to low self-esteem, depression, and other mental disorders.

When expectations are set at a level where the child feels they can be successful, they are motivated to work towards it, achieve it, and often surpass that goal. When kids  feel that it is impossible to meet your expectations, the fear of failure takes over, making it harder to find the effort they once had. We often hear, “Well I knew I wasn’t going to make an A, so I just gave up.” When the brain is stressed it is impossible to feel confident–avoidance comes much easier to most.

5.  Praise the Process, Not the End Result

If your child studied really hard, made an effort to start homework ahead of time and still failed, don’t get mad at them–validate their effort and then you can help problem solve.

Saying something like, “I’m so impressed with the hard work you put into that and I’m sorry your feeling bad about the outcome,” is far more meaningful because you are validating their emotions.

Use this semester to get to know your child better. Initiate conversations with your child to learn more about them. Ask about their goals for the year, for the next five years, or even their lifetime aspirations. Ask about new interests, current trends, or something you saw on TV–things they may know more about than you. This allows them to feel in control and will often get them to open up.

Keep these conversations to an age appropriate level. A good place to try this out is in the car. Use a song on the radio or a recent news story to ask their opinion, and then LISTEN; try hard not to judge them on what they are saying. More often than not, you will find this technique will lead to deeper, more meaningful conversations.

Implementing all of these strategies at once can be a bit overwhelming. Focus on the dialogue that you feel will be most beneficial for your child first, then once you are comfortable, continue to integrate new strategies. When children of any age feel they are being heard and supported they are more likely to create stronger bonds with their parents.

This leads to a lifetime of better conversations and a better relationship with your child.


Authored by:  Emily Roberts, MA, LPC