I once heard “If you care more about your kids grades than he or she does, there’s a problem.”

I used to put too much stock into that quote. If I was honest with myself, I didn’t care one iota about my grades as a kid so should it really surprise me if one of my offspring doesn’t either?

The truth is, my kids don’t have to care. But they do have to finish. And they have to finish with grades that match their abilities. So when my 8th grader, who recently tested at an 11th grade level in math, comes home with a C in the class, I start to care a lot more than if he brought home a C in English (a subject he detests because it doesn’t come naturally to him). And I definitely care more than he does.

I would prefer straight As of course because it would broaden his college scholarship opportunities, but if school isn’t his top priority, that tends to be a lot to ask. And I don’t want a teen so focused on perfect grades that I cause anxiety and a perfection level so high that he feels he can never reach it.

The problem we’ve had is that schooling isn’t a priority at all sometimes for my kids. And that’s frustrating. I’ve been trying to find ways to help them, and I spent years banging my head against the wall until I found a groove that worked for each child and myself. It took several years. So I thought I would share some ideas for parents going through what I’ve experienced over the last eight years and what I’ve learned.

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was my own lack of inconsistency. I would try something for too short of a time and my kids learned they could just wait me out and I’d give in. So if my rule was that homework had to be done immediately following school or practice, then my kids would do it for a few days and then eventually go straight from school/practice to the video games. I didn’t enforce my rules after a few days/weeks and often forgot what rules I had made.

The other problems we had consisted of:

– Letting my kids negotiate too much;

– Me not understanding their homework;

– Allowing too many after school activities;

– Vision impairments;

– Keeping their schedules too full.

To further their struggles, both of my children had gone through a difficult and traumatic event that we had no control over and could not prevent. They were overloaded with dealing with that emotional stress and school was not something they could focus on.

Over the years we’ve learned how to work through these life issues and a lot of it was thanks to Empowering Parents. I receive their parental advice via email and no longer say to my kids, “That’s life and it can be really brutal” or “When I was a kid …” Because my kids don’t respond to that. Besides their children – they need to understand how it affects them, not me. I can teach empathy a different way.

One of the best suggestions I came across was from a mom who commented on Empowering Parents Facebook page. She was mocked and ridiculed by other parents but I instantly recognized her ingenious and how this would help my kids. If the students had all As, clearly they’ve got this and just need check ups from mom or dad. Bs mean they need some guidance. Cs or below means they need daily guidance or tutoring. It was a lot of work to follow through on that idea, but it really helped. So did these other tips:

– Get vision screenings. A child who can’t see tends to not do well in school. We do yearly vision check ups. When I wait even six extra months, his contact prescription changes drastically and I didn’t realize he couldn’t see anything.

– Evaluate what’s going on in the house/home life. When one child’s grades dropped in every subject across the board, I knew it wasn’t one class bringing him down. Other signs included not eating or sleeping well and being quick to anger. Find what’s going on and resolve the issue or your child will struggle for many years. Sometimes, school isn’t the issue. Something greater in the child’s life at home is the culprit.

– What’s going on at school? Same as above but start asking teachers what they’re seeing in the hallways and find the issue or concern your child is having. It’s incredibly difficult for a student to learn when their personal life is in shambles.

– Did the subject matter become difficult? I hate math. I got lost somewhere around division and never recovered. When my kids struggle in a subject, it’s generally because they tripped up on a new equation. Once they learn it, they can usually continue on as normal. Don’t wait too long or they will have a hard time catching up. If you don’t understand the subject, reach out to family or help your child set up tutoring times with the teacher. I’ve never had a teacher say no to helping for a half hour after or before school. Once my son figures out the new equation, he moves through math pretty easily from there.

– Are you talking to the teachers? To your child? Every day after I pick up my kids from practice and while I make dinner, we talk about the day. I talk to one child at a time. We bring up PowerSchool and open backpacks and binders. We go one class at a time and I find out which assignments were turned in and which are due soon. Sometimes I find completed assignments left in the binder and not turned in and we talk about it. I ask about grades that are doing well and I email teachers for updates. After dinner, I sit down and we go through homework together. Each child gets a chance to talk uninterrupted and then during dinner we talk as a family. It’s A LOT of time and effort and I’m exhausted but it really works. I start with the oldest because the youngest is more willing to open up after he sees his brother do it. Also, he is so excited for his own “mom time” by the time I’m done talking to the oldest that the youngest opens up about school quickly without me feeling like I’m dragging it out of him.

– Don’t nag about school in the morning. I always wanted to talk about grades before school because it was on my mind. But it stressed out my teen so bad it would turn into a full blown argument. Now I wait until after he’s had time to calm down. After school or before bed generally works for us. There’s no reason to start  a fight at a time of day you know will stress out your child. Then it becomes an argument over respect to parents, not a calm discussion about schoolwork.

– Set up rewards and limits. I now write down the rules. Anything below a B means no PlayStation on school nights. Above a B means it is limited to 30 minutes a day after I’ve checked homework. I also end electronics 30 minutes before bedtime. So sometimes video games just don’t happen. Anything below a C means no video games on weekends either. Stick to your rules and most kids will work to bring their grades up. The punishment should be centered around the issue. I don’t say, “You’re grounded for a week because of grades.” I say,  “You’re grounded until grades are …” And I write it down.

– Let you child have natural life consequences. Sometimes having to  attend Saturday school or retake an entire class can remind your child that they have consequences for not doing the work. Those consequences can change an attitude quicker than a nagging parent. If it doesn’t, I suggest seeking help from a school counselor, therapist or your child’s pediatrician.

Now that I sacrifice a great deal of time each night to their school work, we work together better and my kids’ grades and interest in school has greatly improved. I’m amazed that they are once again excited to tell me about their day and what happened at school.

Helping Your Child Improve Grades