The relationship between parents and school has morphed- while parents once blamed their children for shortcomings, parents are now turning their indignation toward the teacher. The societal outlook on teachers may have changed, but perhaps that’s only part of it. Parents have always wanted what’s best for their children, but are now taking a more active role in helping them achieve their goals. Whereas before most of the burden was the of the child, many parents of today feel more responsible for where their child ends up in life. On the other hand, some parents take a completely hands-off approach to their child’s education, figuring that it fosters self-reliance. It can be difficult to determine which one of these approaches is better, especially because school is traditionally the one place where our kids spend the majority of their time without us.
However, since it is such an important part of their development, parents should have at least some say. But when is it too much? When do you cross over and become a helicopter parent?
Your Child Approaches You
This is the most straightforward sign that your kid needs help: they come to you and say so directly. They might complain about something their teacher did in class or how nervous they are about some test results.
There are some important questions to ask yourself before you ask your child anything:
How important is your child’s performance here? Is this their senior year of high school with scholarships riding on the line, or is this second grade P.E.? These two different issues demand very different levels of concern.
How valid is your child’s concern? Are they stressing about a 95% versus a 97%? Or is this the difference between a letter grade? And how much does that really matter to your child?
Who has control in this matter? A state testing board, or your child’s teacher? You don’t need to complain to someone who has no power.
Once you know the answers to those questions, you can start asking your kid how they feel about it. Sometimes, kids don’t want their parents involved in the first place. Try and gauge how much involvement your kid is expecting from you, but only take this into consideration. Ultimately, you should decide whether this is a matter that needs your attention as well, but your kid’s wants might give you some perspective.
Their Teacher Approaches You
Maybe it’s at a parent-teacher conference. Hopefully, it’s not an email or a phone call. Either way, their teacher has reached out to you for help.
In this instance, it is definitely your role to step in and determine what you can do to help your child succeed. Whether it’s focusing on homework more intensely, figuring out how to prepare for different types of tests, or approaching the material from a different perspective, you’re going to have to put in more time with your kid. You might have to take on the role of the teacher; parenting requires a little bit of that (along with some part-time doctoring, housekeeping, counseling, finance managing, etc.)
The most important thing here is that you don’t just repeat the same technique that the teacher did. According to Art Anderson, a faculty member at Concordia University, “In very simplistic terms, if you used a strategy and it didn’t work, don’t use it to try to reteach.” Instead, he advises relating the material to the real world to help your kid gain some perspective. If you just don’t understand the material yourself, reach out to a friend who might be better suited to explain it. Additionally, make sure your kid is asking for extra help from their teacher and actively trying to solve the problem themselves as well.
Neither, You Just Think Something is Off
Maybe your kid is afraid of showing you their failing performance; maybe your kid’s teacher is so overburdened that they don’t have time to care about individual students. For whatever reason, you think that your child is not performing at their full potential.
Always approach your kid first. While familial trust is primarily based on willingness to disclose personal details, consider that your kid might be dealing with their academic issues themselves. They might be avoiding talking to you about it because there is nothing else to be done; they have already pursued extra credit options, retests, and tutors. They probably are afraid of your reaction, but if you want them to open up, you’ll have to take a varied approach based on their age.
It’s crucial that you are monitoring your child’s education, but knowing exactly when to step in can be tricky. Parents are supposed to have a degree of separation from their children unless you’re homeschooling them. While it is ultimately up to your judgment, try to keep your response appropriate to the severity of the problem. Use your life experience to add some perspective to the situation. Your kid might think a failed test is the end of the world, but you know that there’s a long road ahead as well.