By November, many of us feel settled into the school year – but many may not. Some students struggle with school, whether focusing in class, following instructions, or feeling confident about homework. And those struggles can lead to anxiety and other mental health issues for both kids and their parents.
Several of the mothers I work with in my counseling practice report worries about their children’s success at school. They feel helpless and concerned. It can certainly be overwhelming when your kid struggles, whether in elementary, middle, or high school. We all want our babies to be happy and doing well! If you relate, know that you are not alone. Here are some tips to help you and your kiddo.
1. DO know that you are your child’s best advocate. DON’T be afraid to ask the school for help.
Some people are reluctant to reach out to their child’s teacher or other faculty out of fear of being a bother, which adds to their stress. However, you’ll feel much better when you respect and value the partnership with the school and try to collaborate. “Your child’s teachers should be your first point of contact and are an extremely valuable resource,” confirms Westchester mom Rachel Krisbergh, M.Ed., a former teacher who now provides concierge educational consulting services to families throughout Westchester, Connecticut, and New York City. “If you have concerns, trust your intuition, be proactive, and respectfully request guidance from the teacher, principal, and school psychologist.”
Educators can offer insight into what they see in the classroom and provide concrete strategies (for example, preferential seating or regular stretch breaks) to support your child. It’s okay – in fact, encouraged – for you to lean on their expertise. And if your child needs an evaluation for formal services or to consider alternative schools to suit their learning needs best, the earlier you access help, the better.
2. DO try to implement tools at home. DON’T assume that what works for one child will work for another.
While working with the school, you can also work on strategies at home to help your kid thrive, especially if the issues are not academic. Mamaroneck mom Rachel Hoffman, MS.Ed., founder of Unlock: Executive Functioning Coaching for kids K-12 in Westchester and Fairfield Counties, explains: “If your child is struggling to master a specific subject like reading, they may benefit from working with an experienced tutor to target specific reading goals. But if your child’s struggles involve broader issues like organization and time management, an academic tutor won’t suffice. You, as the parent, can implement interventions to improve their executive functioning skills, like providing an organized study environment, using visual aids, working on prioritizing, and modeling aloud your organizational skills and resources.” Every child is unique (even among siblings!), so remember that patience and the ability to adapt are key to providing the specific help your child needs.
3. DO support your child emotionally. DON’T dismiss their feelings, even if you disagree.
It’s awful to see your child experience difficulties, and it can feel challenging when you don’t relate or understand why they are struggling. Even so, it’s important to validate their feelings. “Make sure they feel heard,” emphasizes Julie Schnur, LMSW, a Westchester-based mom and child and adolescent therapist who works with children and families in the New York City area to improve their self-esteem and mental health.
“You can try using language like, ‘I hear you don’t feel as smart as other kids. That must be tough.’ This helps them feel that you understand their experience. Additionally, you can point out that all kids learn differently and at different paces, and that’s okay!” A great way to boost their confidence is to focus on their strengths; ask your child to name something that happened each day that makes them proud, academically or otherwise.
4. DO get the support your family needs. DON’T forget to take care of yourself, too.
When your child is going through a hard time, you are, too. You, too, are learning, problem-solving, and growing. And, like your child, you deserve support along the way. Self-compassion exercises, cognitive-behavioral coping mechanisms, and mindfulness tools can help mamas feel better and alleviate the guilt or hopelessness they may be feeling.
I also think it’s helpful when women stop comparing themselves or their kids to others. Seeking out trusted resources for extra support should not be stigmatized. Everyone struggles with something – and everyone deserves support to navigate those struggles, whether for your child or yourself.