By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
February 21, 2012
Your middle-schooler just got her first D. What's an appropriate response?
Try not to overreact and then try to find out the reason by calmly discussing it. If the reason is vague, request a conference with the teacher as soon as possible to find out what's going on from the teacher's perspective.
— Dodie Hofstetter
I've been told that no bad grade should ever come as a complete surprise to a parent — if it does then the kid isn't the only one faltering. The parent has a communication problem somewhere, either parent-child or teacher-parent.
— Wendy Donahue
An appropriate response is to step up your own game, says pediatric neuropsychologist Karen L. Schiltz, author of "Beyond the Label: A Guide to Unlocking a Child's Educational Potential" (Oxford University Press).
"Now is the time to be your child's advocate," says Schiltz. "Report cards only give a portion of the story."
Your job is to get the rest of the story by starting a regular dialogue with your child.
"A lot of parents say, 'My child never wants to talk to me when I get home,'" says Schiltz. "She's probably picking up that you're forcing a conversation. Take her outside and throw the ball around. Take a walk. Go skating with her. It's amazing how much she's going to tell you over time when you take the time to be in the moment and have fun with your child.
"That's how you find out what's behind that D."
Trouble adjusting to middle school. "Middle school is a huge transition for some kids because they're required to sit and do more independent work," says Schiltz.
"The teacher will likely not be as involved as a lower schoolteacher to frequently prompt them in the classroom."
Poor time management. "Suddenly they have to learn to plan and organize and think about how long it will take to study for a test," Schiltz says.
"Executive functions have nothing to do with intellectual ability, nothing to do with reading or writing ability. It has to do with actually getting things done from beginning to end. She has to want to do the project, sit down and plan how to do the project, organize the materials in order to do the project and then actually sit down and do it."
Social butterfly-itis. "Social issues are more important to the student than ever at this time — making and keeping friends and dealing with social media," Schiltz says.
An underlying learning disability. "Be mindful of the frequency, severity and pervasiveness of the difficulties that your child may be experiencing," says Schiltz. "Were there problems in elementary school? Is it happening in many different situations? Are teachers calling you or putting comments in the report card?
"Remember that teachers will be acting in your child's best interests. Don't make excuses for your child."
If you suspect the D signals a larger problem, it may be time to turn to some experts outside of the school as well.
"Talk to your pediatrician if you suspect that something is a little off," says Schiltz. "Evaluation by a neuropsychologist or an educational psychologist may be necessary to get to the root of the problem."
Chances are, however, the D is simply a bump in the road.
"Don't panic," says Schiltz. "Don't think ahead to the college years and what this could mean for the rest of your child's life. Don't catastrophize."
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