Recently, my youngest daughter came to me upset because she wasn’t doing well in one of her first college courses as a freshman. She misunderstood what the professor wanted and she had one of “those” professors who are very specific in what they want and how they want it. She’d messed up.
She was stressed and in tears. It reminded me of a few times throughout my girls’ school careers when they’ve felt completely overwhelmed because they were struggling with this or that topic. While both of my daughters are smart, everyone struggles from time to time and feels like this.
Whether your child just started kindergarten or is in college like my girls, you will likely be faced with this situation at some point. It’s tough. Sometimes your child is completely overwhelmed and in tears or panic mode. She probably wants you to step in and rescue her, but what does she really learn if you do the work for her? Nothing, that is what she learns. She learns that she doesn’t have to learn because you’ll do the work for her.
Become a Team
Think about the times in your life when you’ve learned the most. It is likely when you’ve worked alongside a kind mentor. Perhaps your grandmother let you help her cook and now you’re a brilliant baker. Helping kids through rough patches at school is exactly like that. If you’ve gone through something similar successfully, then you know the tools needed to do the task. Come alongside your child as a teammate and help her.
Read Over the Requirements
The first thing I knew that my daughter needed to do was to read very carefully over the requirements. However, she was pretty hysterical when I suggested it and kept insisting she’d read the syllabus. For a younger child, this might simply be the directions at the top of a worksheet.
So, I asked her to bring them to me and I sat with her and began reading them. As I read, I pointed out different specifics offered right there in print. She realized she’d missed a few things. My daughter has always been a kinetic learner, so I encouraged her to underline the specific requirements. This made it a hands-on method for her.
Since she is older, I also told her she needs to do this for all her courses.
Once your child understands the assignments, encourage her to fix issues. Even if you aren’t turning the assignment back in, fix it together so she’ll know for the big test or the future. This part of the process requires a lot of praise. Your child is already feeling vulnerable. My daughter came right out and said she must be stupid or having a learning disability. I don’t believe she has a disability. She is definitely not stupid, but is very bright.
So, during the time she pulled up her papers and prepared to submit them the correct way, I told her things like:
- See? This is easy. You’ve got this.
- Now that you fixed this, you shouldn’t have any more trouble.
- You’re smart. You’ll figure this out. The first semester of college is always difficult. It will get easier.
- Some professors are pickier about how things are handed in than others. The key is to figure out what each professor wants and do it that way for that class. Most will tell you right in the syllabus.
- I’m right here and I’ll sit with you as you make sure each assignment is right and help you understand anything you need.
- You’re lucky. This is a topic I’m great in (or your grandpa is great in, etc.). I can help!
My daughter expressed concern about how turning in her papers the incorrect way was going to impact her grade and if she was on the right track with her paper. I offered to come alongside her and help. While I will not do the work for her (that would not only be cheating, but she wouldn’t learn anything), I did offer her some constructive feedback. For example, I explained how she was making her topic too broad and gave her an example of a different topic and how I’d narrow that. This allows her to see how you narrow a topic without me actually narrowing that topic for her. She still has to do the work, but hopefully understands it better.
So, if you are helping your child with math, explain the overall concept with the problem she is working on and then use different examples to show her how they are worked. Finally, ask her to try to rework that problem and see if she gets the concept. It is far more important that she understands how to add a positive and negative number than that she only knows how to work a problem like 3 + -10.
I assured my daughter that I would take the time to look over her work and offer her suggestions. That she should also listen to her peers as this professor has time built in for peer feedback. If she does these things and fixes any issues she finds, she should get pretty decent grades in this 100 level course.
Share the Big Picture
My daughter wanted a 4.0 her first semester. I thought this might be a little unrealistic when she told me, but I don’t want to discourage her either. It is just tough your first semester sometimes. It’s a big adjustment. One thing she kept saying when she was crying her heart out was that her 4.0 was messed up.
I told her that it was fine. She could still get a good grade and she could always retake the class if she wanted to (over the summer or even next semester) and improve her grade. I also told her that in life she is going to face difficult situations and that the key is to figure out how to make the best you can out of them. However, there is usually an out. For example, drop the class and retake it later, or take it again to replace the grade.
I don’t always handle every situation perfectly. However, I do think I handled this minor bump pretty well today. My daughter feels confident she can turn things around now and she’s learned a valuable lesson about carefully reading instructions and that college professors aren’t going to walk you through every step of the process. I suspect she won’t run into this issue again.
I hope that these tips help you the next time there is a homework meltdown in your home. Do you have any other tips for helping your child in these situations?