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How to Help Your Kid Through the Midyear School Slump

Madeleine Deliee is a mom, writer, teacher, and former actor in the Washington, D.C. area. She is currently performing nightly readings of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in her son's bedroom. Her writing has recently been feat...

It's the middle of the school year, and your kid is losing motivation — here's how to help

If Wednesday is hump day, then February is hump month. The holidays have passed and you're midway through the year and school is decidedly not fun anymore for both kids and parents.

As a mom and a high school teacher, I assure you that I feel your pain. This is the time of year when I’m playing “Let’s Figure Out That Grade” with my own kids while also fielding the emails from my students’ parents: "Can he still pass?" "What can she do to improve?" "Is all hope lost?" I can reassure you that while it may feel dire, hope is not even close to being lost. Here are some ideas to help keep the academic train running on its tracks — straight into summer (and not summer school).

Revisit organization

Even if your child is that unicorn known as the focused kid (I’ve had occasional sightings of such — and no, they’re not my own), Hump month is infamous for straining even the most disciplined organizational habits. You can help by checking the status of their supplies. Those carefully arranged notebooks from September are often a distant memory by now. It’s also truly bewildering how many pencils a kid can go through. While you’re doing this, it’s likely that you’ll discover homework that was due around Halloween and maybe a library book that your child doesn’t even remember checking out.

Once the foundations are reestablished, you can venture forth into managing the new workflow. Try gently (ha) reminding your beloved offspring about keeping track of assignments and due dates. If a paper planner doesn’t work for them (my own son can’t stand this method), ask if the teacher reliably uses a tech option (Blackboard, Google class, Twitter) to convey that information — many, if not most, do. And speaking of tech…

Consider a phone-ectomy

I can’t emphasize enough just how disruptive devices can be. You know how distracting they are for us? Multiply that by “brain without developed impulse control” and you’ll have the general idea. Ask your child if they typically have their phone out or if they keep it immediately accessible while in class (they probably do) and suggest a weeklong experiment of putting it completely away in their backpack for the day (or, at bare minimum, during each class). I have had a few kids ask me to hold their phones for them and I offer a “parking garage” for those who just can’t resist.

From your end, you can use an app like MM Guardian to make the phone inactive during school hours (both iOS and Android also allow you set your child’s device to disable certain features, so if you’re concerned about emergency contact but know that they absolutely won’t be needing Netflix, you can make that happen). However, knowing their own needs and limitations provides them with a good opportunity to practice self-agency, which is an incredibly important life skill. This does lead us to…

Communicate directly (student, not parent)

Kids need to get used dealing directly with their teachers, especially as they enter middle and high school. Why? Because the child is the one in need of assistance and filtering that through the parent a) decreases ownership of the issue and b) often results in resentment from the student that impacts the ultimate success. In other words, if you’re doing the communicating, it seems like it’s your problem instead of theirs.

After the meeting, help your child follow up with an email, just as you would do (“Dear Mr. Spanish Teacher, Thank you for going over the preterite tense with me. I understand that I’m missing the Chapter 2 assignment 'Practice with the Preterite Tense' and will turn that in next class.”) It’s what we teachers call an authentic learning opportunity. The student sees the direct connection between the communication and getting what they need. Of course, if this doesn’t yield positive results or if your child feels that the communication was not effective, then by all means intervene — but try to let them work it out first.

It’s not magic and the turnaround won’t happen overnight (much as we all might wish it could). It will take a little effort and patience. But using these techniques will help to regroup and avoid the midyear slump. If you can do that and then keep these new habits in place, it’s just a short while longer to keep moving forward and onto the promise of a relaxing, well-earned summer.

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