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Success in School - issue12345

Obeying Teachers and Following Rules

The problems children experience in school often have little to do with their academic abilities. Instead, problems may be related to a child’s inability to use certain social skills successfully. For example, many children who perform poorly in the classroom don’t know how to use the basic social skill of following instructions.

Obeying teachers and following the rules are fundamental to academic success — though a child may not be able to make that correlation easily. Therefore, as a parent, it is up to you to help your child understand this. Here are three steps to help you child understand the social skills of following instructions.

Setting Expectations

When children misbehave in school, it’s either because they don’t understand the rules or choose to ignore them. As with any desired action or behavior, the adult authority figure — whether it’s the parent at home or the teacher at school — must make the child aware of what’s expected of them. After all, how can a child be expected to follow the rules if they don’t understand what they are in the first place?

Making your children aware of their school’s code of conduct and reviewing it with them from time to time can head off many problems and make their life at school smoother. In addition, your children should be taught from an early age that adult authority figures must be obeyed and respected. Ideally, this should be taught well before your child reaches school age.

Issuing Negative Consequences

If a child chooses to ignore known rules simply because they don’t feel like following them, then this is a completely different issue. Instead of not knowing the rules, they are exhibiting a deliberately negative behavior that requires a negative consequence. One of the quickest ways to correct a negative behavior is to remove a privilege — especially one that involves the use of a personal electronic device, such as a smartphone, tablet or video game console. You’ll be surprised at how fast a once-defiant child comes around if you take away their ability to text and chat with friends.

The key is to deliver this negative consequence dispassionately, like a police officer giving out a speeding ticket. You don’t want to risk escalating the situation by arguing with your child. Instead, calmly explain the infraction, issue the negative consequence and explain how your child can regain the privilege.

Catch Them Being Good

It’s easy to take notice when children are doing something wrong. After all, if this is (hopefully) not a normal situation, it naturally will call attention to itself. But if all you do is criticize your child and issue negative consequences, you run the risk of reinforcing in your child a feeling that they are inherently bad in some way and that using bad behavior should be the norm.

Instead, we tell parents to try to “catch them being good” and praise them when it happens. In fact, we recommend issuing four instances of praise for every negative consequence. So, if your child keeps their room clean, praise them for it. If they bring home a good grade on a test, praise them for that, too. If they get through a family meal without fighting or arguing with a sibling, praise them. We’ve even developed a downloadable tool that lists creative ways to reward your children for being good.

Teaching Activity

Role-Playing Following Instructions

In the Social Skill section below, you’ll find simple steps for the skill of following instructions. Once your child understands the steps, role-play various scenarios in which instructions should be followed. For fun, you might start out with your child in the authority role, giving you an instruction to carry out. You can then model how this is done, based on the steps below. Repeat the activity with a variety of scenarios that provide opportunities for your child to practice the skill until they have it down.

Social Skill

Following Instructions

Following instructions is probably the most important basic social skill children can learn. Once they master it, life at home and at school will become exponentially easier for the child and their parents and teachers.

  1. Look at the person.
  2. Say, “Okay.”
  3. Do what you’ve been asked right away.
  4. Check back to let the person know you’ve followed their instructions.

Peer Pressure and Getting Along ​with Classmates

School can be a difficult social situation for any child to master. No longer safe in the cocoon of their home, school-age children are suddenly thrust into a new and unfamiliar world where they must have the appropriate skills to create an environment that allows for learning and avoids distractions.

If children have been armed with certain social skills, such as introducing yourself and talking with others, then making friends and getting along with classmates will be relatively easy. Conversely, children who struggle with these skills will have difficulty in these situations. As a parent, you can begin teaching these important skills early on, so by the time your children reach school age, they’ll be ready to make their way in this strange new world.

Teaching Your Child ‘How’ to Make Friends

Apart from the actual knowledge that education provides, making friends may be the most important thing children learn in school. After all, this is a skill that will serve them throughout their lives.

Friendships begin with an introduction, so it’s important for children to learn this simple social skill. It consists of five simple steps (though the fourth, shaking the person’s hand, may be omitted between schoolchildren):

    1. Look at the person and smile.
    2. Use a pleasant voice.
    3. Say, “Hi, my name is...”
    4. Shake the person’s hand.
    5. When you leave, say, “It was nice to meet you.”

While this may seem simple to us as adults, it’s a skill that is not inherently intuitive for children and must be learned. Without this skill, children can never develop the ability to make a proper introduction— traits that may follow them into adulthood.

It’s important to practice this skill over and over so they are comfortable. Practice introductions with your child while on the playground, when sitting down to a meal or when seated next to someone new. All of the situations they might find themselves in during a typical school day. Children constantly watch and mimic their parents, so it is important that you model this skill with our teaching activity over the next week.

Once friendships are established make sure that you have regular discussions with your child as they grow regarding friendships and what makes a good friend vs what makes a bad friend. For a list of discussion points that will help start a nonjudgmental conversation about friendships, click here.

Teach Them the Steps to Avoid Peer Pressure

One thing that is unavoidable when children gather together in groups is peer pressure. While this term has an inherently negative connotation, it should be mentioned that not all peer pressure is bad. If your child falls in with a group of friends that is academically high-achieving, then there will be peer pressure among the group to succeed academically. This is generally a good thing. This is also why it’s so important that children fall in with positive and nurturing peer groups. Falling in with “the wrong crowd” is one of the greatest indicators that a child might go down the wrong path and exhibit negative behavior and poor academic performance.

When it comes to negative peer pressure (such as the pressure to use drugs or alcohol), it’s important to walk thru the steps they can take when they find themselves in one of these situations. Using the steps outlined in Issue 1, teach the social skill below and practice it in many ‘mock’ situations. The more prepared they are, the better they will be able to stand their ground.

Teaching Activity

Put on the Pressure

Each day this week, practice a different situation in which your child might find themselves needing the ability to resist peer pressure. Have the whole family involved in each situation. For example, have each member of the family pretend to be a friend at a party. Have one family member offer an alcoholic drink, encourage the other family members to jump in and add to the peer pressure, “you’re not cool if you don’t take it,” “everyone is drinking!”, etc. Have your child practice the steps of the social skill below to help get themselves out of the situation.

Teach your child to think when others put them in a position like this.

  • Your children should ask themselves questions like: Is it wrong? Why do they want me to do it? Is it illegal? Why am I tempted to go along? Am I afraid that they will laugh at me?

Teach your child to decide for themselves whether something is right or wrong, helpful or harmful.

  • Bring up examples of situations they may be in; then explore what might happen if they respond a certain way. Let them think about the consequences of their actions and behavior. If they have an uneasy feeling, something is probably wrong.

Sometimes children just need help getting away from a bad situation. Provide them with some alternative responses ​they can use to resist peer pressure.

  • If they don’t feel comfortable giving an immediate "Yes" or "No" answer when friends want them to do something questionable, they can buy time to make a good decision by saying, "Maybe later," or "I'll wait and see." Let them use you as an excuse: "I will be grounded forever if I try that."

Ask your child what gives him or her trouble when faced with a tough decision, and incorporate that in the practices. Use it to help your children build confidence in their ability to say "No."

Social Skill

Resisting Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is inherently difficult to resist. After all, it’s much easier to go along with the group than to go against it. These steps will help your child resist negative peer pressure when it arises:

  1. Look at the person.
  2. Use a calm, assertive voice.
  3. State clearly that you do not want to engage in the inappropriate activity.
  4. Suggest an alternative activity. Give a reason.
  5. If the person persists, continue to say, “No.”
  6. If the peer will not accept your “No” answer, ask them to leave, or remove yourself from the situation.

Bringing Harmony to Homework

It seems like children have more homework earlier in their school careers than we did at their age. And, with so many extracurricular events, athletic practices and other activities, it’s easy to see how homework can get pushed to the back burner and possibly forgotten.

While homework may seem like drudgery, studies show, and common sense supports, that studying at home can help improve a child’s performance in school. Here are some tips for helping your child get their homework done regularly and correctly:

  • Establish a central homework location, such as the kitchen table or a desk in your child’s room, where your child has everything they need to complete the assigned work (reference books, pencils, internet access, etc.).
  • Keep the area as quiet as possible during study time. This means no TV or other electronic distractions.
  • Set aside a specific amount of time for studying and homework each school night. For elementary school students, this is usually 30 to 45 minutes; for middle school students, it’s 45 to 75 minutes; and for high school students, it’s 60 to 90 minutes or more.
  • Make sure your children start study time on time. You can be somewhat flexible if an unforeseen situation arises, but it’s important that your children understand that homework is their responsibility and must be completed.
  • Divide study time into shorter periods for children who have difficulty concentrating. Brief breaks can help them concentrate when they return to their homework.
  • Schedule study time early. Your child is more likely to complete it if it’s scheduled before dinner or any leisure activities, such as watching TV or playing video games.
  • Always set aside a time for learning and reading. If your child says they don’t have homework that day, you should still have them use study time to read — even if it’s just a sports or fashion magazine. The idea is to make reading a lifelong habit.

Positive and Negative Consequences

As mentioned in earlier articles, it’s important to recognize, praise and sometimes even reward positive behavior, like completing the day’s homework assignments. This will help reinforce that positive behavior.

Conversely, if your child fails to complete assignments or brings home poor grades, be ready to take away privileges, such as access to smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices. Using them, after all, should be contingent upon your child following your house rules — which should include achieving acceptable academic performance. Other consequences might include not being able to hang out with friends or participate in school sports.

As we said earlier, experts find that giving praise four times for every negative consequence is a good rule of thumb. So, be sure to “catch them being good” and praise your children for positive behaviors.

Teaching Activity

Select Homework Rewards

Give your children planners in which they can write down information about homework assignments and upcoming tests. Ask their teachers to initial the planner every day at the end of each period to ensure that your children document their assignments correctly. Some schools now provide this information online, so you can check assignments to see if they match what your children have written in their planners.

Sit down with your children and identify rewards they would like to earn for completing their planners, bringing home all necessary materials, having teachers sign the planners, completing homework accurately and accomplishing goals. Behaviors that earn rewards should be those that are currently the most difficult for your children.

Social Skill

Completing Homework

This skill is self-descriptive. It’s a simple five-step process that every child should follow in order to complete their homework correctly and on time:

  1. Find out at school what the day’s homework is for each subject.
  2. Remember to bring home necessary books or materials in order to complete your assignments.
  3. Get started on homework promptly or at the designated time.
  4. Complete all assignments accurately and neatly.
  5. Carefully store completed homework until the next school day.

Establishing a Routine

We all do better when we know what to expect and what’s expected of us. Ambiguity creates conflict in our minds. What should we do? When should we do it? Should we do it at all? Established routines allow us to complete important tasks on time, efficiently and accurately. The same goes for children during the school year.

The Bedtime Routine

Getting younger children to go to bed on time so they get enough sleep to get up for school on time can be a real chore. It can be tempting to let them stay up later during the summer. However, maintaining some kind of bedtime routine during the summer months is healthier for children and will help them get back in the swing of things easier when school starts. Here are some tips to help your children get to bed on time and without complaining:

  • Create a bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep:
    • Remove electronics from your child’s bedroom, or make sure they’re turned off for the night (smartphone, television, videogames, etc.).
    • Keep the bedroom cool and dark. If your child wants some light, use one nightlight.
    • If your child enjoys playing with toys when it’s time for bed, put the toys away at bedtime (store them in the closet with child-proof handles).
    • Keep it simple. Bedding and one security item (a stuffed animal or favorite blanket) are sufficient. Additional toys become extra sources of distraction at a time when you don’t want your child to be distracted.
  • Develop a bedtime routine:
    • Create a short routine before bedtime that involves quiet activities done in the same order every night. For example, have a snack, put on pajamas, brush teeth, go to the bathroom and read one book. It is important that this routine remains the same every night because the routine cues your child that bedtime is approaching.
    • The length of the routine depends upon how much time you have available in the evening. Every night, you should allocate roughly the same amount of time for this routine. If you are like most families, your evenings are busy; keeping the routine relatively short will ensure that you have enough time to complete it every night.

The Morning Routine

Getting younger children up and ready for school can be just as much of a chore as getting them to bed. Even teens can be difficult in this area.

As with bedtime, a routine should be established for mornings, too. Get children up at the same time every day. Have them get dressed, eat a healthy breakfast and brush their teeth (in that same order) before heading out the door. Lay out ground rules around electronics in the morning. For example, television is only allowed once you are up, dressed and have eaten. Once a morning routine is established, it will become second nature, and your entire household will be more efficient for it.

Homework requires its own routine. It should be done at the same time every day and in the same place — ideally before your child is allowed to enjoy any leisure activities. As with going to bed and getting up for school, once a homework routine is ​​established, it will become second nature and help improve your child’s grades and self-esteem. If you need a refresher on homework routines, take a look back at Issue 3.

When your child gets “into the groove” and sticks with these routines, be sure to praise and reward them accordingly. You can eventually dial back rewards in a process known as “fading,” so your child won’t grow up expecting a reward every ​time they do something that should be done simply because it is part of being a normal, functioning, well-adjusted human being. But for now, a little praise can go a long way toward prompting good behavior.

Teaching Activity

Back-to-School Contract

Boys Town’s downloadable Back-to-School Contract lets everyone in your home know what’s expected of them when it comes to things like doing homework and getting ready for school. Download and print the contract, and call a family meeting. Once everyone has gathered, go over the contract so your children understand what they need to do in order to maintain privileges such as using smartphones and having access to vehicles. After the review, have everyone sign the contract, and place it in a prominent place, such as on the fridge or a corkboard.

Social Skill

Completing Tasks

As with following instructions, completing tasks is a basic social skill that will serve children throughout their adolescence and well into adulthood. It’s also an integral part of adhering to an established routine. Have your child complete the following steps when completing a task:

  1. Listen carefully to instructions or directions for the task.
  2. Gather the tools or materials needed for the task.
  3. Begin working carefully and neatly.
  4. Remain focused on the task until it is completed.
  5. Examine your work to make sure it is complete.
  6. Check back with the person who assigned you the task.

Becoming an Involved Parent

These days, you cannot expect your child to succeed in school on their own. As a parent, you must be involved in your child’s schooling to support their eventual success. This is true regardless of your child’s age or grade. Whether they’re in grade school, middle school or high school, you need to know how they are progressing. You don’t want to go along thinking everything is fine only to be blindsided by a failing report card.

Meet the Teachers

Take the opportunity to get to know your child’s teachers and other school professionals, including the principal, counselors and secretaries. Make a plan with them to stay in contact through periodic phone calls, emails or texts. Having a relationship with your child’s teachers will come in handy if grades start to slip or other situations, such as bullying, arise.

Other Steps You Can Take

  • Talk to your children often about how things are going at school. This doesn’t mean you have to conduct an interrogation; just ask specific questions so they can share the highlights and challenges of school life.
  • Have your children start keeping a log of class assignments. Check the log each night, and then make sure they are completing homework, studying for tests and quizzes, and keeping up with class work.
  • Project an attitude of cooperation with school professionals. Tell them you want to work with them to ensure your child’s success in school.
  • Determine how often you should contact school staff. Base your decision on your child’s needs and the teachers' schedules.
  • In addition to maintaining contact, make a special plan to work with school staff when your children have academic or behavior problems.
  • Attend open houses and other school events to familiarize yourself with the school and the personnel.
  • In addition to academic progress, communicate with your child’s teachers and school staff about your child’s friends and other peer groups.

Many parents contact their child’s school only when they are upset about something. But the best way to build a strong relationship with school staff is to make positive contact whenever possible. Show appreciation for the efforts teachers and counselors are making to help your child. Everyone benefits when the relationship between home and school is positive and cooperative.

As with parenting in general, being engaged with your children and staying involved with their school-related activities will make them so much more likely to succeed in their academic endeavors.

Teaching Activity

Learning Who’s Teaching Your Children

Sit down with your children and talk about the school staff they know — teachers, the principal and vice-principal, secretaries, counselors and others. Write the names of each of these staff members on one side of a flash card, and write that person’s job title on the other side. Then have your children quiz you on this information. This will help you become familiar with the people who are charged with giving your children the best education they can receive. Plus, it’s always fun for kids to reverse roles and have their parents become the students.

Social Skill

Accepting Decisions of Authority

When your child is at school (and you’re not there), they have to look to their teachers, ​administrators and other staff members as the adult authority figures who provide guidance. That’s why it’s important that your child understands how to accept decisions of authority. Have them practice this important social skill by completing the following steps:

  1. Look at the adult.
  2. Remain calm and monitor your feelings and behaviors.
  3. Use a pleasant or neutral tone of voice.
  4. Acknowledge the decision by saying,"Okay," or "Yes, I understand."
  5. If you disagree, do so at a later time.
  6. Refrain from arguing, pouting or becoming angry.

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