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Teaching Strategies for Parents to Help Struggling Students

Jordan Catapano


It’s surprisingly common for me to be on the phone with a frustrated and concerned parent and hear them say, “I just don’t know what to do.”

In that moment I completely sympathize with them—I know their child and see his potential on a weekly basis. Indeed, some parental frustration revolves around the exact same observation—they know their child can deliver more than they are—but the truth is that some parents just don’t know what to do to change that.

These conversations make it rather tempting to dictate the do’s and don’ts of parenting without fully understanding situation, but do remember that we are teachers first and not parenting coaches—even though many of us are proud parents as well. Instead of offering unwarranted parenting advice (especially with those I haven’t established a rapport with), I simply try to offer hope and understanding. But if parents are curious about how they can help, there exists some very helpful advice and teaching strategies that they can take into consideration at home and in conjunction with school faculty.

Teaching Strategies: Tough Love May Be Necessary

Sometimes struggling children may not strive for higher academic outcomes because they still enjoy all the privileges of a stellar student at home. In a phrase, tough love—the treating of a child sternly with the intent to benefit them in the long run—may be necessary to push them back towards the path of success.

By withholding certain privileges until their school obligations are met (i.e. retracting cell phone, computer, and video game usage or time spent with friends), struggling students may recognize the importance of their studies more readily. In conjunction to withholding freedoms, parents can also opt to employ requirements to help their child along—mandatory, guided study time for example.

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Talk and Love Go a Long, Long Way

Teenagers are a seemingly impossible terror that test and resist your authority. But underneath their newfound abrasive exterior, they’re still the same kid underneath. Accordingly, they still like to know that no matter what they do, there’s a parent who loves them. Having that love affirmed through sincere conversations and consistent communication is essential for struggling students to take those first steps toward success. If they feel that the most important adults in the world have given up on them, then there’s little stopping them from giving up on themselves.

Keep in mind, however, that endearment doesn’t automatically mean becoming a pushover or forsaking tough love. Instead, it means telling and showing your children how much you care.

Be Firm and Consistent

It’s no secret—children know just how far they need to push before an adult gives in and gives them what they want. As a parent, know that your child is going to do everything they can to get you to bend the rules, compromise, negotiate, or back down entirely. Don’t. Draw out clear expectations, and stick to them. They’ll resist at first, but if they see there’s no getting you to retreat, they’ll start listening.

Be a Team Player

Remember that you’re not alone. In fact, the more you try to operate in isolation, the more difficult it might be for you. If you’re married, then you and your spouse must present a united front when it comes to realistic academic expectations—being on the same team in this regard makes it incredibly difficult for a struggling student to dodge their schoolwork. As a teacher, don’t be afraid to let parents know that you’re on their side too. If a student is challenged by a united front both at home and school, then they are more likely to rise to that challenge rather than try to avoid it.

Proactively Communicate

Along with being a team player, make sure that you are actively communicating with your child as well as all the other interested parties involved—your spouse, concerned teachers, and with administrators or counselors if necessary too. This keeps everyone on the same page and ensures you’re all striving to help that child reach the same goals. This doesn’t mean you need to become annoying, but it does imply that you are proactively keeping everyone apprised and aren’t leaving anyone in the dark.

There’s no magic answer for how parents (and teachers) can deal with their struggling students—it’s one of the most challenging jobs in the world. If teachers and parents approach their students or children with love, firmness, and a team-oriented attitude, then there’s a lot that can be done to help kids who struggle!

What would you add to this list? What is important for both teachers and parents to do to help a struggling student?

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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