writing services


as seen in:

making the grade (Featured in metro toronto parent magazine)

Do you know your child’s strengths and weaknesses?

by Christina Friedrichsen

“Mom, guess what? I got an ‘A’ on my test!”
These are words that parents love to hear. There is a feeling of pride that comes with knowing your child is doing well in school.
However, not every child is going to be a straight ‘A’ student. Not every child will come home bursting with excitement because he received top marks on his report card.
According to Cathy Geml, a special education consultant with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board who has more than 20 years of experience as an educator, children should be acknowledged for their efforts – not simply for their grades.
If a child has done research on his own for a project, or taken the initiative to study for a test, praise him. If he is struggling, ask him what he is having problems with, and make his home environment conducive to learning.
One of the most important things parents can do to bring out the best in their children is to find out about their learning styles. The most effective way to do this is to observe your children. Geml says there are two types of learners: global and analytical.
“The kid who is global … is very good hands-on. He needs to see the whole picture before he starts … If the teacher is teaching a lesson, (a global learner) doesn’t want step one, step two, step three, he wants to hear the whole thing,” she says, adding that this type of learner does not pay a lot of attention to detail, and does not have a fondness for memorization.
An analytical learner, on the other hand, craves details.
“(Analytical learners) want to see the small logical steps in order ... They love a puzzle, and they’re good at following directions. They’re the type of kids who would do well at programming a VCR,” she says. Finding out which learning style fits your child can be beneficial, as it can give you guidelines on how to communicate with your child.
Children also have different styles of studying habits. Some children like peace and quiet, while others work better with the sound of the radio in the background.  Some children like to sit  at a desk, while others prefer sitting on the bed, or lying on the floor.
None of these methods is better than the other, as long as the child is being productive and is able to concentrate on the work.
“If they are distracted, remove some of those distractions. Shut off the TV,” says Geml.
Although you should not be doing homework for your child, one-on-one involvement is key. If you have more than one child, and you have a spouse, divvy up the task of helping the kids. Older siblings can also help out, and should be rewarded if they do.
“Kids really enjoy being the teacher. It makes them feel good about themselves,” explains Geml.
If your child has an upcoming project, or test, mark the date on the calendar so you can be available if he needs your help to prepare for it. This way, you can organize your time so that you will be able to meet the needs of each of your children.
To really peak a child’s interest in his homework, make learning fun. This will improve his ability to absorb the material.
Geml suggests placing magnetic letters on the refrigerator for a child to use for spelling practice, or having him write a shopping list.
Carrying what the child learns over into everyday life is one of the most effective ways of learning, she says. For instance, if a child just finished a chapter in science class about ‘the water cycle’, let him watch  the next time you boil a kettle of water, and tell him how it applies to what he learned in school.
“You have to help the child see there are relationships between what a child does at school and what they do at home,” she says.
Also, discuss current events found in the newspaper and magazines, Geml stresses.
According to Geml, parents should teach their children to take responsibility for their own success at school.
“We have to put the accountability back into the kids hands, I think a lot of times parents say ‘Well they didn’t get an ‘A’ - I want to know why?’ Well ask your child why he didn’t get an A’,” she says. “They are responsible for their own learning … These kids have to learn to be disciplined, to be self motivated.”
She stresses the importance of parental involvement in school, whether it is time spent on the parent advisory group, school council, or as a volunteer tutor in the classroom.
She says she’s noticed a positive trend in this area.
“I think we’re seeing a real turn around with parent involvement,” she says, attributing this to educated parents, and their desire to have competitive children.

(Sidebar) Sibling rivalry

How should parents react when not all of their children are doing well at school? How should parents react when their son is bragging about acing an exam, while their younger daughter just failed a math test?
Two words: Don’t compare.
“Every child needs to be recognized uniquely for who they are and not be compared to any other child in the family … It just takes away from the child’s self esteem,” says parent education consultant and director of Positive Parenting in Windsor Win Harwood.
She says parents should talk to their children individually about their grades, not in front of other siblings, as this can lead to hard feelings and can increase sibling rivalry.
If a child is announcing his good grades in front of his brother or sister, acknowledge him, but don’t dwell on it she says.
“I would just recognize what they’re saying, and reflect back to them … and say ‘You feel really good about your report card don’t you?” That’s all. Don’t make a big deal about it,” she says. 
She suggests that parents focus on each child’s strengths, instead of dwelling on his or her weaknesses.
Placing value judgments on your children can be harmful, she says. For instance, labeling a child as smart can lead to problems.
“(The child’s) perception might be that they’re only lovable when they are smart,” she says.
Besides, she points out, not all children enjoy being reminded of their good grades.
“I always remember one of my children coming home with straight ‘A’s … I said ‘How do you feel about that?’ and he burst out crying because he’d been called ‘brown-noser’ all the way home on the bus.”
Harwood reminds parents that a child’s report card is not a direct reflection of the parent.
“Don’t get emotionally invested in them doing well. The more we get emotionally invested in it, the more we increase the risk that they wont do well,” she says.