How do I get my kids to do better in school? (Episode 358)

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Are your kids struggling in school? Dr. Leman gives the skinny on what you can do for your kid’s education.

Show Sponsored by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing

Produced by Unmutable™


Transcript

Doug: A C on their last test? What? How in the world is this kid ever going to survive school? How can I help my kids do better in school? That’s the question we get to ask Dr. Leman today that many of us are feeling. Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug: And we are really, really glad that you’re with us today. If this happens to be your first time, I want to let you know this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If this subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help. Well, Dr. Leman, we got our kids in this crazy school system that’s kind of, some are in person, some are not in person. How in the world, what can I do to get my kid to do better in school?

Dr. Leman: Well, it’s a great topic, and it’s a great question. And I think we have to be as truthful as we possibly can be. The pandemic has taken its toll on education big time. I’ve often said when a kid is about 18 months of age, they are like a sponge. If you ever want to teach a kid a second language, 18 months is a great time to start because they just absorb so much. But real learning takes place in the classroom. And as you know, across the country, there are many, many school districts, huge school districts who’ve been shut down for this entire year. They’re not going to go back to in class learning until this fall of ’21. And you just have to understand that you don’t just instantly make that up. I know ourselves, we have seven schools, Leman Academy of Excellence.

I was just talking to our CEO the other day about this. And she was saying that the measureables are there. You can see a distinct drop off in what kids are learning. Now check this out. We have been in class learning, but it’s different. There’s a whole different social milieu that has developed in our schools, so even those who have been in school on a continuing basis, we can see that there’s been some drop off. The kids haven’t succeeded and bloomed like they should’ve. So imagine the drop off from kids, we call them scholars in our school, who have been on screen, on remote learning all this time. You don’t get that back very easily. So the whole educational system, in my opinion, suffers. So parents, here we are in the spring of ’21, and all we can look forward to, we’re happy we have vaccine available now, and that’s changing the outlook.
And I think the mental state of a lot of parents, as well as students, and I think when we return this fall, I think that’s where we have the chance to begin to make up the ground that we lost. So parents, I know you’re concerned about your kids, that drop off, the grades, you see that kids are sick and tired of looking at screens. And by the way, I’ve said it 100 times, I’ll say it again, screen time of any kind is not good for young children, period. There’s been 40, 50 years of hard research on that, that proves that point.

So here’s the good news. Parent, ask yourself this question. Is your son or daughter a voracious reader? If they are, your child is the exception. Your family is the exception. You’re not going to see a huge drop off in that kid’s ability to learn and perform. You’re not going to see a drop off in the grades unless they’re just sick and tired of the screen. I’ve told parents this for years. If your kid’s a reader, don’t worry about your kid’s education.

Andrea: So does that mean we can just stop doing this screen time thing school and just read with them?

Dr. Leman: You know what, Andrea, that’s not a bad idea. If your son is daughter is so turned off by the screen, enrich their lives with books, materials. Every kid has their interest, whatever that interest area is. Make those books available. Download them. Purchase them, whatever it takes, and feed that kid’s ability to read because that is the real key to education as they move forward.

Andrea: How does it affect their ability to learn math or concepts that aren’t reading based?

Dr. Leman: Well, reading is the key to everything. And with things specific to math, if you’ve got a kid that’s in the eighth grade and they’re taking elementary algebra, they’re a year ahead, they’re taking it in eighth grade, that son or daughter is going to have to have instruction in math, unless they’re very, very unique and become a self learner when it comes to math. But it’s much more difficult to be a self learner when it comes to math because it’s so XO, obviously, numerically dominated. So that’s the situation where if you’re really turned off with your school and how they’re doing things, my suggestion would be hire a tutor to work with your son or your daughter.

If you have a daughter and she’s eighth grader, seventh grader, I’d find a junior in high school. I would find a young man who would tutor your daughter in your home. If you have a young man, same situation. I would look for a young woman to tutor your son in mathematics.

Andrea: Now you’ve talked about why you would choose the opposite sex to help them out before. But for people who are new listeners, can you explain why you would do that, and why it’s okay?

Dr. Leman: Well, once you’re in about seventh or eighth grade, you really do recognize the opposite sex. And if you can find a young man or young woman that has a personality plus the skill, believe me that young woman is going to pay attention to that junior in high school who’s got this charming personality. She’s going to try to please him. She’s going to work hard. She’s not going to turn him off. And same with that young man who has a young female. I mean, at that time, they’re interested in the opposite sex. And it’s just a much easier transition for your son or daughter to pay attention to what that tutor is doing.

In fact, I just had this conversation yesterday with a couple. And dad said his daughter just isn’t a math person. And she’s getting As in all of her subjects right now, but she’s getting a C in math, and quite frankly, that’s a stretch from what he tells me. The teacher is very lenient when it comes to grades in math, and gives her all kinds of extra credit for crying, for trying. Crying, that’s pretty good. She does cry over math. But anyway, the point is that if you go out of the box here and think, okay, parent, you want to change things up. It’s been a long, long year. Then again, if your son or daughter is a reader, I think most of your worries are cast aside.

Now what if your kid doesn’t really enjoy reading because they’re an auditory learner? Then I would make books on tape available to your son or your daughter, so they get to explore areas. Again, what are their interests? Make sure that reading parallels their interest. That’ll go a long way in solving problems. Is this podcast an answer all for the question that was asked? No, because things are fluid. They’re dynamic. They’re changing from week to week in many of our school systems. But remember, parents, you are the best teacher to your child. There’ll never be a teacher as good as you. So be careful about your critical tongue. Make sure you’re not should-ing on your kids too much, when you say, “You should do this. You should do that.” What you’re really saying is, “You didn’t measure up in my eyes.” Be careful about your words. Look for encouraging words.

Doug: So Dr. Leman, this is all nice, abstract conversation you two are having, which I really like. It’s kind of fun to listen to this. But the reality is, high school grades matter. And college is going to look at those things. And you two just want to pull them out and get a cup of tea and light some candles and read some books on the couch. But they’ve got to get As and Bs if they’re going to get into a right school. So my question to you is: Do I pull a B doesn’t happen, doesn’t start until A is complete, and say, “Until these grades get up, man, you’re not doing nothing around here”?

Dr. Leman: Well, and again, what you just said, there’s nothing wrong with what you just said for a kid that’s not giving a lick or a holler. But that isn’t what Andrea and I were talking about. We were talking about, okay, given what’s going on, and screen time isn’t good for kids. How do you go about it? Well, if you’ve got a kid that’s just bucking the whole system and shutting down, and insists on playing video games and that’s it, obviously, you give them what I call the bread and water treatment, where all of a sudden, things change quickly. And that kids finds himself twiddling his thumbs and doing nothing, or he or she gets with the program and works on getting those grades up. Grades are important.

But here’s a caveat here. Everybody in the US in this past year, their grades are probably not going up. Let’s put it that way. But check this out. I just saw, I think it was the state of Texas, is considering not having final exams this year. I know in the state of Arizona, they’ve given school systems … Every school is evaluated. They get a letter grade, A, B, C, D, or F. And the state, I believe, has made all the preparations to eliminate this year for grading because they know how terrible across the board it is. So the states are sort of grading on a curve this year. And they’re providing a lot of grace, it seems to me, realizing this has been tough on the student, the parent, and the teacher.

What’s happening in our schools, and again, I get a close up look at this every day, you’ll have on a Friday in a school of let’s say 1000, you might have 15 teachers call in sick on a Friday because teachers have had it. And they feel like they’re stretched to the max. They feel like they’re putting their life at risk. And then of course, you always have the drama queens and kings who just live in fear every day, and they don’t really make the great effort to engage like you should as an educator. So again, like I say, this podcast is not going to solve the problems of the world. But hopefully, we’ll give you some ideas that are based on you as a parent are the best teacher. No one knows your kid better than you do, so plan accordingly.

Doug: So you guys were talking more about this unique situation that we’re spending a lot of time on Zoom, or Google, or whatever, with our teachers. But when I talk about the grades, so you are saying, “My kid brings home a C, I tell them PlayStation, you don’t get to do that until that grade’s up to a B.” Is that what you’re telling me I get to do?

Dr. Leman: Yes, you can do that if your son or daughter isn’t putting in the time and effort. If your kid is in a remote situation and one parent is home, you know what the kid’s doing. He or she is under your nose. You can supervise how much time they put into their school work. And so for the kid that’s not giving a lick, yeah, I would induce all the different techniques that we’ve talked about on this podcast in terms of holding your child accountable for what he or she does or doesn’t do.

Doug: So let’s say they’ve got a math assignment that they’ve got to get done. Does that mean that I get to walk into his room and tell them, “Sally, until that math assignment is done, don’t come to the dinner table. Don’t pull out the PlayStation. And don’t even think about asking me to do something. Until that assignment’s done, you got nothing from me”?

Dr. Leman: Yes. If you want permission, yes, you can do that. Exactly. It’s how you do it, it’s the words you choose to use, parent, that’s going to make that effective. If you come in with an attitude and you’ve got a powerful child who’s struggling in math to begin with, I’ve got news for you, he or she’s just going to dig in all the further. They’re not going to let you win because you got yourself in a power struggle.

Doug: You’re totally confusing me because I thought for sure you were going to tell me, if you want to cause problems, you’re proud sitting there like the king and the queen, I thought you’d tell me, no, you do reality. You don’t tell them you’re going to do this. This is just how it happens. So which one is it? Do you tell them you’re going to do this, or do you wait until you get the grade back to start this?

Dr. Leman: Problem with waiting for the grade to come out is some schools are on a six week, some are on a nine week, some are on an 11 week. You’re going to wait nine weeks to take action, you know your son or daughter isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and so a casual conversation says, “Hey, I can’t help but realize that you’re really not giving a lick and a holler. I asked your mom what she thought, and she said the same thing. So from now on, when you ask for routine things that we usually grant you the right and privilege to do, you’re going to hear a different answer.” What are you talking about? Well, I’m talking about the fact that you seem not to be keeping up with school work. I emailed your teacher and she confirmed that. And so you’re on notice that your life is going to be a little different.
Well, what do you mean different? What’s going to happen? Well, we’ll take it one day at a time, but you’ll see your life is going to change quickly. So you’re trying to be matter of fact about it, but you’re being firm, and that’s what kids need. They need to know that you mean business. And so they’re not able to haul out PlayStation and do the things they normally like to do to kill time.

Doug: Here’s the hard part though for parenting right now, is we’re exhausted ourselves. And we are tired of our kids always being underfoot. So I kind of want them to go do PlayStation, and kind of have a break from me so that I get a little peace and quiet. And I feel bad for them that they’re kind of stuck here. So if I take away these privileges now and they can’t do this, and they can’t do this, what the heck is that kid going to do? They’re going to drive me even more nuts at that point.

Dr. Leman: If they suck it up and they start doing their work, they’re still going to have a lot of time to do things that kids love to do. By the way, I saw the sign in a window the other day. It said, “My husband is for sale.”

Doug: Was it Andreas car? Just tell me the truth, Dr. Leman.

Dr. Leman: No, it wasn’t Andrea. She didn’t send me a photo of it. So all I’m saying is this has been so hard on all of us. I’m convinced my wife sends me out to look for things that don’t exist. In fact, the day before Thanksgiving, she sent me to Costco, and I had everybody laughing in line because I said, “This proves that my wife doesn’t like me, sending me to Costco the day before Thanksgiving.” I’m telling you, the lines in Costco, I mean, you couldn’t breathe in the place. It certainly isn’t a place you should go to during a pandemic. But I only have two or three underlying conditions, so she doesn’t care. She sends me there.

But my point is that having kids underfoot all the time, 24/7 now, this has been a tough time for all of us. So I would say to families, find something you can do as a family once a week that’s just pure fun. And try to realize that we’re all in this thing together. When you say, “My kids are driving me crazy,” well, let’s be honest. You’re driving the kids crazy. Dad’s driving the kids crazy. Dad’s driving you crazy, and you’re driving Dad crazy. So with that as common denominators, who hasn’t sinned, let’s throw the first stone. So I think you have to put some reasonable thought into all the things we’re talking about. You want to temper your feelings. You just don’t follow your feelings, if you do, you’re going to do things and say things that aren’t good because all of us are under pressure at this point.
Doug: That’s good. When I come back, I want to ask you a little bit different question about segment of age group and how this is applied. The eBook that Baker Books is offering all of us this month is Have a New Sex Life by Friday for $1.99 between now and the end of March of 2021, wherever you get eBooks sold.

Andrea: And this review was written by T and Books, so she must love books. My husband and I have been married for many years and recently faced challenges of four moves in three years with a special needs child that took its toll on our physical intimacy. Have a New Sex Life by Friday had a lot of good ideas for us. I read bits and pieces to my husband and we had some good discussions. I highly recommend this book.

Doug: What a lucky husband. So wherever you get those eBooks, get them now. And now a no nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: Helicopter parents, can we talk about them for just a second? Personally, I think they ought to be launched into space. If you want to design a way to weaken a child, be the helicopter parent, be the one that double checks with them three times to make sure they have their school work done, and their pen and pencil, and their computer and their phone in their backpack. When you peer over a kid’s shoulder, you’re really saying loudly, “I really don’t believe in you.” The old Kenny Rogers song comes to mind, She Believes in Me. There’s nothing better than having somebody believe in you and let you stretch your wings and fly from the nest. So parents, if you’re a helicopter parent, it’s time to disable that propeller.

Doug: All righty, Dr. Leman, so a question for you. We’re talking now little kids. Right? So kindergarten through third grade or so. How much am I engaged in their schooling? IE, you’ve told us, we call the teacher. But how much am I asking my kid, “How much homework do you have? What assignments do you have coming up?” At that age?

Dr. Leman: Well, I think you are involved in your kid’s education K through three. But I think it’s really important that you set the parameters in your home that your son or daughter does the work. Kids are very, very good at saying things like, “Mommy, I don’t understand that.” And they’re working you. What they want you to do is simply do the work for them. For example, if you’re reading to a first grader, here’s an interesting thought I think, and first graders are just learning to read. And you’re reading a book with them, they are reading, and they come to a word, and they stop. The tendency as a parent is to just say the word. My suggestion is just wait silently and let the kid figure it out.

And if the kid doesn’t figure it out, then jump in and say, “Okay. Let’s look at the first letter of that word. It’s a B, so it’s got a buh, or a B sound. What’s that second letter? That’s an O. Okay, you got bo, bo, B-O. What’s that third letter? That’s an A. Okay. So you got bo, boa, or bo, A. What’s the fourth letter? That’s a T. Okay. So you’ve got B-O-A-T. What’s the T sound, sound like? Ta, so you’ve got boa, oh, a boat. Good. Good job.” That’s what you call sounding it out. And you go on, but don’t be the parent that always is telling a kid a word. Let there be work in a kid learning to read. Let them feel the accomplishment. When a kid learns to read, that’s a big deal because that’s the key to every positive thing in education. So yeah, you are involved, and you give kids and opportunity.

And have fun. I mean, I’ve told you this 100 times, but in our schools, we have a huge sign that says, “Leman Academy of Excellence, where learning is fun.” Learning ought to be fun.

Andrea: So one of the things that we talk about a lot on this podcast is having kids have their own responsibility, and I totally get helping them learn to read and figure out their math or whatever. If they’re really struggling, how bad is it for a first through fifth grader to get bad grades? It’s not going to go on a transcript that goes to a community college or a university. Is it okay if my kid in elementary is getting grades that are below par for say, my satisfaction, and let them deal with the consequences that the school gives them because they have lower grades?
Dr. Leman: Good question, Andrea. I would rather have the school teacher have the conversation with a third grader that says, “Melissa, I just finished up the grading, and you got a C. And I have to tell you, I’m very disappointed. I really don’t think you put the time and effort at home. Your homework looks like you just gave it a lick and a holler. It doesn’t look like you really put some time in it. I don’t think you’re going over your work and checking it. And I want you to know, I feel you can do a lot better than this. So your mom and dad will get the report card, and I’m not sure how they’re going to feel about it, but I just want you to know as a teacher, I don’t think you’re really giving your best effort. So I want to see improvement from you right away.” Kids will listen to a third party emotionally better than they will from their own mom and dad with situations like that.

Andrea: You are reflecting a story from my life, actually, in third grade, when I got a C on my report card. And I tell you, I remember what my dad said, I remember how he responded and it wasn’t good. And I think if my teacher had that conversation with me more than my dad, and sure, I could see mom or dad saying, “I’m disappointed,” then the story for me going ahead would’ve been different. So I totally get what you’re saying and I appreciate what you’re saying. It does, that word you said, emotionally, can handle it better if it’s coming from a third party. It would’ve been a different story for me.

Doug: So what about now if we jump up to the fifth grade through middle school? How much am I asking them, “How’s your assignments coming? How’s your workload coming?” All of that.

Dr. Leman: I’m not big on asking kids questions, even the proverbial, “How was your day at school today?” Wait for the child. A child will tell you one way or another what’s going on in school. And you can read it in their eyes, you can read it by their posture, by their mood. Again, I wouldn’t start drilling a kid. I would email the teacher, or better, call the teacher and say, “Hey, is there anything going on in school with little James? He seems a little out of sorts.” And I’d approach it that way.

Use that third person, parent, it’s so much better. Your kid’s going to say, “I have a mean teacher,” things like that. Well, okay, if you want to believe that, believe that. In all probability, if your kid says, “I got a mean teacher,” your kid probably has a good teacher who’s good at holding kids accountable. So go right to the horse and hear it from the horse’s mouth about what’s really happening in the classroom. Then you’re better prepared to have a conversation with your son or your daughter, with the guidance of what teacher has already told you.

Doug: So then I would imagine, now if we go through the high school years, you would say same advice, just go right to the teacher. Don’t pester the kid about his grades.

Dr. Leman: Yes. But keep in mind that if your kid is struggling in fifth and sixth grade, for example, think back, and they were probably struggling in second and third grade as well. These problems show up early, and that’s why, parent, if you see deficit learning in your kid as a kindergartner, a first grader, a third grader, I’ve told the story many times. Our youngest daughter repeated kindergarten. And I remember thinking, “I can’t believe what I just heard. This kid’s a smart little kid.” And she is smart as a whip. She’s a voracious reader today. She is a toy designer. She just got a huge raise with her nationally known company. She’s created things that are in three of the Disneylands, for example. She’s just very talented, but she did repeat kindergarten.

We have conversations today. She’s 28 years old. And I say with tongue in cheek, “You were just dumb. We had to have you repeat it.” Now obviously, that was just a joke. But we followed the advice of the teacher. I’ve written lots of books about kids. There was very much a part of me that says, “This is hogwash. This kid is, she’s like an only child.” Did I ever tell you the story about freeze tag? She was playing freeze tag, and she froze. And of course, the rules are that somebody has to unfreeze you. Well, we get a call from the school, rather panicky. They can’t find Lauren. She’s a kindergartner, and they can’t find your kid. Well, all of a sudden, just a few minutes later, we get a call back, “Oh, we found her. She was frozen way out the end of the playground.” Well, rules are rules. I mean, that’s the way that kid is.

Doug: Oh, that’s [inaudible]. That’s awesome. Well, we really hope this has helped you parents figure out how to help out with the school years.

Andrea: And maybe to relax a little bit right now. And I love what Dr. Leman said about taking your time for your family to do something fun together.

Doug: Right. Call the teacher. Read to the kids. It’s less, not more in certain cases. But you’re right, go to the teacher is the A, number one way, or find that tutor. Helping us quite a bit in our household to have a tutor. Well, we really hope this helps you parents as you are navigating this crazy world of education right now, that’s got all sorts of twists and turns and new challenges, to be able to love those kids more and more, as you try and parent them. We look forward to the next time we get to be with you.

Andrea: Have a good week.

Doug: Take care.

Andrea: Bye-bye.

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