My 10-year-old son, who is in fifth grade, is having some trouble at school. At this parent-teacher conference, his teacher expressed he is too talkative, rushing his work, and has poor penmanship. She's given him zeroes because she can't read his handwriting. We have an expectation he maintain As and Bs, and he has a B- and a C. Our son was in the meeting and acted unconcerned and disrespectful toward his teacher. After this meeting we created a daily check-in sheet related to these issues. He has to have the sheet signed 10 days in a row to end the check-in sheet. He forgot the first day and experienced the consequences that evening - missing out on time with friends and privileges. He remembered the next two days and had it signed and approved by his teacher. On the third day, his teacher signed it but noted he wasn't taking his time that day and he now has three Cs. He was extremely frustrated, which I understand, but decided he was just going to fail his math test rather than keep working on improving. This morning I took his playing cards and he said "I hate my life. I just want to end my life." I was alarmed at this response. I am not sure how to proceed or what to do next.
Don't let the dramatics side-track you from the issue at hand: he's slacking at school and you will hold him accountable for his performance. You are on the right track by having a daily report sheet; however, it sounds as if the consequences aren't meaningful to your son.
For starters, your son sees these "10 days of daily reports" as a time period he must simply endure. I suggest that the daily report be instituted until he has all B's and maintains them for at least a month. If that takes a month, fine. If it takes the rest of the school year, that's fine too- it's completely up to him. If he doesn't like the daily reports, then he can quit being a slacker and put an end to them.
As for the classroom behaviors that you are trying to end- they are all related. His handwriting is awful because he is rushing and he is rushing because he wants to chat with his buddies. I know it seems like I'm suggesting you focus on the least problematic behavior, but I submit if he focus on his handwriting being perfectly legible, he will necessarily HAVE TO slow down his work. And if he is concentrating on producing work that his teacher can read, then he's less likely to be running his mouth at the same time.
I recommend that his daily report include 3 items- all of which require a simple YES or NO from his teacher:
#1 Did he hand in all his work?
#2 Is it legible?
#3 Is his work at least a B grade?
Keep this up until he's strung together 30 days of acceptable daily reports. If he "forgets" to bring home a report, then his 30 days begins again. The days that he brings home a poor daily report- or "forgets" to bring home a report- then he spends the afternoon in his room (where there should be no video games, TV, or computer) doing homework or reading, eats dinner with the family, then goes directly to bed.
Until the consequences are meaningful, they won't mean a thing to your son. Stay the course, because he will test your resolve! In an effort to negotiate a better deal, he will come up with lots of explanations/excuses/blame. Don't negotiate. Remind him that he is free to make his choice, but he is not free from the consequence of his choice.
Liz Mallett, CLPC
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