How to help your teen with writing skills, math and test anxiety

"How was school today?"


"What'd you do?"


You feel yourself beginning to squirm. You've had this conversation before, and it's not comfortable.

"Any homework?"


Is this really your student? The same one that only a few years ago talked incessantly about who did what in school, and who ran off every morning eager for the day?


What happened?

Likely, your student is feeling more pressure than ever before. What with No Child Left Behind's emphasis on boosting reading and math scores, and more demanding college requirements, chances are your child is feeling more pressure than ever to perform. Students are facing more work, higher standards and that word every adult knows and fears: stress.

What to do?

Chances are, if your student avoids discussing school with you, claims to have no homework and seems fed up with the whole educational system (or simply resigned to low levels of success), he or she needs some help. Your child may feel frustrated, lost and on the verge of giving up, but you don't have to. There are ways to help.

One thing you can do is contact your student's teachers. Many parents dread this, but rest assured: the vast majority of teachers rejoice when a concerned parent calls asking how to help. Ask how your student is doing in class, what he or she has been working on, what assignments are missing and what help is available. Many schools offer after-school tutoring programs; ask if your child's school does, and if so, how to get involved.

Breaking the news that you've contacted your son's or daughter's teachers can be painful, but honesty really is the best policy, and after the tension is broken, he or she will probably be glad you know the truth and, most importantly, that you want to help. What your child needs isn't browbeating but support, and when that support comes from family, he or she will feel glimmers of hope.

Many parents have hired private tutors to fill in the educational gaps many students face. Often, these tutors can help students see the material from a different point of view, which sometimes is all it takes. I once helped a friend's son tackle algebra not by being a genius tutor but simply by walking him through it via a slightly different path. By meeting your son or daughter in a setting away from school - at home or in a neutral public place such as a library - a tutor can put him or her at ease. Students progress at different speeds, but since the tutor has only one student, he or she can move along at a pace your child finds comfortable. And, a tutor can be a third party who can see your child's situation through new eyes and may provide insight into other, more basic difficulties, such as trouble reading or even a need for glasses.

What's most important is this: Never give up. Contact your student's teachers, encourage and reward your student, hire a tutor; all these let your child know you believe he or she can succeed. And one of these days, the answer to "What'd you do today?" might even take a few minutes.

By William Chambers