What to Do When Your Kid’s Struggling in School

Do you have a child that is struggling in school? My son has ADD/ADHD, and those early days of diagnosis and implementation of treatment were some of my hardest days in the trenches of motherhood. I remember thinking, “Wine is okay in the morning, right?”

The struggle is real.

I want to share with you the pep talk that I wish I would have had when my son was struggling, as well as how we finally found success in the school environment. My plan might look a little different than yours, but it all requires jumping through hoops to get the necessary paperwork in order.

Start Talking Early

We noticed that our son was struggling at school prior to his diagnosis, and we felt like we needed to let our teacher know that we were working really hard to improve things for him, and hopefully for her too! I set up a meeting with the principal and his teacher, and tearfully explained that we were working with our doctor and were in the process of figuring things out. I asked for a little patience until we had some answers. They were both genuinely kind and sympathetic as we floundered to figure out how to help him. Looping them in early bought us a little grace during the diagnosis process, because they knew we were trying very hard to make things better for all parties involved.

Once we had a diagnosis, we were able to begin making the accommodations necessary through our public school system. Our principal explained how we could get a 504 for our son in place once we filed the right paperwork.

Depending on your needs, you may need an IEP or a 504. If you’re trying to figure out what you need, I love this table that breaks down what each of these means. At times, we needed an IEP, so we could get speech services. When speech services were dropped, we just needed the 504. The paperwork you file depends on the type of accommodations your family needs.

Um, What Exactly Is a 504?

Once we had the official paperwork stating the diagnosis, we put a plan in place for our son. We set up a meeting with the principal, his teacher and someone who could set up something called a 504 plan for him. A 504 is basically a blueprint or plan for how a child will have access to learning at school. You and the school officials write it together. It provides services and changes to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students and is provided at no cost to you.

Here’s the thing. I did NOT want to ask for special favors or inconvenience our teacher, but I knew that there were things that really needed to happen if our son was ever going to perform successfully at school. It pained me to ask for “favors.” I am a big people pleaser and hate being a bother. But I knew this could help him so much! So I did it anyways.

Our 504 has pretty much remained the same since elementary school with a few tweaks here and there for his accommodations. Here’s a look at our plan:

We Need To Be In the Loop

Our biggest issue was that we felt in the dark about what needed to happen during the day and if the teacher needed something from us. We asked that our son write in his agenda daily what needed to happen and requested that the teacher initial it to verify everything, so we weren’t missing important papers and deadlines anymore. We also asked her to put any further communication she wanted to do with us on the agenda. That way we could be sure not to miss anything.

We Need Access to Quiet Spaces Sometimes

Some classrooms are rowdier than others. Our son had a hard time focusing when there was a lot going on, and we wanted to be sure that he could take advantage of a quieter room if he needed it. This is something we have only cashed in on once so far, but it’s nice to have in place.

We Asked for A Little Grace on Late Papers

This is never to be abused, but sometimes our disorganization has caused us to be late on assignments. We just asked for grace, particularly while we transitioned into our new school routines. We didn’t want him having zeros for late assignments, which could really lower his grades.

We Need Extra Time At the End of the Day

This was particularly important as we headed into middle school. He needed enough time to get his books and papers gathered and organized before getting on the bus. That extra 5-10 minutes made an enormous difference in our organizational level and our grades. I think this was the best thing we asked for!

Where Does the 504 Go?

For us, one of our biggest transitions was going from an elementary school setting to a middle school setting. Although we had communicated with his teachers that he had ADHD, we did not know that we needed to communicate with the middle school that he had a 504 from elementary school. If there is one thing we learned through this process, it’s that we need to check in every year and make sure his 504 is communicated to his teachers. The first year of middle school taught us a lot about making requests known, as we were struggling to even pass because the accommodations weren’t there.

Does It Lead to Better Grades?

We went from barely pulling C’s to High Principal’s Honor Roll! That’s an incredible difference for a child (and their whole family). My son’s also more confident because of it.

How Can I Continue Making His Day Better?

Not only do we have the 504 in place for our son, but we take advantage of anything that the school offers that can continue improving those grades and help him feel confident. Confidence is such an important thing for a kid.

When our middle school offered free tutoring, we took advantage of that so he could stay after school and tackle his homework with help. We found that he was more productive in that environment than he was riding the bus or at home.

We also looked into ways that he could burn off energy in a positive way. We were lucky enough to have gotten the scoop on cross country in middle school. It helped him burn off some serious energy and be part of a team that really fit with his personality. I love that his coach focuses on each child doing their own personal best. He also managed to find fun ways to encourage my child to run and developed a great rewards system. Our son finds it so motivating!

How Can I Set My Kid Up for Success?

Success at school starts at home. I can do all of these incredible things for him through the people he interacts with at school, but if I am disorganized at home, those repercussions follow him and make his day hard. It’s a team mentality, and I won’t lie – I struggle each and every year as the new school year starts. I can barely keep myself organized most days, let alone stay on top of someone else’s stuff too!

As a parent, I have to make sure that I communicate with his teachers from day one. I have to make sure the appropriate paperwork is filed on his 504. I have to be the one to stay on top of everything with his homework and projects. Being organized at home is important because it can be the difference between a good day and a bad day for my son.

As he gets older though, I am trying to push a little more back to him. Someday he will be an adult and he won’t have a mom setting everything up for him in his workplace and in his home. I want to raise a self-sufficient child. Sometimes he will do great with it, sometimes he won’t. Just like the rest of us.

We don’t expect perfection, and we are proud of him for trying and doing the best he can.

We certainly aren’t perfect either, and there are still those days when I wonder if wine is really THAT inappropriate in the morning. But those days are much rarer now.

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