Tips for Communicating with Older Children


It’s back to school across the country, but in my house school has been in full-swing for almost four weeks.  While our family has mostly settled into the swing of things, there have been a few areas needing attention.  The biggest challenge so far has been communicating with our son regarding homework.  Since we homeschooled last year, his last public school experience was first grade, a cake walk compared to third.  This year, his responsibilities include copying homework assignments off the blackboard into his planner first thing in the morning, and then packing his backpack with the appropriate assignments at the end of the day.  He also has to remember to return home his chapter book, lunch box and water bottle.  It’s a lot for him, given the jump from homeschool to classroom.

Communicating with an older child is not always an easy task, particularly at the end of a long day.  But it is an essential component of the parent-teacher connection and to your child’s success in school.  Here are some suggestions to help your child overcome a struggle in a particular area of the new school routine.


Step 1.  Review the process:

Ask your student about the routine at school that relates to the area of struggle.  For us it was homework, so it began with a simple question of, “How do you know your homework assignments?”  The answer, “It’s on the board and I have to copy it.”  Additional clarifying questions like, “What happens when you first get into the room, what do you do?”  Followed by, “And then what?” until you get a clear picture of what is happening.


Step 2.  Search for holes in the story:

Is there something that doesn’t quite make sense?  Ask more questions.  Clarify, in a gentle way, so that you can understand what the teacher expects of the student.  If you can’t get a clear picture from your child, email or call the teacher.  It is essential that parents understand what the child is being asked to do, so that you can help him or her practice at home, if necessary.


Step 3.  Work on a solution:

For us, it made sense to help him create a routine.  From our careful questioning, we learned that he was using his super-hero mental powers to recall his homework while packing up, rather than checking against his planner or the board.  So he and I worked out a step-by-step routine for how to pack up his homework.


Step 4.  Break it down:

Your child may need to be walked through the details.  Ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you think you should do next?” to see if he can come up with the right idea.  If not, gently suggest, “Do you think it would help if…” to elicit agreement.


Step 5.  Write it down:

Pull out an index card and write out the steps, with your child’s help.  Use a few words with clear instructions.  The card can be put in a pencil box or backpack, to be pulled out for the first few days of getting in the habit of the new routine.


Step 6.  Encourage:

Encourage your child that he or she is doing great and that we all need to learn the skills necessary to be more organized.  Not everyone is born that way!  Follow up each day to check progress and tweak anything that might not be working.

Step 7.  Praise!  

Praise goes a long way toward reinforcing those good behaviors, and helps solidify them into lifelong habits.