Strengths and Challenges, Motivators and Consequences

childrenDear Parents,

Teachers and parents have different perspectives on children, and these differences can make it difficult to work together as partners.

Teachers compare children to others at the same grade level, while parents focus on individual strengths and challenges. Both perspectives are valuable and necessary to help children learn and grow.

Teachers want to understand the strengths and challenges of the children in their class so they can motivate them and effectively manage their behavior. Parents are an excellent source of information, but they often don’t effectively communicate their knowledge to teachers.

This assignment is an opportunity to think through and organize the information you would like to share with teachers. This takes some thought, so let’s go one step at a time.

Make two columns on a piece of paper. Label one column “Strengths” and the other one “Challenges”. Think about your child and make notes in each column. Check with family and friends to get ideas. Think back to what previous teachers have said. Be honest and don’t get defensive – all of us have strengths and challenges.

Bring your chart to a parent/teacher conference. Does the teacher see the same things in the classroom?

Discuss how to use the strengths to help out with the challenges. Write it down!

As an example, here’s what I wrote down about my son Colvin, who is mildly ADHD:

Strengths
Reads well
Good imagination
Likeable
Interested in abstract ideas
Good sense of humor
Eager to please

Challenges
Difficulty listening in class
Disorganized
Talks in Class
Short attention span
Difficulty starting and finishing
Impulsive

Colvin was eager to please, so he responded appropriately when teachers told him exactly what he was doing wrong and what he needed to do instead (e.g. “Colvin, you need to stop talking to Aaron, put your pencil away, and open your social studies book.”) He read well, so if he missed oral instructions he was able to read and comprehend them on his own. He had good social skills and loved to laugh, so he could be disciplined with humor.

Turn the paper over and make two more columns: “Motivators” and “Consequences”. Think about your child and the rewards that are most motivating. Write them down.

Here are some examples of motivators

Computer time
Ice cream on Saturday
Family hike
Fishing trip with Dad
Sleep-over with a Friend
Friday night pizza
Choose dinner menu
Stay up late Friday night
Sleep late on Saturday

Now think about your child and write down the consequences you find most powerful in managing behavior. Remember that parents often have to support school rules and expectations with motivators and consequences at home!

Discuss this list at the parent/teacher conference, especially if your child is struggling academically or behaviorally.

The best rewards and consequences come from privileges – and in my view, every thing we give children other than love, food, clothing, and shelter is a privilege!

An effective consequence for Colvin in elementary school was “Tickets”. Here’s how it worked: Every afternoon, Colvin gave an index card to his teacher. She wrote YES or NO on it. YES meant that he behaved reasonably well that day at school, and NO meant the opposite. If he didn’t bring a ticket home, it was an automatic NO. The consequences for a NO ticket were No TV, No Bicycle, No Dessert. Pretty much, no nothing! The next day was a new day and he started over. After two successful YES weeks, he was off tickets.

It got so the threat of tickets was enough! Another mother allowed her daughter to use YES tickets to be excused from washing dishes. Whatever works. And once your kids are teenagers, giving and withholding privileges is about the only effective disciplinary tool you have left.

Let’s summarize the action plan. There are two parts – strengths/challenges and motivators/consequences. Go one step and one child at a time. Be as objective and honest as possible. Give it some time and some thought – it’s harder than you think! You’re painting a picture of your child with words – a picture that will help the adults in school appreciate and work effectively with him.

List your child’s strengths and challenges on a piece of paper. Get input from other family members and friends. Ask your child for input!

Share your list with the teacher and ask for her ideas. Add them to the list.

Problem-solve with the teacher about how to use your child’s strengths to support his weaknesses.

List the rewards that are most motivating for your child. Get input from other family members and friends. Ask your child! Remember that privileges and family activities are usually better motivators than material rewards.

List the consequences that are most powerful in managing your child’s behavior. Parents have more control over the rewards and consequences that matter to children than schools do, so be prepared to work with the teacher to support achievement and discipline at school.

Share your list with the teacher and ask for her ideas. Add them to the list.

Problem-solve with the teacher about how to work as a team to effectively increase school performance and manage school behavior.

Good luck!

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