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Posted by on Mar 5, 2012 in Articles, For Moms, Mom 2 Mom | 0 comments

Mom 2 Mom: 7th Grader Struggling With Math


Dear Mandy:

I have a 7th grader struggling in Math. How can I help her? She used to be A and B student all the way to elementary but 7th grade her grades go up or down and Math is always the worst. When she’s threatened with her iPod taken away her grades will shoot up but Math seems to miss passing a couple points. It concerns me not only academically but she can’t participate in school sports. I need some help please!


Dear Shreyll,

This appears to be a complicated issue. You have to first figure out what the real problem is.  Since her grades go up when you threaten to take away her iPod, at first glance, it seems like the problem might be lack of motivation or her preference to do something other than studying, which is typical at this age; however, it could be more than that. Maybe her courses are hard and she feels overwhelmed most of the time, but when you threaten to take away the iPod, she kicks it into overdrive and works harder. Maybe it is something in her social life. Try talking to her about it, and give her the benefit of the doubt. Be open, warm, and respectful. Don’t let it come across as if you are condemning her. Taking this approach will make it more likely that she will open up to you, and that is important because she may feel embarrassed to tell you if she really is struggling.

In your talk, tell her how her grades make you feel and why. For example, you might say, “I am concerned about your grades because I want the best for you, and though you might think that your math scores do not matter, they do. If you don’t learn this math now, you will have problems with 8th grade math, high school math, and college math. You will struggle more and more, and you may get too far behind and not be able to catch up.” Give her a chance to talk, then point out the trend that you are noticing: “When I threaten to take your iPod away, your grades go up, so I know you are capable of working harder.” Ask her why she thinks her grades go up when you threaten to take away things.  Then explain to her that you are not as interested in her grades as you are her effort. In other words, let her know that you expect 100% effort, not a 100% test score. Next, ask her if she is having a hard time understanding the material in class. If that is the case, you might look into getting her a tutor or consider tutoring her yourself.

You can also take a more hands-on approach if the talk alone is not enough. Tell her you are no longer going to punish her for not keeping her grades up, but instead, she will earn a privilege paycheck each week.  Tell her that the use of her iPod, her phone, and/or the TV are longer God-given rights, and she will, instead, earn them, just like an adult has to work to earn an income. Tell her she will spend one hour (or however long) a night each week doing homework in a “homeroom” at your house. During this time, explain to her that she will not be able to use or have a cell phone, iPod, or any other things that could cause distraction, and if she doesn’t have any homework, tell her to use the time to do extra math work. Make it clear that if shows up on time for “work” every night each week with a good attitude and works hard, then she will get her privilege paycheck (use of Ipod, so many hours of TV, computer, etc. for the week). You could also decide to set up bonuses. For example, if she has an 80% in math at the end of the month, she gets a new shirt, but if she has a 90% or above, she gets a new outfit.If she does not seem to be working during this study hour, you may have to supervise to make sure she stays on task. You may even want to set up a rule that she gets 2 warnings before you “dock her pay.”Most importantly, make sure you emphasize that she is making the choice to earn these privileges, or not (not you!), and that she makes the choice whether she will do well in school, or not.

This approach will do a couple of things:

1) It will help her associate schoolwork with schoolwork with rewards and privileges instead of punishment.

2) It will save you arguments. You don’t have to be the cop handing out tickets; instead, you are the boss handing out paychecks.

3) It will give her clear guidelines to follow, and if she chooses not to follow them, she does so knowing the consequence.

4) It will allow your daughter to feel like she has some control in the situation because she chooses to earn her privileges, or not, and she chooses to succeed, or not. In other words, Mom is not “forcing” her, (which tots-teenagers hate). That puts more of the responsibility on her and less of the burden on you.

5) It will allow extra study time free of distractions, and all the extra time and effort should reflect in her grades.


Best of luck.




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