Updated: Apr 26
My son is now in his 7th grade of middle school.
He did great all through elementary school, but when sixth grade started, the wheels started to fall off.
He failed multiple classes and ended up doing summer school to repeat them.
We thought that summer school would have been a natural consequence that would have motivated him to do better in seventh grade, but it’s worse this year.
While there are days that he responds to the encouragement and support my husband and I provide, most days he says, “I don’t care if I fail,” and we continue to see missing assignments and failing test grades.
We’ve tried hiring a tutor and sending him to a therapist, but neither fixes the situation.
What can we do next?
Stressed in Seattle
Dear Stressed in Seattle,
For many students with executive function challenges, middle school is where the issues first surface.
Many parents experience this same situation when schooling expectations change (students go from one teacher to five or more), and students suddenly realize their brains are not wired for the increased cognitive demands.
Your first step is to request an assessment from the school, in writing.
If you are at a public school, this should be done at no cost to you.
The steps for how to request an assessment can be found in my article, “How do I obtain an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) for my child?”.
Next, request a meeting (in writing, again) with his guidance counselor and principal.
Share the issues you have been experiencing and ask for their input in developing a plan to support your son.
Hopefully, they get onboard and speed up the assessment process to evaluate your son for accommodations that may include a 504 plan or IEP.
Keep in mind that natural consequences are not appropriate for someone who does not have the executive function skills in order to meet the demands of a schooling system that is not designed to meet his needs.
Continue to treat your son with respect and care and seek ways to normalize his learning style so his self-esteem does not decline.
Your son needs to know that you love and support him unconditionally, regardless of how he performs in school.
Instead of working with a tutor, find an executive function coach who will form a strong connection with your son and hold him accountable, every week.
This will reduce the pressure on your parenting and allow you to be the anchor he needs during this challenging time.
Above all, don’t give up.
As a parent, you are your son’s best support and if you continue to maintain a loving connection through this challenging time, all of you will come out on the other side and be better for it.
About the author:
Sean McCormick is a parent, husband and international executive function coach. He is the founder of Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business which guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered.
He has also spoken about executive function at prominent venues including the Association of Educational Therapists' National Conference, at the Athenian School and on the Qualified Tutors Podcast.
And last but not least, Sean has hosted over 50 episodes the Earn More Tutoring Podcast with a mission to eradicate educator poverty. The show recently surpassed 8,000 downloads.
Sean is regularly featured across media channels for his expertise on executive function, ADHD and special education.