“Is Frustration Normal?” How to Turn Frustration Into Success


School is easy for two of Dana’s three children. She rarely needs to help them with their homework, and there are no surprises at report card time. Yet, the situation for Dana’s third child is much different. School does not come easy for him, and Dana is concerned that he is getting behind. She knows his homework takes longer than it should, and he is getting frustrated every night. Dana feels stuck—how can she help her son without making him feel like he is “different” than his siblings?

This is the third and final part in our series on determining how your child is doing in school before the first report card. In part one, we discussed four methods that parents can use at home to identify reading and math skill gaps. Last week, we took a look at what we can learn from the circumstances leading up to the beginning of this school year. Today, we will talk about what to do when your child is frustrated about school.


Making Errors

Everyone makes errors when they are learning something new. Getting things wrong will involve a certain level of frustration. Even as adults, we experience frustration when a new skill at work does not come easy for us. Adults have learned ways to cope with frustration, and know how to manage these feelings much better than a child does. As we help our children manage frustration, we can take an active role in gauging how much is too much for them.

Engaging, Challenging Work

difficultChildren are resilient. They do not give up when trying to learn to walk—through repetition (and some coaching), they figure out how to do it. Yet, they decided when to try again. In school, it is now the adults who decide how often a child will attempt new skills. As parents, we need to manage the success/ error mix our child is exposed to while learning. A child’s ability to endure difficult situations develops as he or she gets older.  When students experience success, no matter how small, they will develop the confidence needed to keep learning.

What to Do About Continual Frustration

A parent is a child’s learning guide. It is often our job to go out ahead of our children, show them the difficult terrain ahead, and teach them how to navigate the coming obstacles. Often, that is the “easy” part. The “hard” part is knowing what they are ready to attempt new challenges, and knowing how much help to give them at each difficult moment.

Since each child is different, the only way to know how much help to provide is practice. Difficult skills need to be broken down into bite size pieces. Find out exactly what your child knows and find out where the sequence of learned skills stops. Provide your child with as much help as he or she needs at this point, and practice the skill until there are repeated successes. Do not move on until both of you are confident that your child understands what to do.

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At Sylvan, we know the terrain students will face in the coming year, as well as the years ahead. Before beginning a Sylvan program, we take time to discover the obstacles students are struggling with now and in the past. This is an essential first step for skill development. Our Skills Assessment pinpoints the foundational skills that students are missing and shows us exactly where to begin. Each reading and math program is personalized, tailored to your child’s strengths and weaknesses.

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Is a New School Year a “Clean Slate?” Lessons From Last Spring’s Report Card


The beginning of a school year brings with it many new starts—classmates, teachers, routines, more challenging skills—the list goes on. As parents, we are optimistic that a new year means an opportunity for our child to put some of the challenges of last year behind him or her.

Your child may like this year’s teacher more, and perhaps the classmates are better behaved. However, if your child struggled with reading or math skills last year, does a new school year allow him or her to have a fresh start?

The conclusive answer is “Maybe.” So how can you know if your child will get caught up this year? We are continuing our three part series on determining how your child is doing in school before the first report card. In part one, we discussed four methods that parents can use at home to identify reading and math skill gaps. Today, we will take a look at what we can learn from the circumstances leading up to the beginning of this school year.

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 If you answered “yes” to three or more of these statements, there may be reason to action in order to ensure that this school will be the best it can be.

Generally, skill development does not suddenly improve without some form of remediation work. Each student’s situation is unique. Sometimes there are just a few specific skills that hold students back from using all their potential. Identifying and isolating these skills for improvement may be all that is needed. Other times, there are foundational skills that students never completely grasped which are slowing down their progress now.

For instance, a child who never mastered phonics may continue to improve in reading, yet he or she may have a very difficult time developing past certain points in later grades. Likewise, many students struggle with fractions since they are a combination of all the math skills a child has learned up to that point in school.

A Couple Exceptions

There are times that students do get caught up on their own effort. Sometimes, students are “late bloomers.” It is not unusual to see first and second grade students suddenly start to put together phonics skills which have previously been difficult for them. Likewise, some students develop an interest in reading at unpredictable points in their school career, and their skills blossom. In both of these cases, it the improvement is based on a student’s continued effort and motivation.

Sometimes students do have “slumps.” If your child did well for most of last year, yet had a tough final report card, he or she may have just had a challenging grading period or experienced a case of “spring fever.” Monitor homework assignments early in the year to see if his or her skills are still on track.

Insight Into Your Child’s Skills Developemont

At Sylvan, we have tools designed to pinpoint the skills your child is struggling with in reading and math. Our Sylvan Skills Assessment takes a comprehensive look at the skills your child has been taught, and identifies your child’s personal strengths and weaknesses.


As a parent, the assessment gives you peace of mind knowing that whether your child is on track or if extra attention is needed. Based on your child’s assessment results, we develop personalized programs that allow your child to catch up or even get ahead of the class. Call your local center today for complete details.

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4 Methods That Help Parents to Identify Reading & Math Skill Gaps


Parents often have many questions at the beginning of the year. “Will he be able to get caught up this year?” “How much time do teachers spend reviewing from last year?” “Will she be ready for the difficult skills introduced in class this year?” “How will I find out that he is struggling?”

These are all good questions. As a parent, you want to know how your child is doing in school now. Waiting until the first progress report or report card can mean waiting one or two months to find out how your child is doing.

There are ways to work with your child at home in order to get indications of how the school year is likely to go. Let’s go over a few of them here:

How much time is homework taking?

Homework is an important part of skill development. While some teachers do assign more work than others, homework should not take all night. Check in with your child during homework time to see how well he or she is doing, and ask a few questions to check for understanding. Getting done with assignments too quickly or too slowly is an indication that the work may not be getting completed well.

Check homework assignments

As appropriate, look over your child’s assignments to see how well he or she did. Give praise for correct answers, and spend time working out the wrong answers together. Don’t give up when you hear “That’s not how they taught us at school” (especially in math). Check your child’s math book for new methods and ask the teacher if online resources are available.

This is especially important during the first few weeks of the year: While many teachers spend time reviewing at the beginning of the year—this is time is used to refresh skills, rather than reteach the skills students were taught in previous school years.

Practice learning moments

Practicing learning moments is important at any age. Make the most of every opportunity to turn daily activities into “checks for learning.” Ask younger students to read sentences out loud, count money at the store, and quiz them on multiplication tables. Older students benefit from flexing their learning muscles too—ask them if they know what words mean that they hear on television, ask questions about current events, and ask for their opinions on how to solve problems.

Does your child like school?

Really! Even if kids don’t like every moment of every day at school, they should enjoy learning. People, especially children, are natural learners. They want to be more like the older people and be independent. Start asking questions when you hear your child show a bad attitude about school, and try to uncover any reasons that they are discouraged.

If you discover your child is struggling with some reading or math skills, there are steps you can take to make this a good school year. At Sylvan, we use the Sylvan Skills Assessment to pinpoint specific reading and math skills that are difficult for your child. Sometimes students do well with the new skills being introduced in class, but never learned some of the foundational skills needed to apply the new skills.

After your child completes a Skills Assessment, we schedule a time to sit down with your family to discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Based on the assessment results, we give recommendations that will keep your child on track for a great school year. You can call your local center today to schedule a Skills Assessment.

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How to Create Routines That Actually W.O.R.K. for Your Family


Many mornings at home look like the scene at a busy airport—there are people scurrying around with luggage, grabbing a bite to eat on the go, getting buckled in to their transportation—everyone just wants to get to their destination on time. There’s so much to get done and you just hope no one forgets homework assignments on the kitchen counter!

The evenings are full of excitement too. By the time the dinner table turns into a study hall, it’s almost time to send everyone to bed. Hopefully you get to catch a moment of rest before ending the day and starting again in the morning.

Our family routines work just like a conveyor belt—we do our best to keep pace with schedules, assignments, lunch money, and everything else involved in keeping our home in order. While we know that it is hard work, we all want to find ways to make our routines as simple as possible.

There are four important elements of effective routines. I like to remember them by using the acronym W.O.R.K. Let’s go over each one:

Winnable – Be sure that your children know there is a routine in place. When they do, you want them to know what success looks like. Communicate your expectations to your family—and celebrate when things go well! Have a big cheer when everyone is seated and buckled in the car. Praise your kids for getting everything done and tell them how it makes you feel—excited!

Objective –Focus on the results of your routines, and don’t worry too much about the process. Sometimes socks don’t match, lunches get lost, and leftovers from breakfast get stuffed between car seats—and that is okay. You have done your job when everyone “gets where they need to go.” As long you are concerned about the outcomes, I can guarantee you are a good parent.

Re-Arrangeable – Routines must be flexible enough to accommodate the unexpected. We all know that one sick child can completely change your day; having a plan for the unexpected can help make all the difference. Surprises are inevitable and finding people in your support systems who can help will make these days smoother for everyone.

Kinetic – Get everyone in the family “moving and doing.” Everyone has a part to play, which is great since kids have so much extra energy. Finding ways to use their energy makes your day easier and it also makes them happier. Creating job boards makes it easier for everyone to know their role.

Routines provide the needed structure for your children to create healthy habits. Modeling how to manage time and stay organized are crucial steps for helping kids create lasting study habits. When they understand how to be organized and manage their time, the school year always goes better.


At Sylvan, we work with students on creating routines as part of our Study Skills program. Throughout the program, we teach fourth through twelfth grade students how to set goals, manage time, and make the most of study time. We are offering a special Back-to-Shool Organization & Time Management Course until the end of September. Call your center for more details!

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Profiles in Learning: Hunter and Jackson McClain, Sylvan ACT Prep Students

Two brothers raise their ACT score 4 points each after taking the Sylvan ACT Prep Course


Raising your ACT score is difficult. Preparing for a single assessment which can cover skills from eleven years of school in four subject areas is no small task; doing so in six weeks while balancing life and schoolwork is a challenge for any student. Every high school student knows how important ACT scores can be for college success and access to scholarship funds. Even a one point improvement can open new opportunities for students. At Sylvan, we celebrate every increase in an ACT score; when two brothers do it at the same time, we sit up and take notice!

Meet the McClain brothers, Hunter and Jackson. They took the Sylvan ACT Prep Course during the winter of 2011- 12. After these two brothers reported that they each increased their ACT score by four points after taking the course, I thought our Sylvan families would benefit from hearing how they did it! I sat down with the McClain brothers and learned some interesting insights I think everyone will find helpful.

The brothers made it clear that hard work was what led to their improved scores; they were already balancing a full schedule with sports and school, so they had to be intentional about making time to study. Jackson told me that believing you can improve makes the biggest difference.

“You just have to have the mentality to come in and just do it. The hardest part of taking the course is telling yourself you’re going to get a good score, and really going out there and taking the initiative to getting a good score- and really work it. Getting started is the hardest part.”

Hunter agreed that “sacrifice and using spare time” are what caused him to improve his score. They knew there were no shortcuts to success; the time and effort they put into studying caused them to be much more confident on the day they took the test. Jackson made this very clear.

“All the little tricks we learned over the past weeks really went into what we did. [On test day] we saw people who were biting nails, just terrified going in and we thought “we’ve been there before.”

I told the brothers that five points is the most improvement I have seen after a student has taken the course. I knew it could not have been a coincidence that both of them increased their scores by four points. I wanted to know if they had done anything our other students had not done. Jackson believes working together benefited both of them.

“Studying with two people … is always better than having to do everything by yourself. Hunter taught me tricks as he picked up different stuff from the lessons, and I picked up different stuff from the lessons. We conversed, and talked about [the questions]. It bumped us up that much more.”

I was beginning to see that hard work and investing the needed time are what helped them be confident about the test. I asked them if they could pinpoint a time during the course when they felt they were ready to take the ACT again. They both told me that they benefited from reviewing skills they had not seen in school in a while; once the skills became more difficult, they starting feeling more prepared. Jackson told me it was “after a couple weeks. Halfway through the course, I was able to just start knocking stuff out of the park. It [became] routine.”

Having access to an instructor during the entire course really helped as well. They said that at times they needed a lot of instruction on specific skills, but they only wanted as much help as they needed. They were able to work independently on many of the lessons, and were able to get the help they needed at any moment during the course.

I asked the brothers to summarize what led to their success. We all agreed that the elements of success on the ACT are the same as they are for school and sports. The following list is what we came up with:

  • Show up everyday
  • Work hard
  • Complete all the homework
  • Have questions when you show up for class

The McClains’ formula is simple: Students need the drive to reach goals and the confidence to know they can score higher. Jackson and Hunter have shown us what can happen when students have the tools needed to succeed. I am sure their parents are as proud of their hard work as they are of the relationship that these two have with each other.

Test names and other trademarks are the property of the respective trademark holders. None of the trademark holders are affiliated with Sylvan Learning, Inc. or this website. ACT is a registered trademark of the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product. ACT is a registered trademark of ACT, Inc.

How to Make Time for Homework and for Fun

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What does your teen enjoy doing when he or she is not doing homework?  I often hear “sports” or “video games.”  What would your teen say if you presented the following challenge, “You know-  you are not spending enough time playing sports?”  Would his jaw drop?  Would she believe you?

Most teenagers can learn to study more efficiently.  Time is lost to distractions- music, cell phones, and television offer a barrage of distractions that make study time too long and less effective. Challenge your teen to accept the following: there are ways to spend less time on homework, improve  grades, and make time each week for the things they enjoy.

Set up a time to study. Set your student’s “office hours.”  Make the time consistent so they can tell their friends when they are not available.  Your teen should be expected to show up on time for his or her “office hours.”  Encourage your teenager to do the following: show up, get the work done, and move on!  Many students will be thrilled to hear that they are expected to have an “end time.”

Set up a place to study. This place should be for “studying only” during that time.  The study area should be free of background noise such as televisions and music.  The kitchen table, a desk in a spare room, or the student’s bedroom are all good places- as long as there are no distractions in the room.

Plan time for everything else. In order to focus, students need to know that time has been made for “everything else.”  Writing out a weekly schedule helps them to remember that time has been allotted for everything that is important.  Have your student agree to the schedule- you won’t be just a “parent with a bunch of rules,” you will be the parent helping the student keep the commitment he or she has made!

These skills are imperative for students to improve grades today; learning the benefits of making commitments and building structure will also teach them the independence they need when they graduate!

As originally seen in Chattanooga Parent Magazine.