Answers Parents Need to 5 Challenging Back-to-School Questions

A while back the TODAY show offered parents the opportunity to call, email or skype in parenting questions about their children’s education. I appeared as the TODAY parenting contributor along with a fabulous high school chemistry teacher from Los Angeles and an incredible principal from the Baltimore area. The Today Show website was flooded with queries, but there were five the producers chose to be answered live because they were asked so frequently by parents. Here are my answers:

1. What do you do if your child’s teacher turns your child off from learning?

Most kids complain about a teacher, but if your kid isn’t a complainer, has legitimate and serious complaints that could jeopardize his learning, set up a teacher conference. Don’t rush to judgment but start on a positive note. Describe your concern, and then ask what two of you can do to solve it. (Use “we” more than “you” – you’re more likely to get a more helpful response). Then wait a week and see if there is any change. If there is no resolution and your child’s, persist. Go up the chain of command: principal, superintendent, to the school board. You may have to switch schools, but a toxic teacher can hinder your child’s education not only that year but start a lifelong spiral of defeat.

2. How do you know when to worry about your child’s learning? How do I know if my child has a learning disability?

If a child is really struggling (usually in math, reading or speech), just doesn’t get it, and is falling below his potential, abilities or peers it may be a learning disability. Talk to their teacher, and request an assessment for a possible Individual Education Plan (I.E.P.). If you’re not successful, make a written request to the site administrator. A learning disability is not a phase or something the child outgrows. If not treated early, things can snowball: your child gets further behind, his self-esteem plummets and behavior problems can result. Also, know that if the child is tested privately, you may pay – make sure school district accepts test results.

3. Your child is being exposed violence and sex at school that you never expected. How do you prepare them and yourself for the grittier parts of life?

Kids are exposed to R-rated issues at younger ages so get savvy and prepare yourself so you can prepare your kid. Talk to other parents. And eavesdrop on his friend’s conversations. (Carpooling is a great way to get that info!). Kids do need guidance to make sense out of usually false information as well as a sounding board to handle tougher issues like bullying and violence and sex. Tips:

  • Begin from the get-go by keeping an open dialogue with your child so he will come to you. You can then make sure that you give him information that is geared to his level of understanding.
  • Do believe your child. Kids say they told us “tough stuff” when they were younger, but then stopped when we responded with an “I don’t believe it” attitude.
  • Teach your child the difference between Reporting (trying to keep someone out of trouble) and Tattling (trying to get someone in trouble) in case there is bullying or violence. You and your child should know how to report threats to your school (and please take threats seriously 75% of kids before they commit homicide, suicide or violent act tell a peer. Kids are our best safety net.
  • Don’t ever promise your child you won’t tell – you may have to step in and report.

4. How much should I rely on my child’s guidance counselor?

A little reality check here: the average student–counselor high school ratio varies from 400 to 1,250[i] so you must be proactive. Go to every one of those open houses and always stop by and meet the guidance counselor at least once a year. Once there, clarify your teen’s educational aspirations early whether it is Ivy League to Junior College. Different courses have different values at different universities and you must ensure that your child is on the right course track. You also may want to tell the counselor that you do not want your teen changing courses without your permission. Teens do that often and there’s a rude awakening when your child is minus a key class. You want to make sure that counselor’s skills match your teen’s needs. You can request another counselor from the principal if you don’t think his or her needs or being met. There are also outside educational consultants but do know they can be pricey.

5. Should I push my teen into that challenging AP classes when he balks?

This is always a tough call but three things help you make the right decision:

  • Previous history: Take into account the child’s past grade in subject as well as the teacher or counselor recommendation. Do they feel your child is capable?
  • Kid’s view: Listen to the kid’s “why not” factor to help you determine if there is “just cause for not taking the class. Hear him out. There may be another reason besides “It’s too hard.”
  • Check your expectations: Ensure your expectations match your child’s actual abilities. Think of a rubber band: the right expectations stretch your child’s potential without snapping his spirit.


[i] Guidance and School Counseling – A Brief History of School Guidance and Counseling in the United States

[i] Counselor ratio of 1-to-250 is recommended by the American School Counselor Association;


Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions is now available at

About the Author

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is the author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World, and is an internationally renowned educational psychologist and a recognized expert in parenting, bullying, youth violence, and character development and author of 23 books including her new release, THRIVERS: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. She is a regular NBC contributor who appears regularly on TODAY and has been featured as an expert on Dateline, The View, Dr Phil, NBC Nightly News, Fox & Friends, Dr. Oz, and The Early Show. She lives in Palm Springs, CA with her husband, and is the mother of three grown sons. Dr. Borba is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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