5 Tips for Parents of an AP Student

Welcome to your first (or second or tenth) AP course that your high school student is taking. These are the most difficult classes your child will be taking this year as these are meant to be college level courses.

Add this challenge on top of the rest of their academics, extracurriculars, and college applications, and you have the recipe for a very stressful year. I have a post on 5 Tips for Students, but wanted to try to help mom and dad out as well.

Given that my company’s motto is “Stress Less, Find Success,” I wanted to help navigate some of the stressful situations you may run into this year. So here are 5 tips to help manage the stress of an AP course for your child and for yourself.

1. Take Time Off:

This may seem counterintuitive as your schedules are going to be absolutely overwhelming; however, just as you need to sleep at night in order to function the next day, you need to take time off from the crazy schedule you all share in order to perform at a high level consistently.

I highly recommend that you set aside a 24 hour period once a week in which the whole family, but especially your children, attempts to completely disconnect from all school and extracurricular activities.

I like to use my Saturdays, so at roughly 7 or 8pm on Friday night I shut the laptop, turn off the email notifications, and check out until Sunday morning. Here is a link to an article about a “technology shabbat,” but the principles apply to any type of day off.

During that full day, it’s important to do things that are either restful or rejuvenating. It’s totally okay to play video games and nap most of the day if that helps you calm down and escape. It’s probably a little better to go for a long bike ride, surf, hike, or simply just be outside. If you can do these things as a family – or other activities like going to a movie and a meal together – that’s great too. Let’s be honest, between school, work, and outside commitments you are probably not spending as much time together during the week as you’d like. And you will lose that day to day opportunity to see your kids once they go off to college very soon!

 

There are also physical and mental reasons to take these days off – burnout is real. Stress causes too many mental and physical health problems to count. And we now know that our ability to concentrate, work, and make good decisions is a limited supply that needs to be refreshed.

Just as we burn calories physically, we have a limited number of “mental calories” to burn each day. By taking one day off (and hopefully going to bed at a reasonable hour, eating well, etc.) you can help replenish that supply so you can do better work during the week. As Ron Swanson so truthfully said, “Always whole-ass one thing, never half-ass two things.”

2. Talk (and LISTEN) to Your Child’s Teacher

This one may sting to hear, but your child’s teacher knows what they need in the classroom – probably more so than you do. These teachers spend 8 hours a day with your child. When was the last time you spent 8 hours with them? (Hopefully it was on your one day off a week!)

If your child is struggling, first and foremost reach out to the teacher. Call, text, or email them (use email, please, they will appreciate that more than an unexpected 10pm phone call) to schedule a phone/zoom call or parent teacher conference. Once you sit down with the teacher, have a list of QUESTIONS to ask rather than a list of demands:

  • What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What areas do they need to work on?
  • What are some tools we can use to improve those areas?
  • What are your recommendations for how to move forward?

Once you have had this conversation, work on creating a step by step plan that you can implement with your child. As you talk, expect some difficult questions – and to hear the exact opposite information your child told you – such as “is your child actually reading every night?”

I can say with certainty that the first and biggest problem is that students don’t keep up with the AP level of reading – or that they skim it while on their phones. The vast majority of students cannot pass an AP without doing the significant amount of reading required.

Be careful of statements like “My child needs an A in this course” or “What are you doing to help my child?” – teaching is the only profession in which the professional (usually with multiple degrees) is so often questioned or lambasted for their decisions and recommendations. You would not tell your lawyer or accountant that he is simply wrong or immediately refute your doctor’s diagnosis, so please don’t dismiss the teacher. Believe what the teacher says until you have proof that it is wrong.

My favorite little adage for parents is that “if you only believe 50% of what your students say to you about me, I will only believe 50% of what they tell me about YOU.” I can guarantee that you will get further and help your child so much more if you work with the teacher rather than dictating to them what you think they should be doing.

3. Set Honest, Reasonable, and Agreed Upon Expectations – and Back Them Up

Yes, everyone wants to go to Harvard; everyone wants a 5 on the exam; everyone wants to be a professional athlete or celebrity. Not so many people accomplish those things though. I am not trying to shoot down anyone’s dreams – everyone should reach for the stars.

However, I see students and parents that have such wildly different expectations that it leads to incessant fighting and stress. Beginning in Freshman year, or now, sit down with your kid and come up with a list of what is important to them, dreams and desires, hopes for college, grade expectations, etc. You may want them to go to Harvard Business and become a stock broker. They may want to go to Syracuse to become a sports announcer or go to Florida Atlantic University to become a marine biologist.

You need to both lay out your hopes, but ultimately your child is going to do what they want to do – it may be way down the line after a midlife crisis, but it’s coming. Once you come to an accepted agreement about these things, you need to look at colleges and their acceptance guidelines and agree to do work that meets (or exceeds) those standards.

If your child wants to go to Harvard, you need to both be on the same page that they will have to work INSANELY hard. If your child is a baseball player that wants to play in college – even if it isn’t their career choice – then work with their coaches to see what types of schools will take athletes at the level your child is. Maybe in this scenario, all A’s are less important than consistent B’s and more time to devote to baseball – that’s definitely good enough for an athletic scholarship.

Once these big idea agreements have been reached, you need to set a schedule that everyone can agree on. This step is huge. There is a set number of hours per week/day for homework, a set number for play/relaxation, a set number for athletics or extracurriculars. These numbers need to be agreed upon – not dictated – to be successful. If these guidelines were mutually decided you can always remind your child that “they agreed to this” during the next argument.

The hardest part of this process is backing it up. It is going to be difficult to make sure your child is keeping up their end of the bargain (and to be honest with yourself if perhaps you haven’t kept up yours). You may need to do things like make the kitchen table a dedicated homework station and take away the phone for that time period (they also need their laptops A LOT LESS for homework than they claim).

Check in with them on their progress. Read their papers even if you have no idea what it’s about. Read their textbook at night so you can have discussions with them about what they are learning. I know this is a lot, but it will keep them honest and on track. Also make sure that you do respect the agreed upon times off and/or rewards for completing tasks.

This discussion, negotiation, and agreement process has long term benefits as well. Your child is one to four short years away from moving out and being on their own. If they have never made decisions for themselves, set up their own schedules, or practiced self-discipline, then they will struggle mightily in their college years and possibly beyond. This point ties into tip number 2 as well, but ultimately the goal is to raise children into functioning adults, not to make everything as easy as possible for them.

Struggle is good (in adequate doses). Lastly, this type of interaction with your child shows that you trust and respect them – teenagers are budding adults (with poor decision making skills) and all they want is to be treated as adults. Give them this respect, but make it clear that as soon as they start acting like children, you will go back to treating them like children.

4. Find De-stressing Tools to Use During the Week

Your one day is important, but it needs to be continuously reinforced with productive activities or tools to help de-escalate and de-stress during the week.

This goes for both you and your high school students. These tools can be as simple as little brain breaks or breathing exercises. Taking a walk around the neighborhood or playing fetch with the dog are wonderful ways to reset and recharge. It is often in these moments outside of the stresses of the day that we have those “shower moments” of inspiration. Those little moments where you get to stop and smell the roses (or coffee) are absolutely necessary for success. Our name is Take A Breath Tutors for a reason!

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Extra Help

This advice is for both you and your child. Being a student is difficult – being a parent infinitely more so. Do not be afraid to reach out to other parents, students, teachers, tutors, mental health professionals, etc. Use every tool in your belt. Asking for help shows strength, not weakness. 

I wish you all the best of luck in your school year!