This year's first report cards aren't out yet, but something tells you that all is not well with your child this school year.
If you were home every day, you could talk over her day at school while the events are still fresh in her mind and her feelings still close to the surface.
But you're at work during those first critical hours after school, so you'll have to be more subtle. Here are some ways to determine if your child is having problems at school:
* Check in by phone after school. If you can't check in yourself, ask a friend or relative or the parent of a playmate to pinch-hit for you -- and to write down anything negative, no matter how seemingly insignificant, your child says.
* Ask your child questions that can't be answered with one word. Not "How was school?" but, "What was the best thing that happened in school today? Why was it the best? What was the worst thing? How did you feel when it happened?"
* Ask her to finish sentences: "I really liked school today because. . . ." or "I really hated school today because. . . ."
* Avoid the temptation to cross-examine your child. Sometimes children fill a comfortable silence with information we could never pry out of them with rapid-fire questions.
* If your child is in an after-school program, ask for a conference with the staffer who's in contact with her when she first arrives.
* Remember that the best heart-to-heart talks generally don't occur when a parent orchestrates them, but in the car, in check-out lines, during the rush to get supper on the table, and just as the phone rings.
On the other hand, it's possible to glean more information and insight in three minutes of really listening to a child who's ready to talk than in an hour with one who's not.
* Arrange a conference with your child's teacher(s). Tell your child about this meeting, make it clear that she's done nothing wrong, and ask if there are any questions she wants you to ask her teacher.
* Before you talk to a teacher, check your own attitude. Remember: You and she are on the same side and have the same goals.
* Find out ahead of time the amount of time that's been allotted for your conference, then decide ahead of time which of your concerns have priority.
* If you feel as if a teacher isn't taking your concerns seriously, or the chemistry between you and her or your child and her isn't right, consider requesting a meeting with her and the school principal.
* Finally, remember that children whose parents are home full-time also hit a rough patch in school from time to time -- and often don't want to talk about it.