What can I do if my Child is Struggling at School?

There may be times when children fall behind at school. To help them, find out why they are struggling. Communication is key. Then you can work with your child, and their teachers, to put things right

Boy struggling to understand his school workWe all want our children to do well in school but, despite your best efforts, there may be times when they fall behind. What’s worse, it may be some time before you even notice. The sooner you can help them, the better. So how can you tell if your child is struggling and, if they are, what can you do about it? This guide will offer tips and advice which will help you to help your child.

What are the signs a child is falling behind at school?

If your child starts to struggle with their schoolwork, they may feel shame or embarrassment. If so, they will be unlikely to tell you about it. The more time that passes, the further behind they will get so it’s vital that you intervene at the earliest opportunity. So, how can you tell if your child has a problem? There are several warning signs to look out for. Here are some of the most common:

  • Child spends a long time doing homework – Children should be set sensible amounts of homework. If your child is spending too much time completing theirs then they may have a problem
  • Child is reluctant to talk about school – None of us like to discuss things that make us uncomfortable, and children are no exception. If your child starts to avoid the topic of school then they could be struggling
  • Child’s attitude changes for the worse – If your formerly calm child begins to act aggressively or rudely then it’s a sign that something is making them unhappy. If angry episodes occur just before or after school then they may be finding the work too hard
  • Child’s motivation dwindles – If you hear the words ‘School’s boring’ then be on your guard. Children often describe things they don’t understand as ‘boring’. Be aware though that they may also find school boring if the work they are given is too easy
  • Child starts getting into trouble – Misbehaviour is often the result of frustration. Before they’ve learned the social skills necessary to communicate effectively, they may ‘lash out’ as a way to get attention
  • Child shows signs of depression – Children can and do suffer from depression and this can be a sign that they are struggling at school. If they become lethargic, their appetite drops or they begin to have trouble sleeping, these could all be warning signs
  • Child’s teacher raises concerns – This is the most obvious sign but, all too often, the last to be noticed. Teachers are the ones who know children’s academic abilities the best. If they notice your child is falling behind the rest of the class then they will let you know. Hopefully, they should have some suggestions as to how things can be improved

Why do some children struggle in school?

There are many reasons why a child may start to fall behind at school. No two pupils are the same so there is no one answer to the question. There are some causes which are particularly common though. Here’s a few of them:

  • Stress – Events at home or in their personal lives can have detrimental effects on a student’s schoolwork. Divorce, bereavement or bullying for example can be stressful for children
  • Social awkwardness – A perfectly bright child may start to struggle at school because of a lack of confidence. Shyness and social phobia may lead to a lack of participation, a fear of school and a downturn in grades
  • Slow learner – It’s an ugly phrase, but it’s true that some children learn at a slower pace than others. We all have different levels of intelligence and some are naturally less able than others
  • Special educational needs – A surprising amount of children (up to 20%) have special educational need of one kind or another. These can vary from learning difficulties to ADHD, Autism or dyslexia. What’s worse, many children with these conditions are never diagnosed and so their needs are not met

How can I help if my child is falling behind at school?

So you’ve noticed that your child is struggling at school. Now, what can you do about it? There are many practical things you can do which we’ll look at in greater detail below.

Talk to your child

The first thing you’ll want to do is find the cause of the problem. Don’t just assume that your child is being lazy – as we’ve seen, there can be many different reasons why a student starts to fall behind. Communication is the key to this. Speak to your child calmly and rationally. There may be problems you are unaware of so don’t be judgemental or aggressive. For children to communicate they need to feel that you are approachable and empathetic.

Talk to the school

As soon as you suspect that your child is falling behind, then talk to their teachers. Time is of the essence so don’t wait for the next parents’ evening to come around – make an appointment straight away. If there is a problem the teachers will have noticed it too (in fact, they may get in touch with you first) and, together, you may well be able to find a way to tackle the issue.

Whatever you do, don’t blame the teachers. Many parents get angry with schools, believing they should have noticed the problem sooner, or thinking that their method of teaching is at fault. In reality, teachers want to get the best out of every child they teach and will try their upmost to help.

Help with homework

If you want your child to do well at school, then the right home environment will help. Take homework for example. Many parents let their children do this important task half-heartedly whilst watching TV or messing with their mobile. Not only are these distractions, they send the message that schoolwork is not that important.

Set aside an amount of time each day which is devoted to homework – no TV, no going out, no games consoles, and no other distractions. Also, create a comfortable place for homework to be done – a study would be ideal or, failing that, a desk in a quiet room with all of the necessary tools and equipment on hand.

You can get involved with your child’s homework too. Check it for errors and provide help if necessary. Homework time can actually be a good opportunity for parents and children to bond.

Make changes

The first thing a lot of parents do when they find their child is struggling, is to clamp down on the rules. But this may be a mistake. If the current rules in your home have not worked then making them tighter is unlikely to help. Instead, work with your child to draw up a new set of rules. Perhaps change the set homework time, or allow privileges once homework has been done. The main point of this is that it involves your child in the decision making process, rather than forcing rules upon them. If they feel involved in their education, children are much more likely to be motivated. Forced rules, in which they had no input, could cause resentment and actually make things worse.

Stay calm

Angry mother confronting daughter over school work

A child who is struggling at school may get upset at home. If homework brings about tantrums or tirades of anger, don’t let this get to you. Walk away and let your child calm down before you speak to them. You are unlikely to have a rational conversation if you or your child are upset.

Be a positive parent

If you are a tough parent then your child may come to see you as ‘the enemy’. Instead of getting irate when you find your child’s schoolwork is suffering, try to be more understanding. Yes, the issue has to be addressed, but try to work with your child rather than against them.

To make sure your child knows you love them, tell them. If you are disappointed in their grades then your child may see it as you being disappointed with them. Praise them when they try hard, even if their grades don’t improve. If effort is rewarded then that’s a motivation to try. If grades are rewarded (or punished) then a child may feel under pressure.

Does my child have special educational needs?

As I mentioned earlier, as many as 20% of schoolchildren may have special educational needs. Of these, a good proportion are never diagnosed. Conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia may not be discovered until adulthood, if at all, and they can have terrible effects on a child’s education. The great physicist, Einstein, did poorly at school despite his exceptionally high IQ. It’s now suspected that he had a form of autism.

If you have any suspicion that your child may have special educational needs then talk to their school. Each has a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) who will be able to offer you advice. And, if all else fails, you can always consult your GP.

So, what can you do if your child is falling behind at school? Quite a bit! Talk to them and their school to find the cause and a way to tackle the problem. With help and the right strategy, together you should be able to turn things around.

If you have any questions about parenting or education, then you may find the answer in our Knowledge Bank. It’s a collection of informative articles which aim to help parents through the challenges of child raising.

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