Why Do Some Children Fall Behind At School?

Children often seem to lose interest in school. They may find the work boring or too hard, or they might have more serious problems, such as bullying. Thankfully, the reason is usually something less dramatic and the situation only temporary.

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Sleeping schoolboy using textbook as a pillow Children are not yet grown up, and they have shorter attention spans than us adults. This temporary situation, if prolonged, may lead to a drop in grades and a decline in education. So, what can parents do to reignite their child's interest before academic struggles begin? This guide provides advice and useful tips to address this concern.

Understanding the Causes of Children Falling Behind at School

Children's schoolwork may suffer for various reasons, as each child is unique. Here are some common causes to be aware of:


  • Insufficient sleep: Not getting enough sleep is detrimental, especially for children. Studies show that just one hour of nightly sleep deprivation can lower youngsters' IQs. Ensure your child gets sufficient sleep (approximately 11 hours for a 5-year-old and 9 for a teenager).
  • Poor diet: Children need the right nutrients for growth and brain development. Ensure a balanced diet and incorporate physical activity, as it increases blood flow to the brain and promotes optimal function.
  • Boredom: Some children may struggle if they are not sufficiently challenged by their classwork.
  • Difficulty level: While some children find the work too easy, others may be assigned tasks beyond their current capability.
  • Learning difficulties: Undiagnosed conditions such as autism, ADHD, or dyslexia can contribute to academic challenges.
  • Other issues: Problems at school, home, or mental health issues can impact a child's performance.
  • Laziness: A common reason for falling behind, but fortunately, one that is relatively easy to address.

Initiating Communication with Your Child's Teacher

Teachers aim to bring out the best in their students and should notice if a child is struggling. However, if you identify issues before they do, arrange a meeting with your child's teacher (in primary school) or subject teacher (in secondary). During the discussion, inquire about specific areas where your child is falling behind. Teachers can identify reasons and propose plans for improvement, providing extra help or suggestions for home support. If learning difficulties are suspected, they can guide you towards necessary assistance or refer you to the school's SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator).

If your meeting is prompted by concerns, communicate them to the teacher, explaining observations at home. Teachers, being observant, can shed light on your child's behaviour and performance, helping you understand potential factors such as difficulty with peers, challenging coursework, boredom, or fatigue.

Maintaining open communication with your child's teacher is crucial for their education.

Effective Communication with Your Child

Once you notice your child falling behind, initiate a conversation with them. Communicating with children can be challenging, so choose opportune moments like bath time, bedtime, or car journeys. Avoid questioning them immediately after school, allowing time to unwind. Ask about their day, progressing to specific questions about the best and worst parts. Even brief answers like 'Boring,' 'Nothing,' or 'OK' may reveal underlying issues.

Stay calm and focused during the conversation, sticking to facts rather than emotions. If you've spoken to their teacher, discuss decisions made and planned actions. If not, address their poor performance, gently asking for explanations. Encourage your child's input on resolving the issue, listening to their ideas while having your own plan, such as establishing a dedicated study area and a homework routine.

Supporting Your Child's Learning at Home

The best way to assist your child at home is to start early, preventing them from falling behind. A Save the Children study found that 84% of children not meeting expected standards by age 7 struggled academically thereafter. Literacy is crucial, so encourage daily reading. If your child has fallen behind, adjust your approach to homework, creating a distraction-free study area and a consistent homework schedule.

If your child completes all assigned homework punctually, you'll likely see improvement. Sometimes, a little extra effort is all it takes.


Considerations for Rewarding Your Child's Effort

While excelling at school should be rewarding in itself, some children may need extra motivation. Exercise moderation in using rewards and punishments. Punishments need not be severe, and rewards should not be excessive. It's crucial to reward effort rather than achievement, recognizing that children have varying abilities.

Emphasize rewarding effort over achievement for a more balanced approach.

Exploring the Impact of After-School Activities

Teenage boy learning to play the guitar

Exercise moderation with after-school activities, as too many can adversely affect schoolwork. However, a couple of enjoyable activities can enhance behaviour and academic results. Extracurricular activities teach the value of hard work, whether in sports, arts, or other clubs. Learning a musical instrument, in particular, has shown to improve various skills, including literacy, maths, language, memory, spatial awareness, and IQ. If your child enjoys an activity, encourage them to continue for a few weeks before considering alternatives.

Considering Private Tutoring as an Option

If your child is falling behind, private tutoring is a viable option. While private tutors offer one-on-one attention, they can be expensive. Online education sites provide a more affordable alternative, costing around £10 per month. To address your child's challenges, identify the causes, communicate with both your child and their teacher, and actively support their learning at home. Taking an interest in your child's education sets them on the right path for life.

Do you have any questions about education? Explore the EQ Knowledge Bank, a valuable resource with articles addressing specific questions from parents. Covering not only education but also offering advice on parenting issues such as promoting self-confidence, preventing bullying, and ensuring online safety.


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