by Donna Venezio, LCSW
Some children struggle academically more than others. But, even the most academically talented child will likely encounter a school subject that is particularly challenging, or just not “click” with a certain teacher. Whether your child is just having some temporary difficulties in school, or if they have learning differences that make academics a greater challenge overall, there are things you can do to ensure they reach their full potential in school. Here are answers to some of parents’ most pressing questions about what to do when their child is having difficulty in school:
What can I do at home to help my child overcome the challenges he or she is having in the classroom?
Sometimes, we get so busy that we become the “homework police” instead of a partner in our child’s education. But, when you are involved in your child’s learning, you set the foundation for strong study habits, which leads to future academic success. Being a partner means knowing what your child is learning in school, helping them study and being available to answer questions when they arise. It also entails making sure that your child has adequate school supplies, a designated “homework time,” (when TVs, iPads and phones are not available) and a quiet environment to study. For younger children, it may mean going through their backpack on a daily basis. Being involved sends a message to your child that school is important, and you are there to help them be successful.
What resources exist to help children who are struggling in school?
Nearly all schools have tutoring programs, and many of them are run by teachers. There are also outside tutoring programs that are available in many communities. When seeking a tutor, some parents hire a high school or college student, which can be less expensive than professional tutoring programs.
How should a parent approach a teacher or other school official when their child isn’t doing well, and what should the parent expect from the school?
Communication with your child’s teacher is vital when your child is struggling. Teachers are experts and should be able to explain the specific barriers impeding your child’s success. Most teachers welcome communication with parents. You can request a meeting, or correspond with your child’s teacher through email. You can also ask for feedback through a note sent home with your child every week explaining your child’s current progress.
How do I know if my child has child has a learning disability, or if poor school performance is due to something else?
If your child puts significant effort into their school work, but is still unable to remember or understand the material, it may be due to a learning disability. However, this can only be confirmed by testing performed by a psychologist. If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, ask to speak to the school psychologist, and request that your child be tested. You can also look for a private psychologist who specializes in psycho-educational testing to determine if your child is struggling with a learning disability. Some children have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), which can significantly impact their ability to stay focused on school work. Children with ADHD often avoid homework and can be oppositional when it comes time to do school work. If you suspect ADHD, seek an evaluation by your pediatrician, or with a child psychiatrist.
Could my child’s academic challenges be due to a condition other that a learning disability?
Yes. Mental health conditions can impede a child’s progress in school. Children who are depressed and/or anxious may have difficulty focusing in in the classroom. If there are family problems at home, your child may be preoccupied due to conflicts or trauma. If you are concerned that your child is struggling with mental health issues, contact your pediatrician or mental health provider. Treatment is available and can lead to very positive outcomes – especially with early intervention.
How should a parent communicate with a child who is struggling in school?
When a child is consistently struggling in school, it can negatively impact their self-esteem. They may feel like they are disappointing both their parents and their teacher. Your words have an effect on those feelings. It is important to avoid being critical, and instead offer support as you convey to your child that, together, you will figure out what is making school work difficult. Parents can also create a behavior modification chart, where your child receives a sticker for everyday they complete their homework without complaining. After your child receives a certain number of stickers, they can earn a small prize or fun outing.
I feel angry about my child’s poor school performance. What is the best way for me to handle those feelings?
We often just “expect” our child to get good grades. However, it’s a good idea to stop and reflect back on your own school performance. Did you always get good grades? Were there times that you struggled? Make sure your expectations are realistic. Not every child is able to get straight A’s. Ask yourself: Am I angry because my child is getting poor grades, or am I angry out of frustration from not knowing how to help them? It’s challenging to deal with a child who refuses to complete homework or has poor study habits. Let your child know that there are rules about responsibility for schoolwork that they are expected to follow. Also, keep in mind that when a child has an extreme avoidance of school work, it can be a warning sign of a problem that needs attention.
How do I keep communication open with my child so that they will talk to me if they are having trouble in school, instead of waiting until the issue becomes more serious?
Children will not open up to you when you are angry. Sit down to discuss your concerns when you and your child are calm. Remember that most children want to do well and be successful academically, but sometimes they can’t make that happen. It’s okay to say to your child, “I am worried about how school is going for you. How can we make it better? How can I help you?”
Some children struggle academically more than others.