What to do when your child is struggling in school
Parents often feel lost when they recognize that their child is struggling in school. They want to help and fix the problem before it gets worse, but often don’t know how to help or who to go to. A parent should start by going to the teacher and having an open discussion about the problem and trying to understand both the parent and teacher perspective of the issue. Having an open relationship between parent and teacher is invaluable. If the child continues to struggle after help from the parent and teacher, a group of professionals and the parent should meet to discuss interventions. This meeting is sometimes called a Child Study Meeting or an Instructional Support Team. Once the interventions are decided upon, time should be given to see if the interventions are successful. The committee may decide to have a full special education evaluation if a disability is suspected.
Here are some of the more common reasons that a child is struggling in school. In the future, I may go into more detail for each of these:
The student has attention problems, making it difficult to concentrate and stay focused in the classroom. When a student struggles with inattention, he begins to have gaps in his knowledge because he misses key points during instruction. As knowledge builds upon prior knowledge, school becomes more and more difficult when there are gaps, making it even more difficult to maintain attention. Additionally, when it is hard to concentrate on the work, work is accomplished less efficiently. See ADHD Overview and ADHD FAQ for information on ADHD. Parents can talk to the school psychologist or the child’s medical provider to see if an evaluation is recommended.
The student is having emotional problems, making it difficult to focus on academics. When there is something significant happening at home or in the classroom, it can affect a child’s concentration and motivation in school. If you are aware of any significant life changes such as divorce or a death in the family, fighting at home, or even bullying at school, realize that academics may take a backseat in her life for awhile. The best thing to do is to seek counseling, either with the school counselor or privately. Ignoring the problem and waiting for it to go away can prolong the difficulties (emotionally and academically) and the child may develop maladaptive ways to handle stress and difficult situations. Talk to your school counselor or school psychologist immediately for strategies to help in the classroom and consider private counseling.
The student has a learning disability that is impacting education. When a student has a learning disability, she typically has average intelligence, but struggles in some academic area. This is due to a deficit in processing information in a specific way. For example a student with an auditory processing deficit has trouble interpreting information she hears. She will need to learn in a more visual manner and have accommodations to address the auditory processing deficit. There are several different types of processing deficits. The deficit will show itself in a regular classroom, by the student struggling significantly in one or more content areas. Consider a special education evaluation to determine if your child has a learning disability.
The student learns at a slower pace than other students. Some schools refer to this student as a “slow learner” or “struggling learner.” This is a student who has the ability to learn, but learns at a slower pace than the typical student and begins to fall behind. This student will need tutoring or extra instruction to keep up with the class. It would be good to look into what remedial programs or tutoring the school provides. However, student’s who learn more slowly often do not meet criteria for special education and will need to have accommodations within regular education.
There are other numerous reasons that a child may be struggling academically in school. No two children are the same and every child should be treated as an individual. As a parent, you want to see your precious child succeed. The best advice is to start with the best possible relationship with the teacher and the school to ideally work together. Don’t give up. If you don’t get the answers you need at first, keep trying.