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.

14 Responses to “What to do when your child is struggling in school”

  1. Anonymous says:

    We are parents with a child who is struggling with his school work and not focusing…..we tried the to work with the teacher and it did not seem to work. our son was coming home with notes saying he is misbehaving in class and my son would say he did not know the work so the teacher would get upset with him. we were working with him at home but in school was a different scenerio.I’m afraid that our son feels ashame when he’s in school and not keeping up with everyone else so he shuts down when he feel like he did’t do his best…..very concerned parents…what can i do

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am also trying to extra work at home with my nine year old daughter but she is still behind everyone else in her class. Also she is starting to think she is different from the rest of the girls which doesnt do much for her confidence. She has an individual learning programme in place and because she is in primary 6 I worry about her when she goes to secondary school.

  3. Anonymous says:

    We are parents to 10yr old girl and she often feels the work is to hard for her she is behind in all subjects except music,with the help of her school and teachers we have put in place a program that helps her in the hard areas, but that still doesn’t work. she gets fustrated easy and it may take her a few hours to get 3-4 sheets of paper done she also tkes her fustration out on her sister who is 8 what does a parent do?

  4. I know this is an issue that affects many families. Each child and struggle is unique and important. My first advice is to stay connected with the school and voice your concerns and learn about any programs that might be of benefit.

  5. Anonymous says:

    To anonymous, I have experienced the same situation with my 8 year old child regarding school work and not focusing. My child has went to four school so far and out of the four two of them had reported issues. From my experience I have noticed that the two schools that had no problem with my child recognized that he needed extra help and did their job as teachers to address his needs and also said he had no behavioral problems. The other two one of which he is currently attending now has reported concerns and recommended counseling and not focusing in school. I recommend that you ask more questions at school and find out what types of problems are they refering to and what the teacher has done to help steer that behavior in a more liked or expected direction. Also knowing how many years of teaching is a big one you should know. You’d probably want to find a more experienced teacher that is able to control her class. My child has always worked well in an environment where the teacher has control and the environment is more structured. Another important thing to consider is how your child is being treated at school. My son has always reported being teased, threatened and hit physically by another student or students which led to acting out and being bad. The trouble stopped and the misbehaving and not doing his work came along shortly after.

  6. Brandy says:

    I have a nine year old son that is currently getting a F in math. He struggles with school and has struggled since he first started school. When my son does not know something he cries, looses his temper and acts out in class by slaming his fists on the desk and most of the time he just shuts down and won’t say or do anything. He used to recieve assistance in school and was told he did not need it anymore. he is behind in other ways also, even though he is 9 he tends to act as a younger child. He is not slow but something is not right. I need help. The school states they want me to talk to him but that is not going to solve the problem. WHAT SHOULD I DO?? HELP PLEASE!!

  7. Brandy,
    It might help to have your child evaluated, either by the school or privately. If you have a gut feeling that something is not quite right, it’s usually good to go with your gut. In the meanwhile, stay in communication with the school and talk with the school counselor or psychologist about interventions that could used.

  8. Brandy says:

    First let me start by saying Thank You Erin for the advice. I would like to tell you some of the interventions that we have taken at home with Joshua. We took all video games, toys and tv privleges away. Joshua and his sister can only watch TV for one hour a day if they have time and only educational shows. No cartoons. This has made a tremendous difference in just two weeks. We are working hard at home and trying to keep things in order. Joshua is now in the school band, playing the French Horn and in the school chorus. He will be starting Basketball lessons in November. I think the main problem with my son’s behavior and difficulty was from his parents. He needed structure and we need to stay consistent. Thanks again, I will keep you posted and hopefully this will help someone else.

  9. Erin N. King says:

    Brandy,
    Glad to hear things are going well. Thanks so much for your honesty.

  10. Anonymous says:

    My son is 6 years old, at home he gets all his spellings correct, at school he gets 2 maybe 3. Ive been told by his teacher he has considerable problems focusing and hardly ever finishes a piece of work. Should I mention ADHD or ADD to his teacher or is this just labelling, or possibly making an excuse for a lazy boy

  11. Anonymous says:

    My daughter too is struggling. She’s 10 and has been behind since preschool only I was too nieve to see it then. I mostly blamed her lack of focus on age, she has a June birthday, but as the yrs have gone by its become more obvious it’s something more. She’s a beautiful child. Kind, funny, respectful and has never had behavior problems. She’s been tested numerous times and has slow processing issues, coding issues and visual processing issues. I recently read those are they keys to intelligence. She has an average iq but she’s slower to “get” things than my other children. We’ve paid for private tutors, visual therapy, gluten free diet, yoga, add medication, no tv, heavy on sports, no sports, music lessons, acupuncture, summer school for four years, special Ed and more with no real improvement. Our state now has graduation requirements that include a cumulative test in order to earn a diploma. I worry daily that she won’t pass that test and then what? I’m sick with worry. We spend numerous hours a week on homework and reading. I feel like there’s no time for her to just be a kid we have too much to learn. It’s driving me crazy and I know it’s not good for her confidence. When do we lose the dreams of seeing them graduate from college and lower our expectations?

  12. Anonymous says:

    I have an 11 year old girl who has been diagnosed ADhd. She is very smart and is in a gifted school. She has problems with friends and doesn’t feel like she belongs. She is an only child, is most comfortale with adults. The days are hard on her sometimes, kids are so judgemental. She works at a slower pace than others in her class. She is in a class with kids who work faster. Not a good combo. she is that kid who asks questions and everyone rolls their eyes at, no one wants to work with her. She struggles to get it but loves school. She doesn’t pick up on social cues and repeats social mistakes. She says the kids call her annoying. Sometimes she makes things up, then corrects herself and appears like she’s lieing. Not one of these kids is perfect but why must they be so critical of each other. So sad. Even with all of this, she loves school, loves learning and gets up and goes everyday with a good attitude. I just wish I knew what to say about the other kids to her.

  13. Fraser says:

    Hello all…I have a son who is now turns 5 in the next few days.he is a very caring young man who never struggles to put a smile on your face.today we had he pleasure of being invited to his school by the head and teacher to discuss his progress.it was said he is very bright,intelligent and has progressed well in his reading but lacks on his motor skills and following sale instructions in class and during activities such as PE.they were also VERY keen to stress hat we need to find him another school as they Can no longer support his needs as he has severe behaviour issues where other parents may have raised issues.This came as a surprise as this is a private school of which we pay £9500 a year.we thought thy would have supported him more as apposed to throwing in the towel when he is still in reception.it was also mentioned that we need to seek medical advise on his behaviour and all that came to mind was that he might indeed have ADHD as he is very energetic and has no control of his energy or body.we have both send the evening in tears as we are not to sure where we have failed a son that we want to give the best….please can some one help me…..if he was to be diagnosed with ADHD does it help or work and does it affect the bubbly child we have grown to know…please will some one just share things they have done to help in similar cases.we are desperate to see him improve and progress…

  14. Anonymous says:

    My son is very bright and does well academically. He has a big personality and is a natural leader. Over the years of his education teachers with little experience, under 5 years teaching do not seem to know how to manage my him. His grade are good and he’s a happy person. I have notices that some teacher feel if they can get him under control they can then control the whole class. Some teachers have been highly inappropriate with comments and consequence. I have taken him out of schools who seem to only focus on compliancy.I’ve noticed schools with a higher socio-economic student body embrace the free thinkers and value independence and questioning. He is now in 11th grade at a fairly new charter school. The teachers there would like him to see their psychologist and need my approval. It seems they want this so they can have further support as teachers. I really do not want him to see their psychologist yet do not want to be disagreeable. Question – Will his attending with their person open us up to their scrutiny and effect out privacy?