Is Your Child Struggling with School? 7 Simple Ways You Can Help

Many times children will perform well in school and then slowly parents will notice a drop off in their grades. That is what happened with Kelly Freiman. Her son, Mikey, 11, enjoyed going to school. He didn’t love reading but was doing well in all his other subjects. As his 6th grade year progressed his grades moved from A’s and B’s to some C’s and one D. Kelly was concerned. She tried taking away his privileges if he didn’t do his homework and setting up incentive programs. Nothing seemed to work. She felt if he just put in more effort he would be able to do well.

It is difficult to motivate children to learn. It is one of the toughest challenges parents and educators have. Parents have a vested interest in their child’s school performance. If their child fails they think they have failed as parents. They also feel it is a direct reflection on their parenting abilities. They blame themselves and confront their child in anger. A child then feels the pressure of having disappointed their parents. Besides their difficulties in school they are also dealing with the emotions of dragging their parents down. This causes children to feel even more discouraged and further compromises their academic career.

Many times parents will say to their child, “If you just try harder, you can do better.” It is difficult for children to listen to this type of vague directive. Many times children have problems with school and they don’t know how to even begin to improve their grades. They become embarrassed by their limitations. They will resort to clowning around or acting tough to cover their insecurities. This behavior can anger parents and teachers and distract them from focusing on the underlying academic issues.

There are many ways we can help our children when they are struggling in school. Here are 7 simple steps to help you manage :

1. Stay calm:

Recognize that you are not solely responsible for your child’s academic success. When your child comes home with a bad grade, get objective. Tell yourself, “My son came home with a “D.” That is too bad. What is he missing that he needs help with? What can I help him do so that he can succeed and take responsiblity for his work?”

2. “You are so smart!”:

Don’t praise your child for his intelligence, saying things like, “You are the brightest kid I know!” Instead make sure to praise him for working hard and for persevering at a difficult task. Children who are praised for putting in effort are more likely to keep trying when they encounter setbacks. They know they have control over their ability to learn. Children who are told they are smart have a harder time with school. They give up when they have to complete assignments that leave them feeling “not-so-smart”

3. Don’t get mad:

Instead of reacting to your child’s poor grade with anger respond with kindness and understanding. If you respond in frustration to your child’s less than perfect schoolwork, you actually decrease your child’s motivation to learn. It is important to periodically say, “I hope you know I love you no matter what your grades are.” Try to place the responsibility for his schoolwork back on your child where it belongs. Try saying, “I am sure you are disappointed with your grade. Let me know if I can help you or support you in anyway.”

4. Avoid power struggles:
When we engage in power struggles with our children all learning stops. Children cannot learn when they are upset. We need to avoid the downward spiral into conflict. We can say, “I will always love you. I want you to make good choices in life even about school. I have faith that you can turn yourself around. I will always be here if you need some suggestions.”

5. Keep your relationships positive:

The best thing you can do for your children is to maintain a loving relationship with them. Children who feel loved unconditionally will more likely do well in school. Don’t let your child feel that your approval is based on his grades. It is a recipe for disaster. Instead of wasting your energy on managing your child’s schoolwork develop ways to spend quality time with your child. It is a better use of time.

6. Talk to teachers:
Set up a meeting to talk to your son’s teachers. Make sure to set a positive tone to the meeting. Start the conversation in a non-confrontational way: “I have been noticing a decline in Sara’s grades, have you noticed anything? Is there anything I can do at home to help him? What is your opinion of her academic performance?”

7. Get tested:

Children sometimes will lag behind their peers because of subtle learning differences. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. There are standardized tests that can help pinpoint deficits in learning.

In Mikey’s case, Kelly spoke to his teachers. They acknowledged that 6th grade can be more challenging for kids, even children who have always done well. Kelly spoke to Mikey calmly and he confided that he was having a hard time understanding the written work. He was too embarrassed to ask for assistance. His teachers were made aware of this and set up a system where Mikey could get some extra help. Kelly reported that his grades this semester have improved overall.

*** Check out our School Paper and Homework Mastery Kit for further ideas on helping your child get their homework completed in a timely manner.
QUESTION: Do you have any additional tips based on experiences with your children?  What do you do when your child is struggling in school?

CHALLENGE: If you find yourself in a situation where your child isn’t doing as well in school as you would like, remember these ideas and commit to handling the situation in a calm, deliberate manner.

This article is reprinted with permission from Parenting Simply.



  1. says

    As parents we should be aware of where our child succeeds and where they struggle. School should be a place in which our child gathers strength, not stress.

  2. Jeanette says

    Yes! Just what I needed today. Our oldest just started high school at a private school and is finding the academic rigor challenging and frustrating, despite his always having been a straight A student. These tips are great reminders of how to deal with this.

  3. says

    I was a high school teacher before deciding to stay home with my son, and I would add to this that when you meet with the teachers, start with a compliment about their class, if you can. Parent meetings are usually negative, and teachers work so hard and could use the affirmation if it is genuine. Plus, that little compliment will show the teachers that you are there to collaborate with them, not attack them. Then, instead of jumping right to the grade (which honestly isn’t always a true indication of learning), just say something like, “I am concerned about my son because he seems to be struggling more than he has in the past, and is there anything I can do to support him and to support you from home?”.

    My biggest advice for parents would be NOT to focus on grades and to instead focus on learning. If you talk to your sons/daughters about what they are learning, and if you yourself model learning and being engaged and interested in the world, your children will gain the education that they need, even if they aren’t straight-A students.

    Sorry for the tangent–but I dealt with a lot of grade-obsessed parents in my career! (And lots of wonderful, balanced parents too.)

    Thanks for the great article!!

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