6 Tips to Help a Child Struggling in School
May 4, 2020
Every child struggles in school at some point. As a parent, this can be hard to watch. Here’s what you need to know to help your child overcome challenges.
Some students sail through school from pre-K to high school graduation, while others have to work a little harder for each success. But every student struggles from time to time.
As a parent, how do you recognize your child’s struggles? “It could be that your child is saying they don’t want to go to school. Maybe they don’t want to do any of the homework that is sent home. Maybe their attitude toward school has suddenly changed,” says Renee Wendt, a math interventionist at Dove Academy of Detroit, a public charter school on Detroit’s east side.
It’s hard to see your child struggle. You want your child’s educational experience to be trouble-free, but when that’s not possible, there are ways you can help.
Here, we have gathered six ways you can help your child with challenges at school.
1. Check in early and often.
Be proactive! Don’t wait for information about your child’s progress in school to come to you, suggests Marsha Lewis, assistant principal at Western International High School in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. “You never want to wait until their report card,” she says. “Your school online portal gives you so much more than just an academic view. It shows you an early indicator to any challenges your child might be having. Make sure that you pay close attention.”
2. Give the school a heads up.
Every family has challenges from time to time, and children share in these hardships. Sometimes, difficulties at home – no matter how small – can affect a child’s ability to focus on schoolwork, Lewis says. The illness of a grandparent or other close family member, or the loss of a pet, even a goldfish, can be upsetting to a child. “There might be trauma, things going on in a child’s life outside of school. It’s a good idea to let the school know if there was a fire, or if a parent was deported, for example,” Lewis says.
Parents may not always want to share specifics about challenges at home, but they should see their child’s school community as a resource that can connect them to additional help. “They can help you find resources and support you didn’t know existed,” Lewis says.
3. Partner with your school when a teacher or administrator reaches out.
Your school is filled with people who are invested in your child’s development and are committed to letting you know if they see a problem. Teachers are trained to recognize when a child is experiencing real academic struggles, or is just having a bad day, Lewis says. “Understand that if a teacher reaches out, it’s from a place of love from someone who is interested in your child’s development. Schools can catch developmental changes before a parent might see it. There may be times when you are asked to come in and help create a plan for your child,” Lewis says. Be open to partnering with your child’s school for the best possible outcome.
4. Watch for frustration and be prepared to help your child overcome it.
A child’s frustration can stem from many causes, including difficulty grasping a fundamental concept, to confusion over the best way to solve a math problem, Wendt notes.
Often, however, students become frustrated because the work they are asked to do lacks a certain “wow factor,” Wendt says. “Through electronic devices, students have become accustomed to overstimulation, and then they get presented work that doesn’t have the bells and whistles they are used to. It can be hard to keep their attention,” Wendt says. “One thing you can do is start with some screen limitations, not as a punishment, but to help reclaim focus. Instead, your child can go outside, or read a book.”
Alternatively, parents can choose academic-based programs that the child can play on the computer or mobile device to add a game-like experience to learning. “Maybe roll with it, rather than work against it,” Wendt suggests.
5. Empathize with your child.
Letting your child see that you aren’t perfect can help ease struggles, Wendt says. “Create a relationship with your child where you show some vulnerability. Share an experience that caused you to struggle. Show that you can relate to what they are going through, even if it’s not the exact same thing or feeling,” she says. “Let them see you as a person.”
6. Seek help from trusted sources.
“Connect with family members who are experiencing a similar issue, look for books that might help, consult the school social worker,” Wendt says. “Some schools may have counselors or psychologists. Asking for help isn’t a negative thing. It’s just showing that you need more ideas and resources.”
Sometimes teachers can help in unexpected ways. “I recall a high school student who was acting out because her parents were getting a divorce. I talked with her and told her I went through the same thing at her age, and I shared how much that affected me as a young person,” Lewis says. “She didn’t realize someone else had been through what she was going through. I think it was helpful to her.”
Finally, know that your school is committed to helping your child through challenges, and wherever possible, learn from their experiences. “Students are our main priority, and we are all growing toward their future excellence,” Lewis says. “We encourage students to be their authentic selves. A child may be having struggles, but we are committed to helping them make sure they are their best selves.”