My Child is Struggling in School. How Can I Help?

Is your child struggling in school? Does he/she not seem motivated to make an effort while doing his/her school work? The first thing you need to do is to explore which obstacles are getting in the way. For example, learning issues, social challenges, attention or emotional problems could cause children to disengage academically.



You need to get to the root of the problem to learn how to help your child. Ask yourself questions to assess if it is a physical problem or an emotional issue.


Does he struggle to see the board? He may need glasses.”

Is he anxious about going to school? Maybe there’s an emotional issue.”

Is it hard for him to sit still and focus? He could have a problem paying attention.”


Talk to your children and their teacher to see what may be getting in the way of learning.


You may also want to schedule a professional assessment to evaluate if there is a physical problem (for instance, vision or hearing issues) or whether there is a developmental or behavioural problem, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). A professional assessment will help children with Special Educational Needs get the appropriate support.


Click here to learn how to get an assessment done and when it is needed.


When you know why your child is struggling, take steps to give your support. Some children with learning differences meet with a tutor for a few hours a week to reinforce materials and improve their study skills. Others may benefit from seeing a psychologist for behavioural concerns, or take medicines if attention problems make it hard to focus and learn. With the right support, your children can adjust to any differences they may have and succeed in school.


Not all children who are underperforming in school (not living up to their potential) have a diagnosable problem. Here are several things parents can do to help motivate children to try harder:


1. Get involved


Your presence as a parent is crucial to the academic life of your children. Engage them academically by asking what they have learned in school, doing homework together and letting them know that you are available to answer their questions. Demonstrating your interest in your children’s school life shows them that school can be exciting and interesting. This is especially so for younger children who tend to be excited about whatever their parents are excited about. Share details of your day as well, a two-way conversation is much more comfortable and conducive for relationship building.


For older children, it is important to stay involved but do remember to give them a little more space. Do not ask too many questions as it may feel like an interrogation. Respect your child’s feelings and opinions and do not jump in with your judgmental statements. This may put a strain on your relationship. If you are on top of your children all the time about homework and academic results, they may develop resistance and be less motivated to do work.



2. Be a good learner yourself


One of the foundations of effective parenting is leading by example. Children observe and learn to behave by mimicking us. If you want your children to be motivated and have a positive attitude towards learning, then you must first model the right behaviour.


Sharing a bit of my personal experience, I read a lot with my preschooler. Every book that I buy for her, I will read beforehand so I know the storyline and I will know if there are any printing errors. I would tell her that this is mummy doing homework. Doing homework is necessary for a better learning experience.


As a result, she was motivated and did quite a number of activity books that I purchased from the bookstores (colourful and fun ones, of course!). She would request to do more difficult and challenging books because learning is fun for her. Do get age-appropriate learning materials that are attractive to your child. If you do not feel attracted to the book, neither will your child.



3. Use reinforcement


Many parents are nervous about rewarding children for good work. Tangible rewards can indeed turn into a slippery slope. But there are ways to use extrinsic motivation that will eventually be internalized by your child. Children respond very well to social reinforcers such as praises, hugs and high fives. These make them feel good and encourage them to continue their good work.


Divide the work into small chunks and use small breaks or treats as rewards for getting through each chunk. Parents may use rewarding activities after a set amount of time doing homework. Small treats, which your child enjoys and are easy to provide, such as sharing a candy bar, biscuits or fruits or just simply lying down to rest for a short while.



4. Reward effort rather than outcome


The message you want to send is that you respect and value hard work. There are simple things you could do to teach your children the pleasure of pushing themselves. These include: praising them for following through when things get difficult, for making a sustained effort, and for trying things they are not confident in. Praise for good grades that come without much effort can make children feel they should not have to exert themselves.


I personally use a reward chart to encourage certain behaviour and skills which I would like my child to pick up. Once the behaviour has been internalized, I would remove it from the reward chart. For example, I used to reward her for picking up after herself. After I noticed that she tidied up her toys and books every time she was done with them, I removed this from the reward chart and put in a new “skill”.



5. Help them see the big picture


For older children who have developed an understanding of delayed gratification, sometimes simple reminders of their long-term goals can help push them. Linking school up with their long-term goals can make the work feel more personally fulfilling. This can help students who slack off after getting into their desired courses and schools to get back on track.


My preschooler has recently shown interest in learning the piano. I told her that learning the piano is a long journey and requires a lot of financial resources. So she had to make some adjustments to her lifestyle such as giving up her kiddy rides and toy capsules from those dispensers. Now when we walk past a toy capsule dispenser, she would say that she cannot have a go at the machine as she would be wasting money that could have been used for her piano lessons.



6. Let them make mistakes


No one can get A’s for every test or perfect scores for every assignment. While children need encouragement and it is healthy to push them to try their best, understand that setbacks are natural. Sometimes the only way children could learn how to properly prepare for school is by finding out what happens when they’re unprepared.



7. Get outside help


One way to take a little tension away from your relationship with your child is by finding an older student to help him/her out with work. Most undergraduate tutors will charge pretty low rates, and the fact that they are closer to your children’s age may result in better communication. Money well spent for parents as they no longer have to argue with their children and feel stressed out. Parents would be able to focus on their work better.


Click here to request an undergraduate tutor for your child now!


8. Make the teacher your ally


Another thing you can do for your children is to work with their teacher. The teacher might have additional insights to share such as what your children might be struggling with, or the additional way you could use to motivate them. Likewise, you can share any strategies or information that you have.


Suggestion for ADHD child: Find out who his teacher is on the first day of school. Introduce yourself and alert the teacher that your child has ADHD and finds it hard to focus. Give the teacher little tips that you have found useful with your child, for example, writing multi-step directions on the board, tapping on the shoulder while walking past to make sure your child was paying attention and other small tweaks that would be useful to any young child but are especially essential to the ones with ADHD.


Make sure that both school and home are in one accord. I had the privilege of seeing my child’s teacher almost every day of last year. My child was not focusing in class, often slow in finishing her work. Hence, what I would do is to get her to ask her teacher if she was good in class on that day. Her teacher would reply just with a simple thumbs-up or shaking of the head. Whenever she got a thumbs-up, I rewarded her by allowing her to stay back to wave goodbye to her friends, playing with mimosa plant on her walk back home or choosing what she wanted for dinner. Just small and simple rewards could work wonders.


9. Get support for yourself


Watching your child withdraws from school could be just as frustrating as it could be difficult for the child to focus. Parents may feel judged for having a child who struggles so much in school.


Set up or join a support group for parents with less motivated children. It is very comforting to hear that you’re not alone. It is also helpful to hear from people who have gone ahead of you talk about how to navigate the education system and getting professional help. If you feel that you are getting angry or frustrated with your children, take a step back. Put things into context then address the issue when you have calmed down.



It is best to address problems that your children have on their onset and nip it in its bud before the problems escalate and get worse over time. Children who struggle in school year after year, have a harder time getting back on track if their learning problems are not addressed in the early stages.


It is also important to keep your goals in perspective. Make sure to focus on the efforts being put in and the commitment shown instead of the outcome. Your child may not become a star student. If you expect perfect achievement from a child who struggles in school, you will drive yourself crazy. Do not try to get your children to be someone they are not, just help them to reach their best potential.


Good luck and happy parenting!


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