It’s disheartening for a parent to hear that their child is not coping well in school. You may start to question your parenting skills and wonder whether or not you gave them the best start in their education. The truth is, children can fall behind at school for many reasons – bullying, health issues, anxiety etc – so try not to jump to conclusions that this could be a reflection of your parenting.
So how can you find out the real reason behind why your 10 year old is struggling at school? To get the full picture on what could be causing your child’s grades to suffer, start by sitting down and asking your child about what aspects of school they find difficult and how you can help. Most children aren’t likely to admit when they’re struggling, especially if it’s affecting their self confidence, so give them the space to talk first.
Once you’ve encouraged your 10 year old to open up about school, you can then involve professionals to help with the situation, starting with your child’s teacher and perhaps his/her pediatrician. Creating a support network around your child will help them see that a problem needs to be addressed in a way that won’t appear judgmental. Here are tips on figuring out why your child is struggling in school and what to do about it.
Possible Reasons Your 10 Year Old is Struggling:
If your child is being bullied and suffering in silence, this will unsurprisingly drain them of most of their mental energy and their grades and school performance may suffer as a result of anxiety, lost focus and in extreme cases, depression.
Solution? – If your 10 year old exhibits any of these signs, assure your child that this is in no way their fault and that they should feel free to tell you whenever they are upset at school. Inform their teacher immediately so that together, you can begin forming an action plan to notice and prevent unacceptable behavior towards your child. No child’s school achievements and progress should have to suffer because of another child’s cruelty. It may help to share that you were bullied yourself at school and that you didn’t let them stop you from enjoying class and achieving what you did.
When we think of disruptive students, we might picture a class clown or an aggressive student deliberately behaving badly for the sake of it. However, there is always a reason behind your child’s actions and what can seem like mindless disruption of the class is actually your child’s way of externalizing their own frustrations. These could be personal frustrations in their home life or because they become bored in class and so a “Why bother?” attitude comes into play.
Solution? – Disruptiveness in class indicates a behavioral problem, so it’s in your child’s best interests that this is assessed early by a medical professional. Your child’s teacher may work with a child psychologist to evaluate your child’s beahvioral needs and make adjustments to the way they learn in class. You can also consult your child’s pediatrician to get a formal assessment as well as referrals for specific medication etc.
Homework is unpleasant for many kids, but when recent studies show that school children are being given three times more homework than they should, it’s no wonder that many kids find themselves struggling to cope!
Solution? – According to the National Education Association, children should be spending 10 minutes on homework a night per grade level, but homework policies may differ with teachers and schools across the country. If your child is regularly taking an hour to complete a 10 minute homework assignment, for example, discuss this with their teacher. It could be that your child is a perfectionist, choosing to hand in a quality piece over a rushed assignment. Or they may be struggling to cope with the style of assignment or questioning. Either way, their teacher should be willing to suggest alternative methods to help your 10 year old keep up.
If your child has trouble focusing in class and sitting still, it may not necessarily be a sign of bad behavior or a desire to intentionally disrupt the class. Feeling consistently bored, distracted or restless in class may point to attention disorders such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Solution? – Your child’s teachers can offer assistance in class to make sure they stay on track with their grades. Under the federal law of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), your 10 year old has a right by law to receive “free and appropriate education”, and this means children with learning disorders like ADHD are entitled to tailored approaches to learning. Once teachers have been informed of your child’s needs, they can make changes to their class atmosphere – starting with small changes like letting them sit in the front row to reduce distractions to bigger changes such as setting up therapist-run support groups for kids with low attention skills.
Could it be that your normally smart kid is falling behind simply because they need glasses? If their eyesight is making the teacher’s sums or notes on the blackboard too blurry to read, they may be too embarrassed to tell someone.
Solution? Check your child for signs of vision problems at home to be sure and make the earliest appointment with an optometrist to get your child the treatment they need if applicable. If your child is too shy and self conscious to admit to poor eyesight, they can begin copying important class notes over the shoulder of a neighbor and may be missing out on vital info relating to their homework and perhaps even their overall learning process.
General school anxiety
Children with school anxiety can appear to be faking a stomach upset or other illness just to get out of going to school, but when this happens regularly, it could be masking a deep-rooted anxiety. Adults with anxiety disorders will know that feelings of anxiety can be irrational and have no clear cause and this can be the case with your child, so it’s important not to dismiss their school anxiety as laziness or ‘being difficult’.
Solution? – Explaining why anxiety happens can help to take away a lot of the fear. Let your child know that our brains can sometimes incorrectly perceive danger in non-dangerous situations, such as going to school. One bad day can have your child’s brain convincing them that the same humiliation or bad event will happen again, but this is simply the brain being overprotective (like Mom being overprotective when you rode out on your bike for the first time!). Once you can reframe anxiety as irrational, it can help your child tame the beast and understand their feelings better when they reappear.
DO’s and DON’Ts Concerning Your Child’s Struggles
It’s really important that parents don’t mistakenly place the blame for their child’s struggles in other areas or unintentionally make these struggles worse at home. To make sure you’re taking the right approach in helping your 10 year old overcome their difficulties in school, here’s a quick guide to the vital Do’s and Don’ts…
DO ask more than ‘How was your day?’
Parents can get into a routine of asking their child about their day at school and getting the same reply back every time: “Fine”. But if you don’t pose any follow up questions, you’ll never know what “Fine” may be hiding. Make the effort to ask more specific questions some days such as ‘How did your test go?’, ‘Learn anything cool today?’. Open up the communication beyond your usual routine and you’ll encourage your child to open up too.
DON’T presume to know the problem
A parent’s instinct is a strong thing, but being presumptuous and rigid about where the problem lies may only prolong the real, hidden issue behind why they are struggling. Your child’s lack of concentration or focus at school isn’t the issue itself – it’s only the symptom of a deeper problem. Get to the root of their problem together with input from teachers, your child’s doctor and most importantly – your child themselves.
DO give them a ‘homework space’
Children often struggle in school because they haven’t got to grips with their homework (or haven’t had the opportunity to do the homework). If your child routinely does their homework in a busy space where the TV is on or people are coming and going all the time, you can bet they aren’t working at full capacity, and this will be reflected in their homework and overall performance. Long-time teacher and writer for the Child Development Institute Pam Myers suggests parents should collaborate with their child in creating his or her own private homework space away from distractions.
DON’t get stricter with homework rules
If your child is already struggling to complete their homework on time, then tightening up your rules on homework isn’t going to help. Switch up your child’s homework routine by creating a fresh set of rules that suits them better. This can be as simple as asking your 10 year old when they would prefer to do their homework – before dinner? After? With a friend? Setting a routine around his or her strengths will make your child feel more valued and eliminate the pressure of doing their homework unnaturally and on command.
Ways Your Child’s Teachers can Help
Your 10 year old’s teachers will be trained in dealing with kids with emotional and behavioral problems, and if they have the right attitude, they will want to help your child since they want every student to learn well. Here are some of the ways you can expect your child’s teacher(s) to help them feel they can cope and enjoy school again…
- Reduce class stress – making deadlines less rigid, i.e. setting homework for 3 days instead of overnight. They may also turn some lesson plans into a game or fun activity to help kids who find it hard to focus feel more engaged.
- Use tools that support emotional and social learning – programs like Positive Action and Raising Healthy Children are backed by Mental Health America and can be implemented by teachers to help with kids social and emotional skills.
- Recognize progress in your child (and praise them for it) – students who struggle can be tougher on themselves than anyone else, so a good teacher will praise them at every step along the way and build their self esteem.
- Work closely with parents – an ideal teacher will keep the lines of communication open with parents. They will report back to you and proactively discuss and develop strategies that will help your child succeed in school.
How to Help Your Child Feel Naturally Motivated at School
Teaching your kid all the technical methods of coping better at school is great, but sometimes, tossing out the rule book and shining a spotlight on your child’s well being can be just as valuable in helping them become more motivated in school. Here are a few natural ways to get them motivated for school.
Take them traveling – Kids might read about the world in geography class, but taking them out to experience it can do wonders for their young minds and spark untapped creativity that they didn’t know was there! Broadens their horizons this summer with a family trip to a different state (or country). Traveling isn’t just fun, it gives you a fresh perspective on things and helps you re-assess problems – exactly what your child needs if they’re struggling in school.
Help them find their school/life balance – It’s easy to get lost in obsessing about your child’s grades, but you should also put importance in their social life and make sure they’re contented in their free time. Help your child have a balanced work and play lifestyle by encouraging him/her to join summer kids clubs, make new friends and start new hobbies to broaden their scope outside of school.
Show them how things like English and Math apply to everyday life – Kids find it hard to see the use in being taught things “just because”, so to help them see why things like math equations and written skills are important, show them how learning applies to real life.
- Do some baking together and show them how fractions are important – the quantity of ingredients can make the difference between a yummy and disgusting cupcake!
- Take them grocery shopping and ask them to pay for a candy bar or other item with the correct change.
- Show them how you write letters or emails and demonstrate why a clear written style helps a message to sound better, more intelligent and more grown up to the recipient.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare