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What to Do When Your Child Is Struggling in School — Step-by-Step Guide

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Frustrated child sitting at a desk, struggling with her school work.

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When your child is having a difficult time in school, the stress follows them home. Extra homework, anxiety and bad moods become a struggle for the whole family. 

If you’re looking to help your child succeed with their school work and bring more calm to your family’s evenings, you’re in the right place.

This step-by-step guide will discuss why your child may be struggling in school, what signs to look out for and nine strategies to help them not just survive their school years, but actually enjoy them too!

Why do some students struggle in school? 

There are many reasons why a child may struggle with school. As your child ages out of play-based learning, they may begin to lose interest in what they’re being asked to study. Kids love to learn when they find the topic interesting. But sitting through a lesson on US history when they would rather be exploring a shark’s biology can make even the brightest students lose focus. 

Other students may struggle in school due to a lack of understanding. School lessons, especially in math and reading, build upon themselves. If your child doesn’t grasp a lesson and the class continues to move forward, this may be the start of their struggles. And if this isn’t caught early enough, it can continue to build into a larger problem.

Many students are also facing learning disorders that can make traditional public schooling more difficult. If your child falls on the autism spectrum or shows signs of dyslexia, these extra challenges should be addressed and appropriate services offered. If you suspect an issue, an official diagnosis may help open doors for assistance from your child’s school. 

6 Signs that might indicate school struggles

If you suspect your child is struggling in school, don’t keep quiet. Talk to them about their studies. Find out how their school day feels for them. A conversation with your child can reveal a lot. And don’t forget to reach out to their teachers for their perspective as well.

Mother talking to her daughter about her school day as they sit together on the patio.

Of course, many children are not going to openly share with you the details of their day. In that case, here are a few signs your child may be having a hard time with their studies.

1. Difficulty sleeping

If your child is worried about school, this can result in trouble sleeping. They may not understand the material or have distractions affecting their school work. Either way, this worry can lead to a lack of sleep, making their school day even more difficult.

2. Lack of eating

This often goes along with difficulty sleeping. If your child is feeling extra worried or anxious they may have a hard time focusing. Many anxious children report tummy troubles as a regular symptom. And worries or distractions can make it difficult to remember or want to eat.

3. Drastic change in attitude

If your child used to love school but now never wants to go, it’s important to discover why. For a middle school child, it could be an awkward or uncomfortable social situation. Or they may find the work uninteresting and feel unmotivated. It’s also possible they’re struggling in a subject. It’s important to figure out the root cause and address it before it grows.

4. Bad behavior at school

Your child has been getting increasingly negative reports sent home. Disrespecting their teacher, talking during lessons, and acting out can all be signs of frustration with school. This can be a sign of both boredom or school struggles. Take some time to find out what’s going on.

5. Drop in grades

This one may seem obvious, but oftentimes parents and students will disregard early signs of dropping grades. Is your child missing assignments? Did a recent test trip them up? If you can zero in on the subject causing the struggle, this may be an easy issue to fix.

6. Teacher’s concerns

If the teacher has expressed concern over your child’s grade or class participation, don’t brush it off. You know your child best, and you should give them a chance to explain themselves. But if the teacher is concerned, listen and ask for their suggestions on how you may be able to help.

What to do when your child is struggling in school

Once you’ve identified that your child is struggling in school, what can you do next? Here are nine next steps to support them. 

1. Meet with teachers

Your child’s teachers can share a lot of insight into your child’s school day. If you suspect or know that your child is struggling, take the initiative and set up a meeting or write down what you want to discuss at your next parent-teacher conference

Parent and teacher discussing a child's school struggles at a parent teacher conference.

When you meet, be prepared to discuss your concerns and ask for their suggestions on how you can help. Ask about different programs the school may offer as well. Many schools offer extra reading or math support when students fall behind. If a learning disability is suspected, your child’s teachers may be able to arrange extra services to help them learn. 

2. Organize learning support

On top of extra school support, look for additional educational resources for home. 

Depending what your child needs support in, there are different ways to help them: 

  • For bigger issues, such as a learning disability, an educational therapist can be a great help. 
  • If your child needs help with organization or a lack of motivation, look into a homework helper. 
  • If a certain subject is causing the problem, find a good tutor to guide them through that subject. 
  • If they need extra practice, find an engaging and fun app like Prodigy to take the struggle out of homework time.

You don’t have to tackle school troubles alone. And it doesn’t have to add a ton of stress to your home and family time. Look into all the learning resources available for your child and choose the best options to address their particular struggles.

3. Communicate openly

Sometimes difficult situations can be hard to talk about — especially with your kids. But now is a great time to work on open and honest communication. The trick: approach these conversations with zero judgment. Let them know you just want to help. And to do that, you need to know how they’re feeling about school.

If these conversations aren’t the norm in your home, give it some time. Let your child know you’re there for them when they’re ready to talk, and that you’d like to help them make a plan to tackle the issues they’re having. Involve them as much as possible. This is their education and they need to feel a part of it. 

4. Visit a doctor or pediatrician

If you suspect a learning disability, make an appointment with your child’s doctor. When it helps your child get the assistance they need to succeed in school, it’s worth it to seek this kind of support. 

If your child ends up with an official diagnosis, explore your options for treatment and extra support. Your child’s public school should have programs in place for children who have certain learning challenges. Your child may also qualify for extra therapy, such as speech or occupational therapy. These programs are here to support your child — find them and use them.

5. Support them with homework

If you find yourself in a constant homework struggle, get some extra support! A homework helper or tutor can relieve a lot of evening stress for both you and your child. 

Two children working on homework problems in their notebooks from a tutor who is helping them through school struggles.

If your child is struggling with homework for an hour or more most nights, you may also want to ask their teacher for extra help — or in some cases, request less homework be sent home. Your child’s mental health takes precedence over extra worksheets.

6. Arrange fun outdoor activities

When emotions get high, a stress-relieving brain break is in order. And one of the best kinds of brain breaks is outside time!

Arrange a fun outdoor activity, like a scavenger hunt or a hike. Or just let them outside for some unstructured play. Give your child a chance to reset before tackling that tricky math problem again.

7. Remain a pillar of support

You are your child’s advocate and best source of support. It can be difficult to keep your own emotions in check when your child is struggling in school. But the most important thing is that they know you love them, no matter what.

Keep that line of communication open and let them know you’re there to support them, not judge them. When they choose to share, listen closely to their struggles, respond positively and brainstorm solutions together. Even if things seem trivial, remember that for them, in this moment, the life lessons they’re encountering are very big. Be their guide, not their critic.

8. Encourage your child

Whether it’s a big win or small, celebrate your child’s progress. Encourage them to keep at it and let them know you’re here to help. Not every child is great at every subject. In fact, most aren’t. 

Remind them that their worth stretches far beyond the grades on a test or report card. Help them find joy in learning and give them time to explore their own interests. Encourage and celebrate the little things and help them find their joy.

9. Try different learning methods

Children learn differently. Some need visual and audio instruction. Others do best with project-based learning. And some will excel with more traditional lectures. 

If your child is struggling in school, explore all the different ways to learn and choose strategies that work best for them. There are so many online resources available to help your child see a subject from all sides. Look up YouTube videos and documentaries. Find online printables. Look for real-life applications of problems. Find what makes it click for your child, and keep at it.

How Prodigy can help students with math

Math is such a common struggle for many students. But Prodigy can help take the stress out of this tricky subject!

Prodigy Math Game screenshot.

Game-based learning is a great way to avoid school struggles. With Prodigy’s fantasy-style role-playing math game, your child can earn cool rewards while practicing and mastering math facts. From basic math through algebra, Prodigy is here to make math fun! And if your child needs a little extra support on certain math topics, get extra support through 1:1 online Math Tutoring

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Psst: is your child struggling with reading and writing? Learn more about our NEW Prodigy English game!