My child is falling behind in school. Now what?

ByThe Understood Team

Everything seemed to be going OK. But now your child is struggling to keep up in class and is falling behind. You may wonder, is this just a rough patch? Or is something else going on?

It can be hard to figure it out on your own. Kids aren’t always open to talking about school, especially when things aren’t going well. If you ask your child about the challenges, you might get tears or angry outbursts, but no information.

So, how can you get the answers you need so you can help your child? Here are steps to take if your child is having trouble keeping up at school.

Look for patterns.

You can get valuable information just by observing your child and looking for patterns. Does your child fall apart after school? Does certain homework take a long time to do? Or maybe your child refuses to go to school on certain days, like when there’s a math or spelling test. If your child seems frustrated by school, use a frustration log to keep track of what you’re seeing.

Know what’s typical at different ages.

Kids, especially young ones, develop at different rates. Some just need longer than others to gain skills. Get to know developmental milestones for your child’s age. And learn about the skills kids need for different grades.

Share what you’re seeing with the teacher.

It’s important for you and your child’s teacher to share information about what you’re each seeing. Maybe you noticed your child struggling with homework for a certain subject. Ask if the teacher is noticing something similar in class. You can also talk about what might help your child catch up or feel less frustrated.

Talk to your child’s health care provider.

You may not think doctors know much about school challenges. But they often have good insights and suggestions. They can also rule out medical issues like poor eyesight or hearing.

Let your child know it’s OK.

When kids are struggling, it’s not only grades that can drop. Self-esteem can, too. Assure your child that everyone struggles with something, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Get tips for speaking to your child with empathy. And hear from experts on what to do if your child says “I’m dumb.”

Be open about what’s going on.

You need support, too. It helps to talk openly with other people. You may be surprised by how many families have situations similar to yours and can offer support and information. You can even connect with other parents and caregivers in the Understood Community.

Consider looking deeper into your child’s difficulties.

Sometimes kids fall behind in school because of something temporary. Other times, there may be something else going on. It’s common for kids to struggle in school because of challenges beyond their control. 

The only way to know for sure is through an evaluation. Schools do them for free. An evaluation can shed light on your child’s challenges and strengths. And that knowledge allows you to get the best support to help your child thrive.

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About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.