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6 Reasons Your Child May Be Struggling at School

It’s November. By now, you have received at least one progress report, and it isn’t what you – or your child – hoped for. Their grades are unexpectedly low.

You know your child to be bright, curious, and articulate. Their grades do not reflect what you know about you them.

So why is your child struggling at school? There are many possible reasons.

1. Every Child is Different

First, it is essential to remember that every child is an individual, and will develop at their own rate.

For example, if you are disappointed with your child’s performance because their sibling did better at the same age, do not fret. It is very possible your child’s abilities are well within the normal range for that age group. Comparing child to child is not helpful.

Instead, ask your child’s teacher about how your child’s performance stacks up within their age group. Their answer will offer a much clearer picture of your child’s social, emotional, and intellectual development.

2. Age Matters

Particularly when children are younger, a few months difference in age can make for a considerable difference in cognitive development. Remember, a three-month old baby is very different from a six-month old baby. Likewise, a preschooler born in February is likely to be ahead of a preschooler born in October.

In time, the vast majority of children “catch up” and perform at the same level as their peers.

3. Emotional Regulation

Sometimes children struggle because they have difficulty with the social aspect of school. They may be capable of doing the intellectual tasks required in class, but have trouble managing their own feelings and getting along with others.

Children who lack social and emotional regulation skills may:

  • Melt down or throw a tantrum when they are frustrated by small things
  • Give up easily
  • Have limited capacity to adapt or be flexible
  • Think rigidly, in black-and-white terms
  • Work poorly in group settings, and seem self-centered and controlling
  • Have trouble cooperating

These types of behaviours are very normal for toddlers, who have not yet mastered self-regulation. If a child is seven years old and still behaving consistently in this manner, they may require extra support.

Possessing well-developed social and emotional skills is highly correlated with success throughout life. Fortunately, they can be learned. The BFDC regularly offers emotional regulation groups for children.

4. Stress and anxiety

If your child was previously doing well in school, and their grades have suddenly begun to drop, stress and anxiety may be the culprits.

Being “stressed out” sounds like an adult problem, but children can experience stress as well. Sources of stress may include:

  • problems with friends
  • bullying
  • being new to a school
  • difficulties at home (ex. a new sibling, moving, separation/divorce of parents)
  • a more demanding schedule (ex. transition from lower school to upper school)
  • activities outside of school (ex. intense practices, tournaments, or exams)
  • undergoing puberty
  • lack of sleep
  • poor diet

Anxiety is a feeling of fear and discomfort. We typically feel anxious when we are facing something we don’t want to do. Taking tests, speaking in front of others, answering questions incorrectly, or even working with other children in a group can generate anxiety for some students. Children can also have generalised feelings of anxiety, where they constantly feel nervous, uncomfortable and fearful.

Anxiety can interfere with a child’s ability to properly show their knowledge and understanding, resulting in lower grades.

Look out for signs at home that might hint at such problems, like tearfulness before school, tummy aches, and refusing to go to school.

5. Learning Disorders

Learning disorders, as the name implies, make learning difficult.

Children can have generalised learning disorders, which affect learning across all subjects. Or, they may have a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD). SLDs are neurodevelopmental disorders that cause persistent impairment in at least one of three major areas: reading, written expression, and/or math.

Dyslexia is difficulty with reading.

Dysgraphia is difficulty with writing.

Dyscalculia is difficulty with math.

Learning disorders are typically identified and diagnosed in children who are school-aged, when they are often first introduced to these tasks.

Unfortunately, some children are labelled as disruptive and troublesome, instead being offered the help they need. Children with SLDs are often frustrated with school work because they can not work at the same pace as classmates, and in line with the teacher’s expectations. They do not understand why they can not complete the tasks before them like others do, and act out as a result.

6. ADD/ADHD

Children with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) have difficulty concentrating and maintaining focus, both of which are necessary to complete school work. As a result, they often have poor grades.

ADHD has the added component of hyperactivity. While many children don’t relish sitting still, children with ADHD have a great deal of difficulty doing so. Their level of activity is unmatched to the setting, and may cause disruption in the class and at home.

Children with ADD/ADHD may have the following sign and symptoms:

  • easily distracted from activities, both inside and outside the classroom
  • appear to unable to listen or carry out instructions
  • have a hard time focusing, and may declare tasks “boring”
  • frequently interrupts others, including parents and teachers
  • talks a lot, leaping from subject to subject
  • frequently loses or forgets things
  • appears restless and fidgety when asked to sit still
  • prone to outbursts, especially when patience is required
  • are unable to wait their turn
  • appears to daydream a lot
  • is overly active in class

These symptoms can cause significant problems in a child’s life, such as low achievement at school, poor social interaction with other children and adults, and problems with discipline.

What to Do Next

There are other reasons besides those listed above why your child may be performing below their potential at school. 

Regardless, if you are concerned, speak to your child’s teacher, as well as the school counsellor. They will be able to give you feedback about what is happening in the classroom, and offer their professional opinion about your child’s social and academic development.

A Psychoeducational Assessment can help determine if your child has an SLD and/or ADD/ADHD. The assessment will help clarify if a child suffers from specific forms of anxiety that may be present at school. It will also provide specific supports for children at school to help them achieve to their greatest potential.

Finally, if your child appears to be suffering from stress or anxiety, contact the BFDC. We can help.