When your child is struggling in school - socially or academically - it can be hard for a parent to watch. It’s stressful to see your children under pressure, especially when they don’t want to talk about it. As parents, we want to see our kids flourish and learn in their schooling, but when it becomes clear a simple pep talk won’t do it’s time to take action.
So what can parents and guardians do when they notice their child is having a hard time doing homework? When your kid is extremely anxious thinking about upcoming exams? When virtual learning has set your child back? How can you convince your kid to open up and talk about their problems? How can you partner with your child’s school to support their learning? While every child’s situation is different, there are many things you can do to help your struggling student.
There is an old saying - “it takes a village to raise a child” - and that saying resonates most clearly when it comes to learning. There are a number of stakeholders involved in your child’s education: parents, teachers, support teachers, principals, and coaches - and you should leverage all the resources you have to help your child reach success.
This article explores some of the actions you can take when your child needs help in school beyond regular student resources. Though there are no easy answers, you will hopefully take away some fresh ideas and perspectives for understanding your child’s issues with school.
Learn more about supporting your teenaged child in school.
What Can I Do to Help My Child in School?
The first step to supporting your child in school is to identify what the issues are. This can be challenging, especially if your kid doesn’t want to discuss or is hiding things from you - a poor grade, poor study skills, a story of bullying, a genuine dislike of the subject they are learning, or perhaps simply not understanding the teacher.
If you can’t get your child to open up, seek the help of a family member that your child has a good relationship with: a sibling, an aunt, or even a family friend. Speak to your child’s educators to see if they can offer some insights, or see if the school guidance counsellors can help out.
You may be able to detect some issues through a wellness check or a visit to the family doctor. There may be undetected hearing or vision issues, making it hard for your child to concentrate, or even a lack of sleep from playing video games or using the internet late into the night. There could be emotional and mental health issues like depression or anxiety, or your child may have an unidentified learning disability that prevents them from getting ahead no matter how hard they try. Sometimes a bit of investigation or a professional opinion can reveal what is actually happening.
In some cases, you may discover that your child has issues in school from a teacher phone call or a report card. When this happens, you should be able to get a specific sense of the difficulties your child is experiencing. Use their observations and assessments to find a solution or support that will work for your family.
Learn all about choosing extracurricular activities for your child.
Communicate With Your Child’s Teacher
This brings us to our next piece of advice, which is to communicate with the staff at your child’s school. Teachers see your child throughout the day and notice things about your child that is unique to a school environment. Is your child making friends at school? How does your child’s writing or problem-solving look against a provincial standard? Which instructional strategies does your kid respond to best? Teachers can answer questions like these and more, so don’t hesitate to approach them with your concerns.
Though most parents only speak to teachers during interview time, it’s important to note that you can contact your child’s teacher anytime. Many teachers are happy when parents are engaged with their child’s learning, so don’t hesitate to ask questions when you have them.
Sometimes a learning disability can be the cause of your child's struggles in class. If your child’s teacher is suggesting that your child would benefit from a special education program, be sure to communicate regularly with the school to follow the processes they are taking to determine the next steps. In most cases, parent consent is required before administering tests and developing an Individual Education Plan (IEP), but you will do best to avoid surprises by staying in contact with school staff.
Read our tips on supporting your child in school.
When Your Child’s Issues are Academic
It’s not uncommon for kids to experience difficulties in school. Math is a common area of concern, especially as students progress to the upper grades. Math is also taught quite differently now than in previous years, making it hard for parents to help kids with their homework.
Support your struggling math student by helping them re-learn the concepts that are challenging them. Use Youtube or Khan Academy videos that explain math concepts to show step by step problem solving. The great thing about math videos is that you can pause or re-watch as needed, making it easier for your child to understand. You can also help your child brush up on basic math skills through workbooks like Jump Math or BrainQuest, or find free homework websites on the internet: set rules and routines for practicing math everyday, and help them get through the activities. If you notice that a workbook at their grade level is too challenging, then don’t hesitate to get a workbook at a lower level. Sometimes math difficulties are linked to not having mastered numeracy skills in previous years, so working at an earlier grade level can be incredibly beneficial.
If your child’s difficulties are in language-based subjects, help your child improve their literacy skills by setting routines for reading. Identify books that challenge your child without being too confusing, and make sure they are reading at least 45 minutes a day. Model positive literacy skills by reading with your child and talking about what you are reading. If your child is reading a book for school, try and find the audiobook version and see if it helps them. An audiobook can help kids get through a book much more quickly than sitting and reading, and they can move around the house or take a walk while listening.
To help your kid finish a report or essay, ask them to finish their writing in smaller chunks and a paragraph or two at a time. You can find essay organizers on the internet with a quick search, which can help your child visualize the structure of a longer form of writing. Encourage your child to just write freely without worrying too much about punctuation in the first draft, as they can fix it later. Writing in point-form or jot notes may also help your child be more productive - focusing on writing 5-6 sentences can be much easier for your child than writing a whole paragraph.
Get Homework Help or Enrichment from a Private Tutor
Should time be an issue for you due to work, look into hiring a private tutor or teacher to help your child with their work. A private tutor can work with your family’s schedule, making it easy to plan around extracurriculars. They can meet virtually or in-person, at home or in a library or cafe. Tutors have experience helping kids, and can break things down in a way your child can understand. They can focus on your child’s greatest areas of need, and quiz them through a science or history unit.
You can find some amazing tutors near you on Superprof. Check out the website to find some talented tutors near you.
When Your Child’s Issues are Social or Emotional
Social and emotional issues are common in school - we can all remember the stress of fitting in, of making friends, and feeling ignored by teachers or classmates. When these issues start impacting learning, and your child can no longer cope, it’s time to seek intervention.
If bullying is the issue, and your child no longer wants to go to school or is extremely reluctant, speak with your child’s principal and the student services department in the school and see what they can do to help. They should be able to intervene with the child who is doing the bullying, and get your child’s perspective so they understand what has been happening and can monitor. In extreme situations, your child can be placed in another classroom, but the ideal situation would involve a positive resolution for both sides.
Emotional or mental health issues can be handled with the support of a family doctor or your school’s special education support team can refer your family to a community service. These issues should be taken seriously because they can have a lasting impact on your child.
Track your child’s progress in challenging subjects by setting goals for achievement. Be realistic in your goal setting, and don’t expect A’s, focus on completing homework consistently and following new learning routines on a regular basis. For example, if your child is struggling in math, set a goal of achieving a B- on their next assessment, taking the pressure off getting a perfect score. If getting homework and assignments done is your kid’s biggest issue, set task completion as a goal. Start with getting them to complete 70% of their tasks, and work on getting more done as time goes by. If your child’s teacher posts their work in a virtual environment like Google Classroom or Brightspace, use that to track your child’s progress.
Whatever academic goals you decide to set for your child, inform their teacher so they can reinforce those goals in the classroom. If your child’s teacher is setting goals, learn what they are so you can reinforce them at home.
Following up on your child’s progress is one of the most important things you can do to help them in school. Set timelines for progress and improvement, and make sure you check on them along the way to make sure they are doing their part to improve. Simply expecting a better report card after telling your child to work harder will do little to help. Check on their work throughout the term to check their development and adjust your plan as needed.
Every Child Can be Successful in School
It’s important to remember that student success is possible when they have teachers and parents that are involved and communicating. Your child deserves an education that enables them to grow and learn while feeling safe and cared for.
Supporting your child starts with identifying the root issue and harnessing the resources you have at your school and your community. Sometimes a tutor will make the biggest difference, but it may also be a family doctor or a guidance counselor who can make the breakthrough your child needs to become more self aware of their learning issues. Find the right people to help and you and your child can look forward to a better school year!