How to help a failing child

How to help a failing child

How to help a failing child

Failing doesn’t make you a failure.

How to support your child at school when the going gets tough.

Seeing your child fail at school can be heart-breaking, whether they’re in primary or high school. We tend to experience our children’s setbacks as if they were our own, which sometimes leaves us in a confusion of emotions: why didn’t they work harder or take school more seriously? But failing at school can be indicative of a number of issues, and it’s important to find out what they are so you can provide your child with the right support to get them back on track.

Educational psychologist Claudia Abelheim says problems achieving at school can be attributed to many different reasons, with the kid’s age and where they are in their school career playing an important role.


Grades 1-3

‘At this age it’s important to establish why the child is failing – whether it’s an emotional issue or an actual cognitive difficulty that’s preventing the child from performing at his best,’ says Claudia. She suggests taking them for a psycho-educational assessment by an educational psychologist to find out what’s going on and how to offer the best support at this stage of their schooling. ‘If it’s a cognitive difficulty, the assessment will be able to give more specific detail into what the challenges are,’ says Claudia. ‘It will also pick up whether there are underlying emotional or psychological issues interfering with the child’s schoolwork.’

Once the psychologist has performed the assessment, they’ll be able to give professional advice on the best course of action specific to your child. Taking into consideration the difficulties and needs of your child, a psychologist will usually begin to help through play therapy, occupational therapy, a neurological assessment, the possibility of a remedial school for a few years, or remedial extra lessons.


Grades 4-7

If a child suddenly starts struggling during these grades, Claudia again advises a psycho-educational assessment. However, if your child has had no issues until now, there could be an emotional element behind their failing and therapy might be the best way to address this. You may discover your child is in the wrong school environment, or there are problems with their friends or peers. It could also be that they’re struggling to cope with the increased pressure they’re expected to deal with, as there is a big jump between grades three and four. If this is identified as the problem, it’s important to make sure your child receives extra support, both at school and at home. Make sure you’re allowing enough time for them to play and just be kids at home, so they don’t feel doubly pressured. Claudia also suggests encouraging activities outside the school environment to find a space where your child can succeed, which will do wonders for their self-esteem and could have a positive knock-on effect on their school work.

Tips for tweens on the road to high school

  1. Make sure your child gets to school on time so they don’t miss important information.
  2. Make sure they have everything they need, such as sportswear, calculators and textbooks.
  3. Listen carefully to any concerns they may have about moving up to the next level of school, such as academic pressure
    or bullying.
  4. Help them to act more independently by giving them more responsibilities at home and more opportunities to make decisions.
  5. Show positive interest in their advancement and help them feel that high school will be an exciting new beginning.

Grades 8-9

High school brings a whole new set of pressures and challenges – a bigger and more difficult workload, mood swings and insecurities associated with puberty, peer pressure and paying more attention to social circles than academics. During this time, says Claudia, it’s important to find out where your child’s talents lie. Grade nine is an important time, as it’s when kids choose their subjects. These choices could inform the rest of their school career, their higher education and their future employment. It’s also the point at which parents need to honestly examine their own motives – are you pushing your child to do what’s right for them, or for you? ‘Often we see children forced to take subjects they really struggle with, and because it takes up so much of their time to work for those subjects, they land up failing everything. Whereas when they do subjects they enjoy and can manage, they land up doing better overall as they have more time and they are more motivated to work,’ cautions Claudia.

Did you know?

  • Teenagers’ brains are set up to run on emotions, not logic. Their amygdala, which is home to emotions in the brain, is at constant war with the frontal cortex, where rational thought takes place (and it usually wins).
  • Teens need more sleep than adults. Melatonin levels in the blood naturally rise later at night and fall later in the morning
    than in younger children and adults. This may explain why many teens stay up late and struggle with getting up in the morning.
  • Certain key areas of the teen brain shut down when listening to criticism, which affects their ability to process what you’re
    telling them.

Grades 10-12

If your child is failing during these last important years at school due to cognitive reasons, they’re probably not in the right schooling environment. It’s important for them to attend a school that caters to their learning challenges. If there are no cognitive difficulties, then the child is probably struggling with some kind of emotional issue that’s getting in the way of their school work. ‘If this is the case,’ says Claudia, ‘then parents need to find help for their child on a therapeutic level. It’s important for parents to remain supportive and encouraging throughout this period.’


Visit for info about youth and counselling services.



About Caitlin Geng

Your Family’s Content Editor, and a real word nerd who loves reading and writing. She was recently married, in 2018, and is a ‘mom’ to two loveable pugs. Caitlin received 3rd place in the ‘Galliova Up and Coming Food/Health Writer of the Year’ category in 2019!


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