It’s about halfway through the school year and parents are probably receiving report cards and feedback from teachers on their children’s progress. It can be upsetting when your child is not performing well in school and often parents don’t know how to help.

It is important to provide children with all the support they need to succeed in school. All too often we see kids give up and label themselves as “stupid” when they are not successful. This experience can have long-term mental health and career implications.

Children’s brains all process, learn and retain information in slightly different ways. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. As adults, our society benefits from all these different ways of thinking and learning because we need mechanics, doctors, artists and many other types of people.

However, children are expected to learn in similar ways in school, which cannot accommodate every unique learning style. Differences in learning can sometimes be associated with school problems and should be attended to and addressed to prevent problems.

What are some signs your child might need help?

  • Consistently poor grades or grades below what might be expected
  • A change in performance (this often occurs in years when school expectations increase, like in 3rdgrade, 7th grade, and 9th grade)
  • Complaints from your child that school is hard
  • Difficulty completing homework
  • Anxiety about school
  • Complaints from the teachers about school performance
  • A child who says things like “I can’t do it,” “I hate school,” “I don’t care,” or “I’m stupid”

If your child has any of the signs, it’s possible they could also have a learning disability. It’s important for children to be screened for learning disabilities so that teachers and families know how to help. Here are some other tips for helping your child immediately:

What should I do, if my child is struggling in school?

  • The first step is to talk to your child’s teacher(s) to make sure there is nothing going on at school affecting performance that may be easily fixed
  • A tutor can be helpful if there is difficulty in a particular subject
  • A psychoeducational or neuropsychological assessment may be warranted to determine where there are weaknesses or differences in order to make a plan to help
    • Public schools are obligated to perform these evaluations for free and then to accommodate any particular needs determined in these evaluations. Talk to your school counselor or psychologist for information on getting these done. There is often a long waiting list for these evaluations.
    • Many private practices in the area conduct these evaluations. Contact your insurance company to see if these evaluations are covered and which providers are covered.
    • Children’s National has two services that specialize in these evaluations. Call the Pediatric Neuropsychology Program at 301-765-5443 or the Hyperactivity Attention and Learning Problems clinic at 571-405-5912

It is very important not to wait too long to address problems. Providing children with support and reassurance that they can succeed can go a long way in helping them feel successful and engaged with school and learning.


Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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