Help! My child is underachieving

By admin
16 January 2015

Children’s underachievement is one of their parents’ biggest worries – and extra lessons and stricter rules at home aren’t necessarily the solution. So what should you do if your children are getting bad marks when you know they could do better?

CP de Jager, a guidance and educational psychologist of Vanderbijlpark, says parents should first distinguish between learning problems and studying problems. “Learning problems occur in hyperactive children and those with attention deficit disorder (ADD) – those who have trouble concentrating. Studying problems can be caused by a range of underlying things that must be addressed before you adapt children’s studying methods or send them for extra lessons.”

De Jager says studying problems are much more common than learning issues and that it’s important for parents to take action when their children begin underachieving. This could result in a vicious circle where underachievement leads to a low self-image, and coupled with the pressure from parents it leads to the relationship between parents and children becoming troubled as the child tries but fails to perform, and eventually gives up and gives in to generally bad behaviour, he says.


De Jager says the following are just a few of the factors that can cause studying problems:

-         A difficult transition from primary to high school;

-         Stress or depression;

-         A negative attitude towards the school;

-         Alcohol and drug abuse;

-         Problems at home, such as divorce, lack of space to study, lack of discipline or alcohol abuse by parents;

-         Wrong subject choices;

-         Big classes and little attention from the teacher.

What can you do?

If your children have learning problems it’s advisable to get help from an educational psychologist who may be able to suggest practical solutions and provide exercises to do. If they have studying problems an educational psychologist can also help with study methods and aptitude tests, but these tips are a good start:

Know the teachers.

Attend school events such as parents’ nights to meet your children’s teachers. Ask about their approach to homework and how involved they want you to be. In this way you’ll probably find out how your children behave in class and whether there are problems you weren’t aware of.

Stick to a fixed routine.

Set times for your children to learn and do homework and make sure they do so and that you’re available if they need help.

Make a study area available.

Studying at the kitchen table where a younger brother or sister can be a disturbance isn’t advised. Choose a place where there are few distractions.

Help them.

Is there something specific your children are struggling with, such as a task that seems daunting? Help them by making suggestions or coming up with solutions. But make sure your children do the task themselves. Research has shown parents who focus more on how important it is to keep trying and not give up, than on how well children do, get better results.

Stay positive.

It’s easy for a child who battles at school to feel like a failure and give up. But if you remain positive they’ll know there’s someone who believes in them and this will motivate them to keep trying.

Stop the terrible cycle

If you’ve tried everything get professional help – but ensure you get it from the right person. “A social worker can give advice on family problems and an educational psychologist can do aptitude tests and an assessment that covers study methods and habits as well as factors in the family and at school that could be having an impact,” says De Jager.

-Dalena Theron


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