Heather Kuhl, Psy. D., LMFT
Steps to Take When Your Child is Struggling with School
Does your child come home frustrated or stressed about his or her school performance? Do you receive reports from school about your child’s concerning behavior or academic performance? Do you feel like you need to constantly stay on top of your child to have them finish their homework? Does your child appear to put forth their best efforts at studying, yet they still struggle academically?
If these scenarios seem all too familiar to you, then it might be time to take action to fully understand what may be impeding with your child’s academic progress. Childhood is a time of constant development, learning, and changes. These changes in conjunction with the ever-increasing academic and social demands can be overwhelming for some children. It is not uncommon for children to experience pressure to perform in school, to fit in, or to make friends.
Some children who struggle in these areas may develop symptoms of anxiety or depression which can directly affect academic functioning. Symptoms of depression that can interfere with school performance and learning include difficulty concentrating, fatigue, slow processing speed, low self-esteem, and feelings of hopelessness. On the other hand, symptoms of anxiety that can easily interfere include excessive worry, physical complaints (ex. stomachaches, headaches, muscle tension), fear of speaking in front of others (ex. raising hand in class, asking questions, making friends, participating in presentations), and obsessive or ruminative thinking.
For other children, they may appear to demonstrate normal progression through the developmental milestones, however, as the academic demands increase, learning disorders may become more prominent. In particular, when children are intelligent and high functioning, a learning disorder can often go unnoticed until late elementary school or high school. These children are often motivated to work hard and they can compensate for difficulties in reading, writing, or mathematics for many years. For other children, they may seem to work hard and study;however, they struggle to acquire specific academic skills.
Many of these children may report that they feel stupid because they cannot grasp certain concepts. Some children become frustrated, discouraged, or disheartened after struggling so hard to perform in school. Other children can develop anxiety about schoolwork,and even become resistant to all things academic, particularly when it comes to homework. Not to mention, parent-child relationships can become strained if parents do not understand that there is an undiagnosed learning disorder rather than a dismissive attitude about school.
Other common issues that present themselves in the early school years are symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Children can present with symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness, or a combination of both.
Parents may notice subtle symptoms at home such as being easily distracted, having trouble staying focused, difficulty following instructions, making careless mistakes, losing things, running and climbing around excessively, difficulty staying seated, talking excessively, and interrupting others. However, these symptoms often become problematic once in school when children are expected to sit in class for extended periods of time, follow directions, and organize their work/play spaces.
We know through decades of research that early intervention is the best intervention. Therefore, addressing these concerning signs as early as possible can result in better outcomes. It is always better to be proactive when it comes to childhood and early development.
Here are some steps to take if you notice any of these warning signs.
1. Be patient with your child. Remember that there may be a valid reason for your child’s difficulties in school that is out of their control and adequate support and services may be necessary for them to succeed.
2. Talk to your child. Keeping the lines of communication open with your child can be incredibly helpful. Ask them about their strengths and challenges in school. Providing a safe place where your child can talk about school may help you recognize concerning signs and symptoms earlier.
3. Set up a meeting with your school’s counselor and teachers to discuss concerns. The teachers may be able to provide further insights and share what steps they have taken to support your child.
4. If your child is struggling in school, continue to allow them to participate in extra-curricular activities, where they can feel a sense of accomplishment and balance with academic pursuits.
5. Consult with a licensed psychologist who specializes in conducting psychological evaluations with child and adolescents. A psychological evaluation involves a thorough clinical interview, behavioral observations, and testing to determine your child’s current cognitive, academic, and social/emotional functioning. An evaluation will also provide you with a proper diagnosis, if applicable, and a list of recommendations to properly address the issues at hand and help your child be successful.
If you have concerns about your child’s behavior or developmental progress please contact Dr. Heather Kuhl to set up an evaluation at 954-391-5305. She provides psychological evaluations and psychological testing for children, teens, and adults in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.