Know the Warning Signs of a Struggling Student (2023)

Something isn't right; lately your child seems less than enthusiastic about school. They appear withdrawn and have started complaining about an upset stomach every Sunday evening. But are they struggling in school or could it be something else?

The key to getting to the root of the issue is open communication and knowing how to identify school struggles early. The longer it takes for a student to get the help they need, especially if it is school-related, the more lost they become. After all, school learning continues forward even if your child is lagging behind, which only makes the problem worse.

Unfortunately, children and teens aren't always forthcoming about their struggles or school performance, especially if they are embarrassed or they feel anxious. It is essential that you know how to recognize the signs that your child is struggling, so you can intervene. The earlier you do, the better it is for your child, especially if you can help them before their struggles become a pattern.

Why Kids Sometimes Struggle

There are a number of different issues that can cause a child to struggle in school, including social challenges, academic issues, or even unrecognized physical, learning, or mental health problems, says Hailey Shafir, LCMHCS, LCAS, CCS, a mental health and addiction specialist with Keep Counsel in Raleigh, North Carolina.

"Bullying and peer relationships are a more common source of school problems in tweens and teens, but learning disorders, mental, or physical health issues can affect kids of all ages," Shafir says. "If the behavioral or academic problems are new, the cause may be related to a change in circumstances, including problems at home, a traumatic event, or something upsetting that happened with a teacher or another student."

Common Causes for Academic Struggles

Shafir says that many issues, both in school and out, can result in difficulty at school. These might include learning or developmental disordersor mental health conditions like anxiety, social anxiety, or depression. Kids who are ill, who have difficulty sleeping, or who are experiencing stress or trauma at home may all struggle academically.

At school, kids who feel targeted by a teacher or have a poor relationship with a teacher, or who are experiencing bullying or problems with peer relationships, may have difficulty keeping up with lessons or understanding the material.

Signs Your Child May Be Struggling

When kids struggle in school, the stress and anxiety of the situation typically follows them home. You may notice changes in behavior as well as physical complaints. They may even refuse to go to school. Or, they may spend hours on homework only to give up in frustration and neglect to turn in assignments or do the required reading.

It is also not uncommon for kids to become withdrawn, less talkative, or not as vivacious as they used to be, says Lydia A. Antonatos, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. You may also notice that they are not seeking out activities they used to enjoy or they are spending too much time on the phone or playing video games, she says. While every child is different, there are some red flags that can indicate that a kid needs help.

Refuses to Discuss School

When your child suddenly doesn't want to tell you about what they are learning in school or how their school day went, it can be a signal that something is not right at school. This is especially true if they were usually open and chatty in the past.

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While it is important to respect your child's personal boundaries and not force them to talk about things before they are ready, you also do not want to ignore this warning sign. Try to get involved in your child's day-to-day school life in ways that do not require them to answer specific questions. For instance, Antonatos encourages parents to set time aside on a daily basis to check in.

"Look over their school assignments or any forms that need to be signed, help with homework and so on," she says. "This keeps you in the loop and allows you to get some idea as to how your child is performing or interacting in school and can help you detect any issues that may arise so you can intervene early on."

Experiences a Change in Attitude About School

If your child previously had a positive attitude about school, but has become distant or angry about school, you can bet they do not like how things are going. Either they are struggling with their studies, having relational issues, or both.

Another big attitude shift to watch for is boredom. Often kids will complain they are bored when they don't understand what is going on at school.

When your child says they are bored, it is important to look a little deeper to find the cause. It may be that they already know the material being taught in a particular unit—but they also may not know how to articulate that they are confused or lost.

"Children who internalize also might shut down, withdraw, and isolate themselves," Shafir says. "Parents may notice they’re spending less time with friends, have less interest in doing activities they enjoy, or suddenly want to drop out of a sport or other activity they’ve done for years."

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Displays Physical Symptoms

Whether your child is having issues sleeping, experiencing changes in eating patterns, or is complaining of pain, they could be struggling in school. For instance, problems sleeping or eating often result from worry, especially if they know they aren't keeping up with the class on their school work.

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"It’s more common for younger children to report physical symptoms when they are experiencing stress or anxiety," says Shafir. "They may complain of headaches or stomachaches, or describe that they feel sick. Little kids often don’t have the language or understanding of emotions or how to describe them, which is why they often describe symptoms in their body."

Young children also want to please the adults in their lives and may worry that, if they aren't doing well in school, these adults will be upset with them. Older children and teens may be well aware of the overall importance of school to their futures and concerned about their future success if they start to fall behind. Both scenarios can lead to physical complaints.

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Spends Excessive Time on Homework

If your child is falling into a pattern of having little to no free time outside of school because they are spending all their time on homework, this could be a sign of an issue. A child should be spending roughly 10 minutes per grade level on homework each school night (so 20 minutes in second grade, 30 minutes in third grade, and so on).

But homework policies vary tremendously among teachers and schools. It is important to realize that some teachers give out more homework and some give out far less. So be familiar with the teachers' homework policies.

If your fifth grader has a teacher who believes in giving no more than 15 minutes worth of homework each night, and your child is spending 50 minutes, then they are struggling to get the work done, even though they are technically aligned with the 10-minutes-per-grade-level rule.

Likewise, if your high school student spends an hour each night working on homework for a dual credit math course, they may be in line with the teachers' policies. If you are familiar with the teacher's homework policy, you can take steps to help your child if they start to struggle.

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Receives Poor Reports From Teacher

Sometimes it is easy to dismiss what a teacher says about your child, especially if what they are telling you is different than what you believe to be true about your child. But remember, your child's teacher is teaching a classroom full of students the same material.

If your child's teacher believes that your child is struggling more than other students, pay attention. Letting you know about a change in your child's academic progress is the teacher's way of giving you the chance to address any problems.

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Teachers usually have some suggestions in mind about what they think might help, too.

If the teacher doesn't volunteer suggestions, they may be waiting for you to ask what help is available. Of course,this is a dialogue, so you have some input on how to address your child's struggles.

The teacher's thoughts and ideas combined with everything else you know about your child will give you some direction. Develop a plan of action that incorporates the teacher's suggestions along with things that you know have worked in the past with your child.

"Whatever a child is struggling with, there are usually resources that can help," Antonatos says. "The school may be able to coordinate having your child tested via different types of assessments and evaluations that can help detect or rule out academic or psychological deficiencies. In addition, schools often have tutoring programs and guidance counselors that can help your child."

Misbehaves at School

Sometimes misbehavior at school is really your child's way of trying to take attention off the fact they are struggling with their work. Children (and teens, too) often lack many of the skills needed to speak up and specifically say what it is they are having trouble with.

After all, they are still growing and developing, and working on learning important social skills. Until then, they may act out if they feel frustrated or upset rather than asking for help.

"Children who are between the ages of 8 and 11 often exhibit behavioral problems when they’re struggling at school, which can manifest as aggression, outbursts, or defiant behavior," Shafir says. "Warning signs in teens can include [the same things] as well as more serious behavioral problems like getting into fights, using substances, skipping classes, or getting suspended from school."

If your child is usually well behaved and suddenly begins to have behavior problems at school, take a look not only at what is happening in their social worldbut also their academic world as well.

Receives Low Grades

Dropping grades is a common indicator that your child is struggling. Yet, sometimes parents feel that bad grades simply mean that their child just isn't applying themselves and that they will outgrow it. While an occasional poor grade may not be cause for serious concern, a pattern of low grades—or worse, a report card full of poor grades—is a sign of a problem.

Do not fall into the pattern of denial that low grades are not a problem for your child. Make sure you understand all of the information on the report card, and come up with a plan to help your child. Something is keeping them from succeeding and it's your job as their parent to help them discover what that is.

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Help Your Child Improve Bad Grades

How You Can Help

When your child is struggling—whether it is with schoolwork, a peer problem, or something else—it is important for you to be compassionate, empathetic, and understanding. Your child needs you to advocate for them, to help them solve their problem, and to rebuild their self-esteem.

Be a Good Listener

Take the time to talk to your child about what they are experiencing and truly listen to what they have to say. "Building and maintaining an emotionally safe and validating environment can make communication a little smoother," says Antonatos.

"Your child will likely reach out to you when [they] feel at ease and know [they] will be heard and not judged or scolded. This opens the lines of communication for your child to talk about [their] struggles either at school or otherwise and gives you the opportunity to gather information that can in turn help you help your child."

Look for Practical Solutions

Knowing you are there to support them and that you love them unconditionally goes a long way in easing some of the stress and anxiety your child may be experiencing. It's also important to provide practical support and work with the teacher to create a plan. These tools help set them up for success and can keep them on track.

"Close communication between parents and teachers is one of the best ways to know how your child is doing in school, and can help parents identify potential problems early on," Shafir says. "Sometimes, these can be easily addressed by creating more structure or routine, like limiting screen time or making a rule to do homework before other things."

Seek Professional Help

If you suspect your child is struggling because of a learning or developmental disorder, it is important to get a psychological evaluation done, Shafir says. She recommends requesting this evaluation directly from your child's school.

"It's the best way to get an IEP in place, [which] is a plan that can help provide certain accommodations to help your child succeed, like more time for assignments and a separate room for test-taking," she says.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Whether your child is complaining about stomachaches and headaches, or displays signs of depression and anxiety, it is important to talk to their pediatrician about their symptoms. Having this conversation early on is especially important if your child's symptoms or their struggles in school are interfering with their day-to-day life. A medical professional can help get to the root of the issue or make a referral if one is needed.

A Word From Verywell

The support, encouragement, and advocacy you provide when your child struggles in school can make a huge difference in getting them back on track. While it is understandable to worry when they struggle, remember that learning how to overcome difficulties is a valuable life lesson.

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The sooner you intervene and get your child they help that they need, the sooner the stress and anxiety they are experiencing will subside. Make use of the school's resources and reach out to your child's pediatrician or a mental health professional for assistance. By being both patient and diligent—as well as getting the right types of intervention—you can steer your child back on to the path to learning.

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What are signs of a struggling student? ›

Signs of a Struggling Student
  • Becomes easily frustrated.
  • Lacks self-motivation.
  • Has difficulty staying on task.
  • Takes longer than normal to complete written work.
  • Begins to argue with you over school work.
  • Becomes anxious and stressed about homework.
  • Starts to leave books and assignments at school.

What to do if a student is struggling in class? ›

Five principles for supporting struggling learners
  1. Know individual students. Effective teachers know their students. ...
  2. Plan according to the developmental levels of students. ...
  3. Model instruction and follow up with students. ...
  4. Assess students throughout the lesson. ...
  5. Provide consistent one-on-one or small group interventions.
8 Jan 2020

What are the 11 strategies to handle weak learners? ›

What you can do to help your child
  • Provide a quiet work/study area. ...
  • Keep assignments and homework sessions short. ...
  • Be accessible. ...
  • Ask questions such as 'what does that word mean? ...
  • Read to your child.
  • Be patient and consistent.
  • Do not allow them to give up on their work or themselves. ...
  • Don't be overprotective.
27 Oct 2017

How can differentiated instruction be used to assist students who are struggling? ›

1. Differentiated instruction. With this approach, teachers change and switch around what students need to learn, how they'll learn it, and how to get the material across to them. When a student struggles in one area, the teacher creates a plan that includes extra practice, step-by-step directions, and special homework ...

What are the signs of a struggling? ›

Signs to look out for
  • Lacking energy or feeling tired.
  • Feeling exhausted all the time.
  • Experiencing 'brain fog', find it hard to think clearly.
  • Finding it hard to concentrate.
  • Feeling restless and agitated.
  • Feeling tearful, wanting to cry all the time.
  • Not wanting to talk to or be with people.

What is a struggling learner? ›

What Is a Struggling Learner? A struggling learner has to work harder than others around him in order to accomplish the same task or learn the same thing. The child may be a year or more behind grade level in one area or in all subjects. There are many possible reasons for the child's struggles.

How do you motivate a struggling student? ›

Top 5 Strategies for Motivating Students
  1. Promote growth mindset over fixed mindset. ...
  2. Develop meaningful and respectful relationships with your students. ...
  3. Grow a community of learners in your classroom. ...
  4. Establish high expectations and establish clear goals. ...
  5. Be inspirational.
4 Jun 2018

How do you talk to a struggling student? ›

Tips for Talking to Students with Anxiety and/or OCD
  1. Take their concerns seriously. ...
  2. Offer validation and acceptance. ...
  3. Avoid shaming. ...
  4. Do not “call out” your student in front of the entire class. ...
  5. Encourage your student to tell you if they are struggling. ...
  6. Develop a game plan with your student. ...
  7. Be mindful of how you communicate.

Why do students struggle with learning? ›

Kids may struggle with learning for several reasons. Some might have difficulty with reading or math. Some have trouble processing instructions. Others have trouble organizing their thoughts and the steps it takes to get homework done.

How do you help a slow learner to learn? ›

Based on the above-mentioned methods, you can:
  1. 1 – Provide a quiet place to study. ...
  2. 2 – Organise your child's homework sessions. ...
  3. 3 – Plan a fun activity or two. ...
  4. 4 – Discuss learning strategies with their teachers. ...
  5. 5 – Give your child enough time to think through their homework problems.
10 Dec 2020

How can students improve slow learners? ›

Encourage peer tutoring: This is one of the most effective strategies for slow learners. Parents and teachers should encourage slow learners to study in groups. The more a child interacts with others of his/her age, the more confident he/she will feel.

How do you help a struggling high school student? ›

Here are some steps you can take to help struggling kids:
  1. Get to know your students and their families. ...
  2. Use the resources and specialists available in your school. ...
  3. Encourage students to participate in their own learning by assigning work that's worth their effort. ...
  4. Differentiate instruction.

How can strategies help students in the classroom? ›

Strategies help students begin to understand the process of learning. Strategies help students to bypass their areas of weakness and to perform at the level at which they are capable. Strategies promote flexible thinking and teach students the importance of shifting their approaches to different tasks.

What do you do when you're struggling? ›

In this guide, we will outline what to do when you're struggling mentally and feeling down.
  1. Talk to Someone You Trust. If you're struggling mentally, it's important to reach out for help. ...
  2. Exercise and Eat Healthy. ...
  3. Seek Out Support Groups. ...
  4. Find Something That Makes You Happy. ...
  5. You're Not Alone.
14 Jun 2022

What are the signs that someone is struggling with their mental health? ›

Signs & Symptoms
  • Sleep or appetite changes — Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or decline in personal care.
  • Mood changes — Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions or depressed feelings.
  • Withdrawal — Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.

What are the struggles of students? ›

Common Issues for College Students.
  • Social anxiety, general anxiety, test anxiety, or panic attacks.
  • Family expectations or problems.
  • Depression, lack of energy or motivation, hopelessness, being overwhelmed, low self-esteem, homesickness, loneliness.

How can you help students? ›

Maintain and encourage a positive outlook; focus on the good. Provide opportunities for small successes and then celebrate them. Give assignments/tasks in small, manageable chunks. Acknowledge the students' feelings and their lived experiences; incorporate student interests/experiences into lessons.

How can educators motivate students that are struggling and falling behind? ›

Key One: Building a Relationship. The first key to motivating struggling learners is to build a positive relationship with each student. This is likely a priority for you and your teachers. I regularly see schools focusing on the caring aspect of school, and we should remember it truly is foundational to learning.

What should I ask a struggling student? ›

7 important questions to ask your students every week
  • What's one change you will make this week to become a better learner? ...
  • What kind act will you do for somebody this week? ...
  • What are you most looking forward to this week? ...
  • What are you struggling to understand at the moment? ...
  • How are you feeling 'right' now and why?

How do you motivate students in class? ›

3. Create an Atmosphere That Encourages Participation
  1. Be respectful.
  2. Speak loud enough so everyone can hear.
  3. Listen to classmates.
  4. Don't interrupt who is speaking.
  5. Build on your classmate's comments with your comments.
  6. Use participation to not only answer questions but to seek help or ask for clarification.

Why do students struggle with individual activities? ›

Students struggle in individual activities because they did not gain deep understanding during previous group work. It is a natural phenomenon that some members of a group are more or less engaged in performing the task at hand (i.e., they were watching or listening without doing).

What do children struggle with the most? ›

  • 1.Stress. According to psychologist Richard Lazarus, stress, as experienced by children, is when they can't handle what is happening. ...
  • Attention Difficulty. ...
  • Emotional Regulation.
11 Oct 2016

Why do some students struggle in school? ›

Common Causes for Academic Struggles

These might include learning or developmental disorders or mental health conditions like anxiety, social anxiety, or depression. Kids who are ill, who have difficulty sleeping, or who are experiencing stress or trauma at home may all struggle academically.

What causes students to fall behind academically? ›

Factors such as inequitable levels of school funding, unequal distribution of highly qualified and experienced teachers, harsh disciplinary policies, minimally articulated core curriculum, and lack of consistent instructional support can result in a system that causes vulnerable students to continue falling further ...

What are the struggles of students? ›

Common Issues for College Students.
  • Social anxiety, general anxiety, test anxiety, or panic attacks.
  • Family expectations or problems.
  • Depression, lack of energy or motivation, hopelessness, being overwhelmed, low self-esteem, homesickness, loneliness.

What do children struggle with the most? ›

  • 1.Stress. According to psychologist Richard Lazarus, stress, as experienced by children, is when they can't handle what is happening. ...
  • Attention Difficulty. ...
  • Emotional Regulation.
11 Oct 2016

Why do students struggle with individual activities? ›

Students struggle in individual activities because they did not gain deep understanding during previous group work. It is a natural phenomenon that some members of a group are more or less engaged in performing the task at hand (i.e., they were watching or listening without doing).

What are examples of learning difficulties? ›

There are many different types of learning difficulty, some of the more well known are dyslexia, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia and dyscalculia. A person can have one, or a combination. As with learning disability, learning difficulties can also exist on a scale.

Why do children have learning difficulties? ›

This can be caused by things such as: the mother becoming ill in pregnancy. problems during the birth that stop enough oxygen getting to the brain. the unborn baby having some genes passed on from its parents that make having a learning disability more likely.

How do you motivate students to learn? ›

Following are some research-based strategies for motivating students to learn.
  1. Become a role model for student interest. ...
  2. Get to know your students. ...
  3. Use examples freely. ...
  4. Use a variety of student-active teaching activities. ...
  5. Set realistic performance goals. ...
  6. Place appropriate emphasis on testing and grading.

How do we deal with problems? ›

8 steps to problem solving
  1. Define the problem. What exactly is going on? ...
  2. Set some goals. ...
  3. Brainstorm possible solutions. ...
  4. Rule out any obvious poor options. ...
  5. Examine the consequences. ...
  6. Identify the best solutions. ...
  7. Put your solutions into practice. ...
  8. How did it go?

How should you deal with difficulties and problems in your life? ›

10 Ways to Overcome Challenges in Life
  • Make A Plan. While you don't know what is going to happen in the future, you can always plan ahead. ...
  • Know You're Not Alone. Every person in this world has their low points. ...
  • Ask For Help. ...
  • Feel Your Feelings. ...
  • Accept Support. ...
  • Help Others. ...
  • Think Big. ...
  • Positive Mindset.

How do I help my child who is struggling in high school? ›

Here are 10 ways to keep your teen on track to succeed in high school.
  1. Attend Back-to-School Night and Parent-Teacher Conferences. ...
  2. Visit the School and Its Website. ...
  3. Support Homework Expectations. ...
  4. Send Your Teen to School Ready to Learn. ...
  5. Instill Organizational Skills. ...
  6. Offer Help With Studying.

How do you assist students who are lagging behind? ›

There are some things you can do with the entire class in mind to benefit beleaguered learners and make the environment more interesting and engaging for everyone.
  1. Move it Along. ...
  2. Make it Visual. ...
  3. Get them Involved. ...
  4. Collaborate. ...
  5. Blend Concepts. ...
  6. Make it Worth the Time. ...
  7. Provide Guidance.

What is the most common cause of academic failure? ›

The biggest reason of academic failure is the bad mindset. The mindset of a student always affects the study and his personal life. A bad mindset leads to a bad life, it can be school life, college life or personal life. It may be possible that you can have a lack of inspiration to do well in school.


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6. Know the Signs: Students Facing Mental Health Issues
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