Sinking Fast at School: How to Help Your Child Stay Afloat

by James Lehman, MSW
Sinking Fast at School: How to Help Your Child Stay Afloat

Is your child failing in school? Maybe he started out full of enthusiasm, but now his grades are slipping, his attitude is bad and he seems to be falling through the cracks. If your child has hit a slump midway through the school year, you are not alone. James Lehman has some advice for you today on what you can do now to get your child back on track.

Your child might feel as if he’s fallen into a hole and doesn’t know how to climb back out.

Many kids lose steam by the time the middle of the school year arrives. It’s very common for children and teens to get back to school after the holidays and hit a slump. Remember, kids are kids: their attention span is short, they're impulsive and it can be difficult for them to focus. It's easy for children to lose energy, and when that happens, a kind of lethargy can set in.

If your child has a learning disability, or performance or behavior problems, this issue becomes magnified. Your child might feel as if he’s fallen into a hole and doesn’t know how to climb back out. (That hole can be caused by missed work, not understanding certain concepts at school, or social problems, among other things.) When your child is in that hole, it’s easy for him to become demoralized, act out more or withdraw emotionally. Often, he won’t ask for help even though he desperately needs it, and soon you’ll see his output start to slow down.

Although this can occur with any child, make no mistake, for kids with behavior problems or learning disabilities, this is a very serious challenge to their stability for the rest of the school year. As a parent, it’s very important for you to address the problem quickly and get your child back on track before he becomes completely derailed.

By the way, while grades usually go down in a gradual slide, if your child’s performance deteriorates suddenly, it’s important for you to realize that something major may be happening, whether it’s substance abuse, bullying, or an equally serious issue. If your child’s grades drop off suddenly, that's a signal to have him assessed by a professional.

My Child’s Attitude is Going Downhill—Along with His Grades
You should be very concerned if you notice your child’s attitude has changed for the worse along with his falling grades. When a child's attitude becomes bad, you can safely assume certain things may be going on:

  • There may be a problem he's not talking about.
  • He may be doing something that he doesn't want anyone to know about.
  • He may be getting deeper into trouble without help.

Again, kids cannot climb out of that hole on their own—they simply don't know how. In fact, a lot of adults don’t either; people get themselves into emotional holes all the time in life. In my opinion, the idea that everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is misleading. Few indeed are equipped to do that—least of all, kids.

Falling through the Cracks Academically
Sometimes kids fall through the cracks at school because they’re having a hard time academically. Suddenly, the work becomes too challenging, and their classmates seem to pull ahead while they’re still trying to understand a certain concept. Their attitude may worsen because they really can't do the work. And it's easy to fall through the cracks nowadays—and by the way, those cracks are huge—because of tightening school budgets and other major problems schools are facing.

As a parent, you really need to have a good understanding of what your child is capable of doing. Remember, we want to challenge our kids but we don't want them to simply learn how to give up. If your child truly can't do the work, then your job is to get in there and challenge the teacher and the school to give your child work at his level—or get him placed in the right class. Parents should also be aware of those subjects, like algebra, where if you miss one core concept, you may be in trouble for the rest of the school year.

Try to be as objective as possible. I urge parents to be very, very careful when trying to accurately assess their child’s abilities. There's a concept called “learned helplessness”—where people learn that if they act helpless, somebody else will do it for them. Above all, we don't want to foster that response in our kids. Truly understanding what your child’s level is can be very tricky, which is why I recommend getting some outside help when you do it.

Here are some things I recommend parents do to get their kids back on track when they’re sinking under the waves at school:

Get an Assessment
If your child’s grades have fallen suddenly, the first thing I’d suggest is to have them assessed by a professional. If a kid's grades go from an “A” to a “D,” that usually doesn't happen in isolation. There will be other signs, red flags that will tell you that something's going on. You might notice that your child has stopped doing the sports that he used to love, or that he’s hanging around with different friends, for example. Start by taking your child to his pediatrician and getting a recommendation for a professional therapist to rule out substance abuse, depression, clinical anxiety or other factors that may be affecting his performance and outlook.

Helping Your Child Manage His Schoolwork
If you’ve noticed your child’s grades are suffering, it’s critical that you put more effort into helping him manage his homework. I know it’s not always easy—everyone is tired at the end of the day, and parents work hard and want to relax, too. Sometimes your child will act as if he doesn’t want you coming into his room, but check in anyway to see how things are going. Don’t assume he understands everything on his own, even if he tells you he’s fine.

Kids need structure and supervision, and they need somebody looking in on them who will hold them accountable. If your child’s grades start sliding, don’t let him do his homework in his room by himself with the door closed and the music on. That's simply got to stop. The door stays open, the music stays off, and you should be looking in on him every fifteen minutes or so. The goal is to keep him on track.

Talk to Your Child’s Teachers
Parents should be talking to teachers about the subjects and areas where their child is having problems. Schedule a time to meet and find out what's going on in class. In my experience, teachers can often be very helpful in telling you what they’ve observed.

Tell the teacher what you see at home, and then ask what they see happening in their classroom. Some questions for you to ask are:

  • Has participation dropped off?
  • Is my child sitting with different kids? Who is he hanging out with?
  • Is my child just tired and bored, or is he overwhelmed by the work?
  • Have you seen a change in his attitude or performance? And how would you describe that change?

If your child's grades start to fall in one specific subject, find out what extra help is available from the school. He should start to focus more on that subject in the evenings at home. Hold him accountable to do a certain amount of work. And work with his teachers, guidance counselors and the school as much as possible. The better your communication is with them, the more it will help your child.

Ask “What” Questions, Not “Why” Questions When You Talk with Your Child
I think it’s a good idea to sit down and have a talk with your child when you realize he’s struggling at school. You can say, “I notice that things are going downhill and I'm wondering what's going on.” Ask “what” questions, not “why” questions. “Why” questions invite your child to make excuses—to blame someone or something for his problems. “What” questions ask your child to report the facts. So it’s not, “Why are you doing poorly at school?” it’s, “What’s going on?”

You can also tell your child what you’ve observed: “I see your grades failing, I see you being more irritable. You don't want to get out of bed in the morning. You're getting detention for silly things in school, like talking out of turn. These are the things I'm seeing and I’m wondering what's going on.” If your child denies that anything is happening, say, “What are you going to do to improve your grades?” Listen to see if he has any ideas. By the way, you should already have a plan that says, “We're going to be checking on your homework more and we want you putting more time into it.”

Make the conversation with your child functional, not emotional. Too many parents get bogged down in emotionality. Kids do better when they keep their feelings out of it. After all, their emotions are volatile: they love you, they hate you; they're happy, they're angry. So you want to keep it on a functional level and ask, “What’s getting in the way of you doing your work? What's going on? And how are you going to change it?”

Giving Your Child Rewards for School Performance
I know families who let their kids do their homework in their rooms as long as they get a “B” or above. If their grades slip, they have to do their homework at the dining room table until they bring them up again. For some kids, that means they also have to do an extra hour of homework a night, but then they’re allowed to stay up half-an-hour later so they still get some free time. That’s part of their reward for doing the work.

When my son was in high school, I would tell him if he got all “A's” and “B's” I'd give him a cool reward. If he didn’t get the grades, he wouldn’t get anything. We didn’t make a big deal out of it, and we didn’t punish him if he wasn’t able to do it.

Remember, kids need to be rewarded; they need to be motivated. As parents, we're taking and we're giving; we’re demanding but we're supporting. It's like a sandwich: on top there's the pressure for your child to perform, and underneath there's support with rewards and extra help.

I also want to say that while rewards are helpful, the absence of rewards is not causing the problem. Rewards don't change behavior: learning problem-solving skills and being held accountable changes behavior. Having a concrete plan and sticking to it changes behavior.

When we talk about grades sliding and kids falling behind at school, it sounds simple but it’s a very complex thing—and something that parents struggle with every day all over the country. My wife and I wrestled with this issue as parents, and we both had Masters Degrees in Social Work and worked with kids for a living. My point is that it’s natural to wonder, “Are the demands too much for my child? Are they enough for him? Or are we taking it too easy on him?” In my opinion, parents who make it a priority to get involved—and then take steps to help their child—are doing them a huge service.

A final word: Kids are resilient. If you help your child and he’s able to get back on track and do the work, in all likelihood he’ll bounce back at school. I believe kids have strengths that aren't easily observable unless you know how to look for them. As a parent, you need to find that resiliency, find that strength in your child, and work with it.


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


What do you do for a child that just doesn't care? or gives up as soon as she fails in the very least? She is 15, depressed (clinically diagnosed with major depressive disorder), and struggles with grades. We are trying to come up with rewards (or incentives I should say), but finding it difficult. Sadly, she wants to go to college, but with her grades she will not be accepted into one. She is in the college prep program and refuses to go into the general classes. Do you let logical consequences occur and watch her future slip away?

Comment By : Stressbucket

I also don't know what to do for my son who is 17, uninterested in school, most likely will not graduate, but continues to plan to go to college. He doesn't look at anything realistically. I bought him a car just so I can use it as a motivation tool. It works for about 3 weeks at a time, and then I see him going right back to the same behavior. Always tired, irritable, lazy, lack of interest in most everything. He has previously been diagnosed as ADHD and Bi-Polar, but refuses to take any medications. He will soon be 18 and I feel I've lost him forever. I haven't been effective in helping him.

Comment By : Laurie

I also do not know what to do. My daughter is 15 and in independent study. She always waits until the night before everything is due, then stays up ALL NIGHT getting it done- then is a tired wreck the next day. If I try to follow the suggestions in here, checking in on her, etc. she yells at me that I am nagging her and drives the whole household crazy with a nice little rant. It's not even worth it to say anything - she doesn't do it anyway. I keep it up, though - I mean, I can't have her running the show, but everything is a battle around here. The work she does is getting her A's, but I am so tired of the hassle at home that goes into it. I tried giving her a schedule, but she is not realistic about her time management and didn't stick with it. Is there any hope that life will calm down, or is this my hell until she is out of school?

Comment By : peskybarb

* I'm sure you already have in-school supports - such as tutors or assistants - if your daughter qualifies for them. Once she has the educational support she needs, you might identify the skills she needs in order to improve her grades. For example, if she is getting poor grades because she is failing tests, work with her on improving her study skills, perhaps by doing practice tests at home. If she is getting poor grades because she is not getting homework done, set up a daily homework time, and let her know she has access to her privileges when the work is done (see End the Nightly Homework Struggle for more ideas). And remember to focus on practical, every day study habits and skills, rather than lecture about the importance of her future. If she would like to go to college, believe in her - let her know you are there to help her practice the skills she needs to be successful.For more on helping kids with depression, please read James' series, When Your Child's World Collapses: Kids & Depression Part I.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

This is a very good article. I feel that I am on the right track, as I had already implemented most of your suggestions. Thanks for the re-assurance. I'm so glad that I signed up for this newsletter. You're helping so many families!

Comment By : Barbara

* Dear ‘peskybarb’: James Lehman says that if kids are getting good grades, they have figured out how to successfully do their homework on their own. He would suggest that you allow her to continue to be in charge of her homework since she is getting “A”s. Instead of viewing it as her ‘running the show’, view it as having her be solely responsible for getting her work done. Give yourself permission to pull right out of this power struggle. It’s understandable to be concerned about her staying up all night but she is experiencing a ‘natural consequence’ for this because she’s tired the next day. When she gets sick of being tired, you can offer to help her with ideas to get better at time management. Give the Support Line a call. We’d be glad to go over more ideas on how to implement James Lehman’s program, the Total Transformation.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Dear Barbara: Thank you for your wonderful comments! Now that you've signed up for EP, you'll receive our newsletter every week with our articles, blog posts, podcasts and forum to help you with the tough issues, choices and behaviors parents face every day. On a personal note, I have to admit that hearing from the families we're helping is one of the very best things about being the Editor of Empowering Parents. Welcome--we're glad you're here.

Comment By : Elisabeth, EP Editor

My son is 14 with ADD. He had 2 As, 3 Bs, and 2 Cs on his mid year report card. Since then his grades fell to all Ds and Fs. Once I realized he was in trouble I met with one of his teachers. She said he was not putting forth the same effort he did. I asked if she had seen a change in his personality or his friends. I asked if she thought he was unhappy. She saw nothing. His grades are slowly coming back. He now has 2 Bs, 4 Cs and 1 F. He is retaking a test in the class with the F and that should be coming up. He is doing before and after school tutoring. We are trying to stay on top of his studying but I feel that I am on him all the time. I feel sorry for him sometimes. Am I doing all I should?

Comment By : emmadel

* Dear emmadel: I appreciate the hard work you are doing to help your son improve his grades. You might ask him what he was doing differently in the first semester to keep his grades high. You might also ask his teacher to specify what not "putting in effort" means - is he not participating in class, or is he missing assignments? Once you know specifically what is not going well, you can work with your son on that specific issue. James would recommend that for the classes in which your son is doing well, you can leave him alone. For the classes in which he is not doing well, he needs to have a specific plan for improvement, and will need to show evidence of work completed for that class before he earns a privilege for that day. When his grades have come back up, you can back off again - until or unless you see evidence that his skills are slipping. For more on this issue, please see End the Nightly Homework Struggle, and Homework Survival for Parents. And for support around not over-helping your child, you might read

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

i have read all of your comments. our son is 14, we have had tutors, met with the teachers, therapy, put him in a afterschool learning center - and his grades fell from A/B's to C's. We have taken away priveledges, and he doesn't care. We are racking our heads over this. There is absolutely no motivation or desire to do well whatsoever! he is not depressed, nor has ADD or any other "disability". how do you motivate a person like this? should we remove ourselves from this and let him fail?

Comment By : upset and frazzled

* Dear upset and frazzled: You ask a lot of good questions. The truth is, your son is motivated - he is just motivated to do what he wants, not what you want. In that, he is no different than most teens. Adolescents do not connect school performance with future success, and trying to get him to see the importance of homework is not an effective approach. Instead, set up a daily homework and study structure with him (please read End the Nightly Homework Struggle for details), letting him earn daily privileges when his daily work is done. Keep your consequences short term and connected specifically to the tasks he needs to do each school day in order to improve his grades. If he needs tutoring assistance, that should be part of his study plan. For more ideas, please read James' articles Motivating the Unmotivated Child, and Homework Survival for Parents, both in the EP archives.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

my daughter 15 will not focus in school she is extremely bright ,but lies and constantly makes excuses for her poor grades and her bad behavior in class. She is one of six and i am at wits end -should i take her phone away and ground her- also give her more chores?

Comment By : antonia

* Dear Antonia: Because you describe your daughter as having problems focusing, poor grades, and bad behaviors in class, talk to her pediatrician and the special education director at her school about these specific behaviors to determine if she has a learning disability, such as ADHD. You want to make sure you understand what skills she needs addressed. Consequences alone won’t change her behavior. Consequences need to be associated with doing a task, or practicing a skill, in order for behaviors to change. For example, since she has poor grades, it’s best to set up a structured time to complete homework each day before she earns privileges. (See: Homework Hell? Part II: 7 Real Techniques That Work ). But if she has ADHD or another learning disability, you will need to modify this a bit. Dr. Robert Myers, the author of the Total Focus program, recommends that instead of taking away privileges until she finishes her homework, break her homework down into subjects and take short breaks after each subject is completed—something like 5 minutes to stretch, get a drink or walk around the house a bit. Kids with ADHD or other learning disabilities need free time and some privileges every day. Set it up so she can earn even more privileges by completing what’s expected of her. Please call the Support Line and let us find out more information on the behaviors you are concerned about. We will be able to direct you to specific lessons in the Total Transformation program that will you work with your daughter to improve her behaviors. Keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 15 year old has adhd and is medicated, but is unable to maintain the focus needed to complete homework,and the motivation to get it started. We tried doing one subject and thena break, but I find that getting him to settle back down becomes yet another opportunity for struggle. He often says he will do better, but even when we talk about specific ways to accomlish better grades, he is unable to follow through. Any advice?

Comment By : MrsD

* Dear ‘Mrs. D’: It’s not unusual for kids who have ADHD to have difficulty maintaining focus. They can have a particularly hard time resisting distractions and then getting back to completing what they were working on before they were distracted. Your son probably will need your help to structure his study time and to prompt and redirect him back to his work. By the way, make sure that you report any changes in the effectiveness of his medications to his prescribing physician. Dr. Robert Myers [Dr. ‘Bob’], the author of the Total Focus program, recommends that kids with ADHD keep homework separate from other activities by establishing a specific time (or times) for homework. Dedicate a place in the home where homework will be done. This area should be as free from distractions as possible and should have adequate workspace and all the necessary supplies readily available. Also, Dr. Bob suggests learning relaxation techniques and practicing them frequently. Before your son begins his study time, he should get himself into a relaxed state. Being relaxed with improve your child’s ability to focus. For more information on using the techniques in our programs, call the Support Line. We’d be glad to help you get the most out of the Total Focus or Total Transformation programs.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My son is 12 goig into the 8th grade & needs 200 credits. I have been fighting the school since 3rd grade & they just say my son is lazy. I know how he feels cause he just like me in school. We have a hard time with comp. I dont know what to do anymore my son just wants to give up.

Comment By : Needs Help ASAP

* To ‘Needs Help ASAP’: It sounds like you think your son’s difficulty in school comes from something that is beyond his control. If your son really does have trouble with comprehension or understanding what is being taught, I can see why he might feel like giving up. It sounds like you think your son needs some extra help in school in order to graduate. It is very important that you continue to communicate your concerns to the school. If the school is not able to get your son assessed for possible learning disabilities, talk with your son’s doctor and get a referral to someone else who can assess him for you. Here is an article that will give you some more ideas about how to talk to the school about your concerns: How to Navigate the School System When Your Child Has a Disability. Of course, I don’t know if your son has a disability or not. Even so, the ideas in the article can still be very helpful. We wish you and your son luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Hi, This website has really helped me realize that parents are having the same issues we are which helps. I havent found anything for this, I wanted to see if I could get some input. My stepson has several things going on with him, my husband and I feel like we have just tried everything from motivation (we listen to Tony Robins and Zig Ziglar ourselves), different ways of disciplin, ignoring and everything is just getting worse. Here aer our issues currently that have happened since he moved in with ys 3 yrs ago. His mom kicked him out of her house because she has had the same issues for years. 1. He is failing every single class. Due to being a jokester all the time (his classmates tell him and the teacher he is annoying and immature). He is 15 almost 16. He doesnt do any work on time or does it halfway. He just does not care about school what so ever. We have tried this year, very simple, these are the house rules you must get C's or higher. We motivate, offer to help with anything. he just doesnt care. So we now have grounded him to his room besides dinner and during the weekends he has to do housework indoors and outdoors every weekend till his grades are up. We have tried other things and he says just take all my stuff away I dont care. 2. He does drugs and says to his friends he drinks. We havent caight him drinking but we have smoking cigerettes and dope. We do not do either. 3.He lies all the time, non stop over every single little to big thing. He says I didnt want to get into trouble, and we ask well now your in trouble, how did that work for you. 4.He steals, he has stolen from us and his grandma who he is extremely close with. 5. He mouths back to me (his stepmom) I have been in his life since he was 3. We were super close before he moved up and six month into it. then he started saying all I am good for is cooking, cleaning and rubbing his feet. I felt bad that his mom kicked him out and felt like I had to make up for it somehow and I would rub his feet or shoulders and serve him food on the couch. I wanted to make him just feel better and we always got along well. 5. He is lazy about everything, anything an everything he is asked to do. He talks back and just doesnt know when to shut up. These are the same issues he has had for years. His mom was always a little nutty, we were worried her stealing and lying in front of him would have an effect and we are not sure if thats it but we dont want to blame. We need HELP! I am at the point where I dont speak to him because he is just rude all the time.

Comment By : Danielle C.

* Hi Danielle: It sounds like you have a lot going on with your stepson right now, and it’s easy to see why you would feel hurt and frustrated by his behavior. When there are a lot of behavioral issues going on, we find that it’s most helpful to focus on 1-2 of the most troubling issues so you don’t feel overwhelmed. I recommend focusing on his drug use and drinking first, as many of these other issues (lack of motivation for school, laziness, lying, stealing and defiance) can stem from, and be worsened by, substance use. What we recommend is being very clear about the house rules addressing substance use, for example, “Drinking and using drugs are not tolerated in this house.” Next, we recommend finding local supports to help you, and your family, work through this issue. It might be helpful for you to contact the 211 National Helpline for referrals to helpful resources in your local area. You can reach them by visiting or by calling 1-800-273-6222. I am also attaching an article which I think can be helpful for you: My Child Is Using Drugs or Drinking Alcohol—What Should I Do? Good luck to you and your family as you work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I have a 15 years old teen who is struggling at school. He does not put too much interest in doing his homework and he would be irritated most of the time, lazy, he would hide homework he needs to hand in and hes grades are very low. School is recommending to do a learning skills evaluation to him to find out what might be wrong. My kid says tat he's been bodered by some kids at school and he has expressed a couple of times that he does not the actitude of some people at school. He is a good kid though. Please, help.....

Comment By : FrankL

* To FrankL: It sounds like you are pretty concerned about your son. It’s important to keep in mind that the teachers and staff at school spend quite a bit of time with your son and probably know him pretty well. If they are recommending an evaluation, we suggest that you follow through with that. It can be really helpful in understanding your son’s needs, and from that point you and the school can work together to come up with a plan to help your son perform at his best. We wish you and your son luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My 17 year old son is bi-polar/ld and taking his meds. He has a bad attitude towards school and chores. He is extremely lazy with his school work. Never has homework and has been offered tutoring afterschool but refuses to stay until it's the last minute of oh my paper is due tomorrow instead of staying on track. He has an IEP(individual education plan). He says he don't care about school it's boring and he wants to be left alone. His dad and him argue at least 4 times a week. I have lost all sense of direction on what to do. We have taken things away, thrown guilt at him, as well as, real life stories. He has many teachers who care about him. He thinks he knows it all. I just wish I had the money to send him away to a military school or some type of program to snap him into reality. He just can't see how tough it's going to be when he graduates high school in 2 years. No goals, no incentive and a don't care attitude has me so stressed out all I want to do is cry. We have had him talk to a counselor, the doctor has increased his meds and I've tried with "I'm so disappointed in you" talk. We have also offered bribes and a scooter, but nothing seems to work. Any suggestions is appreciated.

Comment By : tied hands

* To ‘tied hands’: It’s so frustrating for parents when their children just won’t put forth any effort in school, especially when your child’s future and the hopes and dreams you had for them are slipping out of reach. Your child’s school performance is a very personal thing and it’s easy to want to try to talk him into doing better while at the same time trying to get him to understand the impact of his decisions. The hardest thing about these situations is that often times the more you try to make your child change their behavior, the more they dig their feet in and resist you. It’s important to remember that teens are often unable to see the impact of their current actions on their future lives, and their perceptions in general differ greatly from that of an adult’s perspective. We would recommend that you set up a homework structure (found here) to hold your son accountable for doing some work each day, and then shift the rest of your focus and energy into taking care of yourself. By needing him to do his homework, you are actually putting yourself in a powerless position because he doesn’t have to do it. So set up the structure and then let him make his choice. Here is an article for more information on this: Unmotivated Child? 6 Ways to Get Your Child Going. We know this is hard and we wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Hi, I have a 14 year old daughter she is failing almost every class in high school, she is a social butterfly and seems like a happy go lucky girl at home but she has not interest in school. I have talked to her teachers, her counselor, her school's psychologist and they basically told me she isn't a priority to them. I look on their sites daily and her grades are horrible and she has alot of lates for classes. I am lost I don't know what to do to help her, when the teachers won't communicate and they don't update their web pages and my daughter is getting lost in the crack. She is struggling and is fearful I believe of admitting she needs help and doesn't trust anyone at the school.. What do I do?

Comment By : lisa8397

* To 'lisa8397': I understand how difficult it can be when it feels like you’re the only one who cares whether or not your daughter does well in school. Ultimately, school is your daughter’s responsibility. There are natural consequences for her behavior (failing classes, summer school, having to retake classes) and it’s best to let those happen. That doesn’t mean you have to depend on those completely, however. Your daughter might need you to set up some daily structure to motivate her to do better. For example, you might set up a daily study time, one hour for example, during which she needs to be focused on academic activities at a set place in the home. There are no electronics or hanging out with friends until she has worked for an hour that day. If she doesn’t complete the work, she can try again tomorrow to earn her free time. I know you have tried to communicate with teachers in the past to no avail. I would encourage you to try to set up weekly check-ins with teachers to see if there are any missing assignments. If you are not able to set up effective communication with her teachers, than I would suggest you just use the information that is available to you. Try to focus on what you can control. If there is any missing work you are aware of, her weekend does not begin until she completes the assignments and shows them to you, whether she will get any credit for them still or not. Here is an article for more ideas and information: End the Nightly Homework Struggle 5 Homework Strategies that Work for Kids. Good luck as you continue to work on this. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

My son is 5. Only child. Everytime we go to the grocery srore he throws a fit!! And not a little crying. This is like nonstop crying the whole time we are there. The past few months he has been doing AWFUL in school. His kindergarten teacher is now thinking of sending him to the principles office for a referal to the Dr. For meds. I really don't want to do that. He is a super smart kid! Knows how to read great, tie his shoes, cleans up after himself. He is an awesomw kid at home also. He will clwan his room do his bed, shower by himself. When it is only me and him he is the best little kid out there but at school or at geanma and grandpas it is BAD! PLEASE HELP!!!

Comment By : Im goen crazy!

* To “Im goen crazy!”: How frustrating it can be when your child behaves like an angel in some areas but like a little imp in others. I can hear how exasperated you are with his behavior when he’s not with you. What is going to be most helpful is to focus on one behavior or area at a time; for example, how he behaves at school. With that in mind, you would set clear expectations and then work with him to develop the skills necessary to address whatever problem he is trying to solve. You may also find it beneficial to incorporate a behavior chart that focuses on the behaviors he is working on. You could use a similar plan for things such as going to the grocery store or to his grandparents’ house. In this case, you would outline beforehand how you expect him to behave while he is there and what reward he could earn by meeting those expectations. There are a couple of articles that might be useful in helping you come up with a plan for addressing his behavior. Angel Child or Devil Child? When Kids Save Their Bad Behavior for You & Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively I hope this is instructive in helping you address your son’s behavior. Take care

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

My 15 yr old just flunked 4th quarter of 10th grade English. He had a C+ 3rd quarter so his overall semster grade is a D. The school offers a 3 week/5 hrs per day summer class he could take that would replace the D semester grade. He is not required by the school to take this summer class since they consider the D passing. My question is should I force him to take this class to improve his grade. He was horrified when I told him he might be going to summer school. I'm wondering if this consequence would help to avoid his lack of effort during the regular school year. Should I offer him a reward if he gets his grade up to a B in this summer school? He could care less about his grades and says he's not going to college. His 1st grade teacher told me my son is very bright in fact one of the brightest kids she's taught in 28 years but until he finds what he's passionate about, "good luck." I thought she was crazy when she said it but she seems to have hit the nail on the head. He brings zero homework home and only studies for tests if I force him. I constantly have to check lesson plans and email teachers as he will not tell me if he has any assignments or tests. I'm almost to the point where I want to throw my hands up and let him flunk and take his lumps. He does not get how his grades relate to options available to him later on down the road. He's not afraid to work as he has a fulltime summer job and his boss says he's a harder work than the older employees. He loves getting a paycheck but without better grades I feel he'll be stuck in a minimum wage job the rest of his life.

Comment By : Tere27

* To “Tere27”: You ask some great questions. It can be frustrating when you know your child is capable of performing better than he is. Deciding to allow your child to fail can be a difficult decision for many parents. As James Lehman suggests in his article Why You Should Let Your Child Fail The Benefits of Natural Consequences , failure is an opportunity for your child to change. By allowing him to feel the discomfort of failure, you’re allowing him the choice of changing. When we protect our children from suffering the natural consequences of their choices, we’re hampering their ability to develop the skills necessary to deal with disappointment and frustration. Ultimately, it’s your son’s responsibility to go to school and do the work expected of him. In the end, only you can decide if you should require him to go to summer school. However, instead of consequencing him for not going, we would suggest offering him a reward if he goes to summer school and gets a higher grade. Rewarding him for the extra work and time spent in summer school is probably going to be more effective than giving him consequences for not going. Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

my son is eight yrs old and he is in grade three, he was doing well in grade one and started to drop in two badly. he has no interest in school i try everything to help him but he does not care about him self or things he just wants to play everyday no stop what do i do. i am frustrated and want to give up. am i doing something wrong am i a bad mother.

Comment By : dobbs

* To dobbs: It can be very upsetting to watch your child’s school performance start to slide, and even more so when you feel like you care about it more than he does! It is pretty normal for kids to want to play more than do homework; so rest assured, that does NOT make you a bad mother! As hard as it is, it is going to be more effective for you to address this on a functional level as mentioned in the article, and keep the emotion out of it. Do not focus on making him care about doing his schoolwork; rather, concentrate on problem solving with your son on his grades and the work he is doing. For example, you might say, “I have noticed that your grades have fallen from B’s to D’s over the past grading period. What is going on? What are you doing to do differently to bring your grades up?” You might find it helpful to set up a structured study time for him in which he works on his schoolwork, and can earn some extra playtime each day by participating in the study time. In addition, you might also find it helpful to talk with his teacher to see what is going on in the classroom. I am including a link to another articles you might find helpful: The Homework Battle: How to Get Children to Do Homework Good luck to you and your son as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

HI my son is 12 years old and he is in 7th grade. He has a hard time focusing in school and staying in track. he always gets D or F in test. teachers want me to get him tested they think he needs medication. I payed 200 dollars to get him tested in sacramento but they did not find anything wrong so now the school wants me to try the pedritician. I hard the medication for add is not good it has alot of side effect. I dont know what to do. there is no tuturing available in his school. I am a singel parent and can not afford tuturing. please help me.

Comment By : maria

* To “maria”: It sounds like you are in the middle of a really tough situation. I am sorry your son is struggling in school. From what you have written, I can hear how much you want to help him. We would suggest talking with your son’s pediatrician to determine whether or not medication would be helpful. Your son’s doctor would probably be the best person to discuss with you the various options available and to help you decide if medication would be right for your son. Because we don’t know your son, it would be difficult for us to suggest what the best course of action would be for your particular situation. We encourage you to check out other articles and blogs on Empowering Parents. Here are some that may be useful for you: Dr. Bob on ADHD: To Medicate or Not to Medicate?, Parenting an ADHD/ADD Child: 10 Ways to Help Their Behavior Improve & Your ADHD Child and School: You Are Your Child’s Best Advocate. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to address this issue. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

My 11 1/2 year old dropped in grades from A's and B's to mostly C's. He said he is overwhelmed by the homework and that he doesn't have time for anything fun. We figured out that he misses a few assignments and got behind. I helped him getting organized with his work. He is not participating in school and seems to not paying attention in class. He is just doing the bare minimum. He is smart but doesn't apply himself. He gives up when it gets tough. He mentioned that he has no best friend. One day he is happy, the next he seems depressed. What can we as parents do to help him to get through this?

Comment By : Rita123

* To “Rita123”: Thank you for sharing your story. I can hear how much you want to help your son through this challenging situation. It’s great you’ve taken the time to talk to him about what’s going. Problem solving with your child about a situation he finds challenging is a large part of the coaching we do with parents on the Parental Support Line. From what you have written, it sounds like he’s feeling overwhelmed by the homework. That’s a great place to start when thinking about working with him to come up with a plan for how he’s going to improve his grades. For example, when it comes time for him to do his homework, perhaps the “hurdle help” you can give him is to help him break his assignments down into smaller, more manageable parts. You might also consider developing an incentive program where he can earn extra free time, either during the week or on the weekend, by completing his homework assignments during his scheduled homework time. It can be helpful to check in with the teachers about what may be going on for him in class as well. Establishing a good working relationship with the school can be beneficial when trying to develop a plan of action for helping him become academically successful. Here are a couple articles you may also find helpful for your situation: Homework Hell? Part II: 7 Real Techniques That Work & 10 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Do Better in School. We wish you and your family the best as you continue to work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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Responses to questions posted on are not intended to replace qualified medical or mental health assessments. We cannot diagnose disorders or offer recommendations on which treatment plan is best for your family. Please seek the support of local resources as needed. If you need immediate assistance, or if you and your family are in crisis, please contact a qualified mental health provider in your area, or contact your statewide crisis hotline.

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