How To Help Your Academically Struggling Child End The School Year on a Positive Note

With only a few months to go before summer break, many parents who have kids with C’s D’s or F’s in one or more subjects are ready to give up on the school year and resolve to just do better next year.

They incorrectly think that that there is nothing that they can do to pull up their child’s grades in such little time and so late in the game.

But I want to give you some hope – there is a way you can help your child salvage this school year and be happy with their grades on their final report card. Below, I will give your a roadmap on how to work with your child over the next few months to increase their grades by at least 1 letter grade before the year ends.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you and tell you up front that this is going to mean a lot of extra work on your part – but if you are willing to put in the work, I’m willing to give you the road map on how to help your child end the school year feeling happy, successful, and excited to start the next school year.

How Did My Child Get So Far Behind?

Because we are all born with unique strengths and weaknesses, it makes sense that kids will struggle with one or more subjects or classes. For example, you son might have very little problems with math assignments, but really struggles completing his writing assignments. This doesn’t mean he’s a bad kid or that he’s lazy, it just means that he needs to put more effort into the academic areas that are difficult for him in order to get good grades.

On the other hand, some kids struggle getting passing grades in ALL their classes. If the child has never been diagnosed with a learning disability, earning poor grades is usually the result of not knowing the necessary study skills to earn good grades. All it takes to help this type of child is to teach them the organizational and study skills that they need to get ahead.

Another reason parents find that their kids are struggling at the end of the school year is because something happened earlier in the school year that ended up getting their child behind, and then the child just never caught up after that. I’ve seen so many kids get behind in school because of something beyond their control, and then really struggle the rest of the year to catch up. It just breaks my heart sometimes.

There are lots of circumstances that can cause a child to fall seriously behind in school. Situations such as a serious illness or a significant family death are common causes.

There are often many life stressors such as divorce, household relocation, or other family emergencies that can have lasting effects throughout the entire school year that affect a child’s mood, concentration, and motivation.

As a child psychologist, it is so frustrating when I need to help a child client with a mental health emergency and there’s now way for me to “pause” their academic responsibilities! It’s a reality that kids will still need to keep up with their school work in the midst of medical, family, or mental health emergencies, even when this doesn’t make sense given their emergency situation.

So now that you have identified the reason why your child fell behind this year, let’s discuss how to get them back on track so that they end the year on a positive note.

The Roadmap To Getting Your Child’s Academic Year Back on Track

There are 4 steps to take when making a plan to get your child’s academic year back on track: 1) create an effective environment in the home, 2) utilize available school resources, 3) gain outside help, and 4) problem-solve solutions to specific problems. If you take the time to address each of these steps, then your child has a good chance in using these last few months (or weeks) to increase their year-end grades.

Step 1: Create an environment in the home that encourages academic accomplishment. First of all, make sure you have created a home environment that supports your child in spending time on academic work. You can do this by:

  • Create a workspace that is quiet, free from distractions, and contains all the necessary supplies your child would need to complete their work. Your child should always know where they are expected to work on their school work. Studies show that when kids have a predictable and efficient place to work on their homework, they are actually able to get started faster and get distracted less often which translates to getting better grades.
  • Develop an afternoon and evening schedule that includes regular homework time (so your child doesn’t fall further behind), time to tackle make-up work (so your child can catch up), and resting time (so your child doesn’t burn out). It’s a fact that kids and teenagers who do their homework at the same time each day have fewer missed and/or late assignments and get better grades. When there is a set schedule in the home regarding work time, chore time, etc., kids spend less time arguing and trying to get out of doing their work and spend more time actually doing their work. This translates to better grades in school. It’s also very important important to make sure your child gets breaks too – without some down time, your child is likely to experience anxiety, depression, and/or lack of motivation to do their work.
  • Re-evaluate their organizational system. Some kids are super smart, but the reason they bring home poor report cards is because their dysfunctional organizational system prevents them from turning in assignments on time or accessing important materials to study before a test. Take some time to look through their backpack, notebooks, and home desk to see if you need to teach them some basic organizational strategies. It’s also important to check up with them to make sure they are keeping up with the new organizational system. If this problem describes your child, you’ll be amazed by how quickly your child’s grades improve from simply turning in their homework on time because they can now find it when they need it!
  • Make sure your child is getting enough sleep, nutritious meals, and exercise. I know this advice is given all the time, but I see such a difference in kids when they start adhering to a regular bedtime and mealtime. For some kids it’s like night and day – everything becomes easier for them because their bodies and minds can now take on the demands of their day.
  • Re-evaluate whether or not your child’s after school activities are necessary at this point. For some kids who participate in optional after school or weekend extracurricular activities, it helps to put these activities on “break” for a while so your child focuses solely on raising their grades. It doesn’t mean that they never have to go back to these activities, but when kids focus on only 1 important goal, that goal is more likely to be met. For kids that cannot put these activities on hold, explore with them and their teacher/coach if there is a way for your child to participate less over the next couple of months so that they can focus on their academic goals.

Step 2: Use School Resources. Every school is different and each one provides different opportunities for kids who need help with their studies. Some schools require students to be tested first before they will qualify students for extra help (e.g. IEP or 504 plan), while other schools provide some awesome resources that are available for every student. Below are several ideas in getting help for your child in the school system:

  • Partner with your child’s teacher. Your child’s teacher (or teachers, depending on your child’s grade) holds so much power over your child’s grades, so it makes sense to communicate with them and let them know that your family’s goals over the new several months is to intensively work with your child to raise their grades. There are so many benefits to partnering with your child’s teacher: they become impressed that you are trying so hard and will give your child extra help in class; they might bump your child’s grade up if it is “borderline” simply because they know you are making an effort; they can point you to resources that will help your child that you never knew existed.
  • Take advantage of any online grading systems. Online grading systems that are regularly updated are such a valuable resource! They allow parents to keep track of unfinished work, to see their child’s progress as their child works hard on their assignments and tests, and to spot grading mistakes before they become a problem. I strongly advise you to take advantage of this system, and, if your school does not have this system or if this system is not regularly updated, then ask your child’s teacher to email you current grades and assignments each week. Most teachers will agree to this.
  • Be aware of your school’s resources. As I mentioned above, every school is different and many schools offer resources for struggling students that could give your child an advantage in raising their grades quickly. Many schools offer after school homework clubs that are led by older students or college students. I’ve also heard of many kids getting homework help from their teachers either before school, at lunch, or after school. There are even programs specifically designed for kids struggling that will take your child out of the classroom for a short period of time to provide extra tutoring in math, reading, or writing. Most importantly, your child cannot take advantage of these programs until you do the legwork to find them, so talk to your child’s school to see what programs they offer.

Step 3: Investigate Outside Resources. Some kids need extra assistance outside of the home and the school system to really address their specific problems with grades. Below, I give you some ideas for accessing resources in the community.

  • Tutoring. A lot of kids really benefit from tutoring – including one of my own kids. My child (and I’m trying to be vague for privacy reasons for them) is very gifted in several areas, but math is not one of those areas. My child didn’t want their math grades to suffer, so they started tutoring in order to maintain their grades. For some people, tutoring contains a negative stigma – many people mistakenly believe that only “dumb” kids get tutoring, but, in reality, many high-performing kids get tutoring in order to stay at the top of their class. Look at it this way: a tutor is like a coach who helps your child do their best at school.
  • Another note about tutoring. Oftentimes when I suggest tutoring to my clients, without thinking about it, they tell me getting a tutor is impossible because they can’t afford it. Well, you don’t always have to hire an expensive tutor. Many times, I’ve seen families enlist the help of teenage or college-age cousins, family friends, or neighbors to sit with their child once or twice a week to help their child with their homework. I have seen this work so many times! A tutor doesn’t have to be a specially- trained professional to inspire results in your child – it can be anyone willing to sit down with your child to walk them through difficult homework problems, help them organize their work, or to just make sure the child stays on task and completes their work.
  • Counseling. Some kids have difficulties that aren’t academic, but these problems interfere with their schoolwork anyway. Some examples would be problems related to ADHD, anxiety, depression, etc. If you feel that your child is dealing with any of these issues, then now is the time to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional so your child can start working through these issues. You will be amazed at how well your child’s grades improve when they are feeling better on the inside.

Step 4: Problem Solve Solutions to Your Child’s Unique Challenges. This is the last step to consider when making a plan to improve your child’s grades by the end of the year. After you have implemented steps 1-3 from above, take a step back to critically consider if there are any other reasons that might be contributing to your child’s academic difficulties.

  • Maybe you never had to micro-manage your older kids with regard to their school work, but your youngest needs you to be more involved because they lack the motivation or organizational skills that your older children were blessed with?
  • Did the family recently experience a new change such as moving or adding a new baby to the family? Maybe your child got into the habit of not being on top of their school work while your attention was temporarily focused on something else.
  • Perhaps your child struggles with inattention due to ADHD. Go online or join a support group for parents of ADHD kids to learn strategies designed to help your child learn to control their attention.

The most important thing to remember about this last step is to be sure to be honest with yourself about your child’s academic situation. It might be painful to acknowledge that your child is struggling, but you can’t help them with their difficulty until you have identified the problem. Once you have identified your child’s unique challenge, use all your available resources to develop a solution.

Action Plan

Now that you have a roadmap for getting your child’s grades back on track, you must implement the plan IMMEDIATELY. You don’t have to do everything all at once – it’s ok to focus on one step at a time, but be sure to start as soon as you can.

The roadmap that I’ve laid out for you is not a quick fix – be prepared to put in a lot of parental time over the next couple of months. Also, be prepared for some pushback from your child in terms of attitude, tantrums, or tears because this process might be hard on them, too.

The important thing to remember when this plan seems impossible is that by putting in the hard work now, you and your child will be rewarded with an improved report card at the end of the year. When this happens, your child will feel the sweet tingle of pride in their bellies!

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