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Sara Douglas Psy.D., NCSP
Sara Douglas Psy.D., NCSP

Sailing or Struggling? Tips for Facilitating School Success

Five tips for identifying if children may be struggling in school.

As the wave of religious holidays comes to an end, students and teachers are acclimating to the rhythm of the five-day school week. The beginning of any school year is a time of transition for most students; some from high school to college, some from middle school to high school, and some just from one grade to the next. No matter the age, a new school year can bring with it academic, social, and/or emotional challenges that were either unseen or non-existent all the way back in June.

Like most problems, early detection is key. Identifying both that a challenge exists, and what, exactly, that challenge is, can help ensure students are helped in the appropriate ways. Here are some of the less obvious signs for parents to consider while the new school year becomes less new*:

1. Change in behavior: Maybe your social butterfly of a daughter is loathe to leave her room on the weekends; maybe your straight-A son is showing less interest in his classes; generally speaking, any change in your child’s behavior can be a good indicator that they may be having a difficult time in some realm.

2. “No homework”: Miraculously, several weeks into the year, your child has yet to receive any homework! Although teachers assign homework daily, your child was told that they just didn’t have to worry about it. How fortuitous! Students are assigned homework. For better or worse, that’s how schools work; your child’s school is likely no different. If your child claims there is never any homework, they may be forgetting what they need to do, don’t understand how to do it, or weren’t in class when it was assigned. It’s also possible the teacher just didn’t give any that day, but look for a pattern here.

3. Too much homework: Despite being seven years-old, with finger painting as the most challenging course on the schedule, your child manages to spend hours upon hours working on homework each night (spending too long on homework can happen to a student of any age, not just the artists of tomorrow). Students might be spending way too long on their homework for many reasons, they may have perfectionistic tendencies, naturally slow processing, or a fear of failure that results in stress and anxiety. Any of these can be detrimental to your child and can impede their academic success and mental health. Certainly, students can spend hours on their homework without having a clinical problem, but it’s a good idea to monitor the impact this might have on them.

4. Need to call/email friends for homework help: If your child frequently needs to be in communication with a peer to either find out what the homework was or to get help completing it, there may be a larger issue. Maybe your child has trouble understanding the class material, but is relying on a friend — rather than the teacher — to explain it to them. Communication between peers should be encouraged and there is certainly nothing wrong with getting help from a friend, but this help should supplement classroom instruction, not replace it.

5. Frequent complaints of illness: Children often complain about their physical health when something unrelated is actually bothering them. Kids may ask to stay home from school, visit the nurse frequently, or ask to be picked up during the day, if there they are avoiding academic work or social settings.

If you have noticed a potential concern, an important first step should be to call your child’s school. Teachers have insights into your child that you might not have. Ask for a meeting. Ask for a phone call. Get information in any way that you can, and importantly, share the information that you, yourself have. Often, children have two sides: the “home” side and the “school” side. Mutual collaboration is the best way to monitor incongruous behaviors and facilitate any appropriate help for them.

*It is important that all the information presented be considered within the realm of your child’s typical behavior and personality.

About the Author
Sara Douglas Psy.D., NCSP

Sara Douglas, Psy.D., is a school psychologist who specializes in neuropsychological evaluations.

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