Early Signs your Child is Struggling at School

As parents, we all want our children to succeed in school; however, not every child will naturally progress through the grades onto graduation without facing a few challenges. The sooner parents realize their child is struggling, the sooner they can begin working with the school and their child to correct the issue(s) blocking future success.

Here are some of the first indications your child is having problems at school.

1. Behavior and Attitude Changes at Home: Whether your child is in first grade or tenth grade, (s) he is not always going to come right out and tell you they are having problems in school. Parents need to be in tune to their child’s behavioral and attitude cues.

*Negative Attitude towards School

Most children have an innate love for learning and school in general. Kindergarten is their first step towards becoming and individual, independent of Mom and Dad. The educational world is full of new people, places and activities for them to explore. Yet when your child starts to say negative comments about school, their teachers and the work on a regular basis, it’s time to take notice.  Every child has a bad day, but a consistent negative attitude is a sign that something just isn’t right.

*Bored, Lazy, or Too Easy

Learning is usually exciting for children. They have a natural curiosity about the world and school allows them to appease that curiosity. When your child’s curiosity is replaced with boredom, laziness, or an “it’s too easy for me” behavior, the opposite is usually true. Students, especially preteens and teenagers, try to mask their academic struggles by pretending that school no longer matters to them. If school is no longer important to your child, it’s actually an indication that they are struggling with a subject, a teacher or even other students.


Organizational skills are key to success in school, even more so in middle and high school where students have to juggle multiple classes, teacher expectations, and extra-curricular activities all at once. Take a look in your child’s room and even his/her book bag. Is this a dangerous undertaking or can you find books and assignments easily? Some children only need a little guidance, but others use their lack of organization to cover up a bigger problem. If you can’t find it (or them either) then you can’t see it, and if you can’t see it then it doesn’t exist. At least that’s the thought process behind the mess. First, work with your child on how to organize his/her room and school work. If the issue doesn’t go away after a few lessons, then it’s time to look for the real issue.

2. Homework: This is an area of concern for most parents and teachers and a key to identifying struggling students. Knowing what is the norm for your child’s school and individual teachers is the first step.

*Too Little Homework or Too Much Homework

If your child is coming home with little or no homework most days, it’s usually not the case. Teachers need to assign work to students outside of class in order to assess whether or not they understand the subject material on their own. Homework should be expected at least three out of the five days of the week regardless of your child’s grade level. On the flip side, if it seems that your child has to spend hours upon hours completing homework each night, then it too is a sign (s) he is struggling. Pay attention to your child’s daily homework habits.

*The Homework Battle

Your child may have homework, but it’s a battle to get him/her to even start or complete it. Also, struggling students tend to “forget” their required books and materials at school to keep from having to face doing the work. If your child is fighting you over doing homework, don’t take it personally. The fight is just masking the real problem. For some children it’s easier to argue with you than to admit they are struggling to understand.

*Graded Work?

At the beginning, your child couldn’t wait to show you his/her work. Every parent remembers when their child brought home that favorite art project or the story with a gold star pasted to the top. However, when the graded work seems to get lost or forgotten, the progress reports not handed out, or the report cards missing, there’s a problem. If your child is struggling at school, it’s shameful to admit and easier for him/her to pretend that as long as you don’t see the proof, then you won’t see the truth; school is hard.

3. Behavioral Problems at School: Especially in middle and high school, students who struggle act out. Being a behavioral problem is seen as cool, whereas not understanding the work is seen as being stupid. No child wants to be labeled stupid by adults or peers. It’s easier to take the punishment for their behavior rather than the embarrassment of their struggles.

4. Physical Symptoms: Stress over academic struggles can manifest itself as physical ailments. If your child is suffering from regular headaches, stomachaches or other illnesses, this could indicate that your child is stressed at school. Other physical symptoms include a change in sleeping and/or eating habits.

5. New Friends and Activities: While children will create new relationships as they grow, a drastic change in their friends can be a sign that things are not all well at school.  Keeping up with who your child associates with at school and in their free time is not being nosey, it’s being a parent. Along with those new friends may come new social activities. Take care not to ignore the connection between these new interests and school performance.

Acting on the Signs

No single indicator is sufficient to suspect that your child is struggling at school. Yet if you see more than one of these signs in your child, it is time to act. Try to communicate your concern with your child first before talking with his/her teacher. It is important to keep your child involved in solving his/her school issues. Then contact your child’s teacher to begin working on helping your child succeed.