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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Hills

6 Tips to Overcome the Mid-Semester Slump

Both you and young Max came into the new year excited! Max started high school this year. They were going to take school seriously and really commit to bettering their grades and making you proud. They were going to be confident, suave, cool... maybe even popular!

Now it’s December. Max still isn't cool and their grades have not changed. In fact, they may have gotten a little worse. It’s not bad. But it falls short of the passionate aspirations of the early semester and Max is disappointed. They are starting to spend even less time on homework and sarcastically asking you the question, “What’s the point?”

We call this the Mid-Semester Slump.

Many times there is some kind of change— a new grade, new school, or new semester— where someone has expectations which turn out to be a bit... different from reality. This could range from “This year, I’m going to be a whole new me!” to “How bad could high school and college prep be?” These kinds of expectations are the ones which, when proven to be the opposite of what was hoped for, lead your child to feelings of hopelessness and giving up.

So... what to do?

1. Readjust expectations

Some expectations are unreasonable. Max is probably not going to suddenly become “cool” without some intense life experiences. That’s ok! They are only fifteen years old. No one magically becomes a different person over summer, no matter how much we wish we could. Talk to them and help them understand that life takes us on a journey of change, not insta-change. Make sure they knows that you love them even when they are “super uncool.” They are in the midst of their life journey and you are there with them. That’s not a bad place to be.

They are also not going to turn into a brilliant mathematician if that is a subject they have struggled with in the past. That’s fine! Small improvements are how the rest of us develop ourselves in our weak areas. This is normal, not sudden flashes of genius just because we decided so. Remind them that those goals they set are wonderful and truly could be made a reality, just maybe not in the time frame they thought.

2. Make a plan

Teach your child to take a look at where they are. A realistic view of ourselves can be hard to come by, but it is very helpful when we are trying to change direction. Help them look at their strengths and weaknesses clearly first. Don't be ashamed of the ugly or be overly humble about the good.

Once you have taught your child to do that, then set small, attainable goals culminating in that final place they were hoping to be. This way, they can see the change happen, even if it is slower than they thought it would be. Talking with their teacher or tutor can help you both make sure their goals make sense while still challenging them.

3. Cheer them on!

The hard part about long-game goals is sticking with them. Some you find are less important than you thought and you drop them naturally. Others are no mean feat and take incredible (and thankless) persistence to achieve. These may be some of the first goals your child has set that they must accomplish without your help. After all, you don’t know anything about calculus. That can be scary and discouraging. Make sure you are there to ask them about their progress, both their successes and their failures. Having someone to cheer for your successes and acknowledge your effort in your failures can make the difference between conquering and surrendering. Be that for your child.

Encourage looking forward in both areas. After success, prepare for the next test. After failure, grit your teeth and see what needs to change in order to make the next time a success. Your child needs you to cheer them on as they faces the difficult process of becoming a better student.

What about when my child is just plain overwhelmed?

Sometimes, students come into a new school, particularly high school and discover that the game has changed. Pressure is on, homework is brutal, and SAT prep is no joke. In the face of these kinds of obstacles, it is no wonder that some are tempted to just give up.

Almost everyone has felt or will feel this way at some point in high school. As we have said, high school is hard. The concepts are tough and the expectations are high. Children are starting to make decisions that affect the rest of their life at fourteen. They can’t rely on their parents for homework help. They now have to judge whether they understand something on their own. And sometimes they make mistakes.

Additionally, there are the pressures of the social scene. Children are starting to break away from the family unit and discover who they are. The nature of this process is trying out the different social personas they see around them. What happens if I am a perky person like that girl is? What happens if I’m a dark, brooding person like that guy over there? What do my friends think if I act this or that way? Social acceptance takes a higher priority than it ever has—and sometimes it weighs equally against personal preference, lifestyle realities, parental approval... Even occasionally moral values.

Don’t forget the strain of puberty. Bodies are changing in a completely new way and it’s uncomfortable and exhausting. Emotions fluctuate without warning, but your child’s brain hasn’t developed enough to allow them to articulate to you what is wrong. There is a lot going on.

With all of these factors added to the curveballs life throws us regardless of age or circumstance, your child will almost definitely be overwhelmed at some point no matter what you do. This is a great learning opportunity. How do we deal with stress in a healthy way?

1. Take a deep breath

You can’t do anything if you panic alongside your child. Show them how an adult acknowledges the raging emotions that come with a problem, then looks beyond those emotions to a solution. With all that is going on, many children are not equipped to do that on their own. They need you to show them how.

An important thing to bring up first is that you love and care about your child, regardless of circumstances. You are in this together and you are there to work with them to make sure they can achieve whatever they wants to. And if some of those dreams end up unreachable after an admirable effort, even then you will be on their side.

2. Figure out what is going on

Is it really school that is the problem? Or is it one of the host of issues that plague a student? Very likely, it is a combination. See if you can parse through the different problems to separate the ones which require listening and sympathy and the ones which can be solved with tangible action. You can support your child through both, but not if you don’t know which is which. We recommend an open, listening mind and soft, clarifying questions... preferably over some chocolate or another favorite sweet and after you both have calmed down.

For further reading on what to do with yourself in the face of your children’s academics, see this article here.

3. See what can be done

Talk to their teachers and see what they recommend. Reconsider the commitments you both have made, if they can be put off or are just purely unnecessary.

We have an excellent article about homework management which expands on some of these ideas and more, here.

After that, revisit our initial list of supporting and encouraging your child through the Mid-Semester Slump to help your child move beyond their

disappointment and the motivation drought. Persisting in spite of setbacks, heighten standards, even boredom is a skill we can all develop. But few will develop such a skill without purposeful intention. The benefits are obvious. So is the pain one has to endure. Come alongside your child. Reassure that your support will never waver. Inspire by demonstrating what an adult would do, pointing the way to actions that your child can take that will solve the problem.

School is a microcosm of the difficulty we all struggle with in life. Happily, just as there is help in the real world, within this little world your child has allies. We at Spark Tutors are pleased to be fellow confidence bolsters with you in the life of your child. We hope to work together with you both to accomplish your goals and achieve your dreams.


We trust that these suggestions will benefit those of you, parents and students, who are battling through the mire of academic apathy. Overcoming isn’t easy. Success isn’t either. Gather your determination and press on! We‘ll see you at the tutoring table!

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