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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Hills

How to Help your Student Overcome Mental Blocks

We all have our own little mental blocks, like responding to that text you should have replied to days ago and now it's been three days and you feel like a jerk, so you keep putting it off. Or paying that parking ticket you got that one day you parked in a red zone because you were in a rush, and now everytime you look at the ticket you feel embarrassed and ashamed... so you keep putting it off. Or calling your insurance company to ask that one question about your coverage, but you feel dumb for having to call in the first place... so you keep putting it off...

We all have them. Even our students.

These mental blocks are often trivial, and somehow completely paralyzing at the same time. And while adults have them around parking tickets and insurance benefits, our kids often have them around homework.

We've seen it too many times; a smart student who doing great in all subjects, hard worker, but hasn't turned in a single piece of math homework all semester. What's going on??

What Exactly Is Happening And Why?

The reasoning behind this actually makes a lot of sense. In order to survive, our species developed tools to help us. When we are faced with a threat or problem, we have our fight, flight, or freeze responses. Each is useful depending on the situation, but these tools can cause us trouble if we use them at the wrong time.

Students with a "fight" response will get angry, frustrated and emotional when faced with their homework. Students with a "flight" response will distract themselves by doing something else, like cleaning their room, or spending all their time on their English paper and avoiding their math all together. This often looks like procrastination. And students with a "freeze" response will freeze up, and avoid the homework all together.

How You Can Help

1. The first thing to do is acknowledge the difficulty of the situation. While failing a subject may not seem like a big deal to an adult, this may be one of the scariest problems your child has faced to date. The fear he feels is real—and really paralyzing. Recognizing that will let your child know you care about what he is going through and will help him trust you and listen to you.

2. Next, help your child to articulate what he is afraid of. When a fear is defined and out in the open, it gives you the opportunity to address it. This may be the most difficult part. Your child’s fear may be that he will fail again, or that he is secretly truly too stupid to understand. Help him define what is going on inside as best you can. When your child knows exactly what it is he is facing, it causes the fear to lose much of its immobilizing power.

3. After that, encourage your child. Part of freezing is believing that he is unable to handle the problem and that it would be better to not move than to move unsuccessfully in any direction. He needs you to assure him that he can do whatever needs to happen in order to successfully solve this. This helps your child develop grit and determination. It is here that you want to reframe the problem of failing into a challenge that can be overcome.

4. Finally, offer advice on how to develop some solutions. Since your child will face many problematic situations in life, this is a great opportunity for him to practice finding his own solutions and being an independent self advocate. See if you can play the guide as your child works towards finding how he can turn his grades around. Offer support when he gets stuck and encouragement to keep at it.

Real Solutions

This may all sounds very nice, but maybe you don’t even know how to save a failing grade other than some version of “try harder.” Sometimes kids need to hear that. Sometimes, though, they have tried harder and it didn’t work. What are some other options you can guide your child to explore?

Try the Teacher: Your child’s teacher may be equally confused about what is going on with your child. Depending on the teacher, having your child set up a meeting to discuss solutions may be a good idea. The teacher will know where your child is and what needs to happen in order for your child to get back on the right track.

Ask the School: Next on the help list, you can encourage your child to reach out to the school. Schools often have resources for students who are struggling. There may be work books and a quiet space to practice. There may even be teachers who can explain some of the difficult concepts to your child. You may never know if you don’t ask.

Contact a Tutoring Service: If you know the problem is bigger than can be managed by a bit of teacher help or some extra practice after school, you may want to suggest that your child contact a tutoring service. Tutors are very experienced in their subjects and are quite good at identifying what a student is missing and how much work needs to be done to get up to speed. They can make recommendations and are generally available whenever your child needs some extra help. Tutors can handle both long-time issues as well as address short-term concerns.

Spark Tutors is passionate about learning and overcoming challenges which makes us a perfect match for freeing students from paralyzing academic fears. We encourage new, positive thought patterns about difficult subjects or concepts and fill in anything that may be missing in a student’s education so our students can have confidence when they go into a tough class or take a big exam. We are privileged to support students and parents as they navigate the complexities of academia.


We hope this article has provided some clarity on your student’s experiences as well as sparked some ideas for solutions to the obstacles that may be ahead. Remember, fears can be faced, and challenges can be overcome! We’ll see you at the tutoring table!

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