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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Hills

Is Your Student Underperforming? Here are 6 Ways You Can Support Them.

Mason had always been a smart kid. He did well in middle school, but when he got to high school, something was … different. His grades started to slip. As a parent, you try to guide him in the right direction.

However, gentle reminders devolve into dinner table sermons preached at an increasingly resentful audience. Or you get a full-blown emotional explosion. Nothing is working, the grades are getting worse, and you are both fed up.

First things first: Breathe!

The natural reaction is to be angry. Doesn’t he understand what this means? Why isn’t she taking this seriously? Where did we go wrong?


Remember, anger is a secondary emotion. It is always preceded by either fear or hurt—sometimes both! There might be fear that your little girl is throwing away her future. There might be hurt that your precious son is wasting all the time and money you have committed to have him attend that expensive private school.

Knowing what you are feeling and why you are feeling that way is important to controlling yourself and moving forward alongside your child. Exploding and berating are unlikely to work, so we need to find something else.

Second: Is it Motivation, Comprehension, or Study Skills?

Think. Is your child’s problem a lack of motivation, a lack of comprehension, or are the study skills needing some help?


Is your child so overwhelmed that he has given up? High schoolers, in particular boys, can be prone to this. Your son is smart. You know he is. But homework never gets done no matter how much you nag and behavioral problems are popping up. Getting through middle school and high school and then making it into college is extremely challenging. Students feel the pressure from all directions, even as freshmen. If you can’t find a single checkmark on that to-do list, it may indicate a lack of motivation.


If that’s not the case, maybe something is missing in a mathematical or literary foundation. Building on shaky foundations leads to one thing: frustration. When your child is clearly doing all of the right things and still failing, this may be evidence of a lack of comprehension.

Study Skills

Perhaps she’s doing everything she is supposed to and the grades still aren’t there. She spends hours on homework and stays up late only to barely scrape a B on the test. Tears are occasionally involved. Sometimes a learning disorder is present, but often there are other factors. Perhaps she spent all night practicing equations but the test asked her to graph her calculations. No matter how well she prepared, she was ready for the wrong test. This kind of mistake and others like it may signal a gap in your child’s study skills.

Sometimes the problem is unclear. Sometimes it is a combination of factors. Asking your child is usually a good idea and can be very revealing. Does the explanation sound like an evasion or a reasonable excuse? Is the distressed bafflement real? How your child responds to you will help you find your answer. You know your child best, so take a moment and listen.

Third: Remember Your Relationship

After identifying the problem (or at least part of it), many parents move straight to the solution.

Wait a minute.

Unless your relationship with your child is completely on the rocks, your child loves you. He knows he is not living up to your expectations and is also afraid of failing it all and ending up a loser in life.

Maybe this is the first educational setback he has experienced. After all, there aren’t really consequences for flunking first grade. It wasn’t that hard anyway. But middle school is harder. And high school is worse. Your child is likely terrified. Or in deep despair about where he has found himself.

Will you still respect him if he can’t make it?

Will you still love him if he’s stupid?

Look at your child. See what he needs from you before you move to fix the problem.

Fourth: Helping without Humiliating

It’s very hard to accept we have a problem with school. Maybe we subconsciously think we are admitting we are stupid or incapable of normal life. No one else seems to be having these problems— at least as far as we know. It can be completely embarrassing for our children to confess they need help.

This is usually the case with children who are unfamiliar with failure. Failure means... something really bad. Maybe the child will get in trouble, maybe the child will be laughed at, or maybe we as parents have hidden our own failure so well that our children assume it just doesn’t happen.

The first step is to acknowledge that failure definitely happens.

It may not occur in the same areas, but all of us fall short if the standards are high enough. Most children don’t realize this. Failure is common to all of us. It’s not embarrassing if everyone fails.

It also doesn’t usually mean what we think it means. It doesn’t mean the end of the world. It doesn’t mean we can't move forward and are stuck in 8th grade forever. It doesn’t mean we are stupid or worthless.

It means we have to get creative.

How do we work around or work through what is stopping us? This is exactly what makes humans so special. We overcome impossibilities by finding another way. This may be as simple as an extra $20 per letter grade on a test. If the problem falls under comprehension or study skills, your child’s preferred tutor can help! If the basics are shaky, a tutor can identify weaknesses and work on them. If the rhythm of a class makes no sense, a tutor can also make sure your child is properly prepared for the upcoming test.

Remember to ask for your child’s opinion. His perspective and ideas may surprise you.

Fifth: Encouragement vs Pressure

Encouragement means you believe in her, even if C’s are all she can manage. It is important to reach her potential, but she will be your adorable daughter no matter where she ends up.

Pressure means you are expecting something of her that she cannot or does not want to do. It is no longer about her. You may justify it by telling yourself that it is in her best interest to have good grades, but she is actually no longer part of the equation. Good grades become the most important thing, regardless of her capability, how miserable she is, or her own life goals. This is not a good sign and should be resolved a soon as possible.

How do you know which you are doing? You can often tell whether you are pressuring or encouraging by the look on her face and the tension in the room.

As a side note, occasionally, the pressure on your child is coming from the child herself. In that case, review her expectations for herself and where those came from, see if schedule loads can be reduced or manipulated, and remind her that you love her no matter what she ends up accomplishing.

Sixth: Inspiration

What if your child “just doesn’t feel like it?” This can be one of two problems:

1. Your child doesn’t believe he can meet the perceived expectations. If he is supposed to be a straight-A student, a first-string varsity athlete, a cheery and generous community volunteer, a clever intern, and have excellent SAT scores, he may have had enough. What is he supposed to be doing and how does he know it’s required? What is unnecessary or excessive? Figure out what is important then focus on that alone and leave the rest out. Remember, free time is not a crime.

2. Your child has not deeply connected “good grades” to “a good life.” Maybe the idea of “a good life” is too vague. We will only do something uncomfortable if there is a valid reason. And if you'll remember, school is extremely uncomfortable. Find what your child wants—or what he definitely does not want—to discover some motivation to get moving.

If the desire still isn’t there, try selling it as a way to keep his options open. Your child is young. He may have specific dreams now, but things change. Having options is rarely a bad thing.

If all else fails, try negotiation. Haggle, bargain, and counteroffer until you are both satisfied (or at least equally dissatisfied).

At the end of the day, remember you and your child are not opponents but on the same team. You both want the success of your child. We at Spark Tutors are proud to be on that team. We are here whenever you need us, to support you and your child as you make your way through this new school year.


Hopefully, these ideas will help you as a parent address your child’s educational challenges while also preserving your relationship. Remember, as disconnected as you may feel, you know your child best. Connect, encourage, and inspire! We’ll see you at the tutoring table!

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