Help your Child Deal with Academic Failure

A child spends about twenty developmental years in school. He spends more time on academics than any other activity during his growing up years. What happens when his talents and abilities lie outside the academic realm? What is it like to deal with regular academic failure and frustration? Whether a child has chronic and severe learning issues or whether he or she has simply gotten a low score on one particular project, academic failure can be traumatic, especially when it comes after much hard work and struggle. Not being able to make the grade on a regular basis tends to lower a child’s self-esteem; tutors, remedial classes and make-up tests can be demoralizing.

How can parents help their child deal with academic failure and frustration? Consider the following tips:

Intervene Early
It’s important that parents communicate their concern and support as early as the first signs of academic failure. While trusting our children to bounce back on their own is a good thing, parents can’t afford to intervene only when the final report card is released. Ongoing interest in the child’s school performance not only prevents sudden surprises at end of term, but also allows parents to offer emotional support, encouragement and practical intervention. Sometimes a little individual attention from a teacher or tutor can set the child on course. Sometimes boosting the child’s confidence in non-academic areas can buffer the frustration of negative academic feedback. The earlier parents can step in to address the situation, the less “repair” they’ll need to do later on.

Deal with Your Child’s Feelings
Parents understandably get upset when presented with a failing mark. But it’s important to remember that children have strong feelings about failure too — even if they come across as uncaring about their grade. Sit down with your child and ask them how they feel about the situation. Let them vent. And be willing to look past a defiant exterior; insolence can be a mask to hide a child’s feelings of vulnerability inside. Don’t be alarmed if your child “doesn’t care” about his low grades – that’s most likely a neat defence he is building to ward off feelings of shame and failure. Don’t overwhelm your youngster with your own feelings about his grades; instead, ask in a matter-0f-fact tone about how he feels and then reflect his words back to him. “I know what you mean..it IS frustrating when the teacher doesn’t give part-marks…and really annoying when you actually spent time studying and then get a mark like this.” After you “emotionally coach” the child in this way, spare him the lectures. If you have a handy tip to offer, first ASK him if he’d like to hear it and if he doesn’t want to, just leave it for now. He may ask you about it later. You can also offer help and intervention: “Would you like some help in studying next time?” or “Would you like me to ask the teacher to give you a little time after school to go over things?” or “Would you like a tutor?” and so on.

Help Ascertain the Reasons for the Failure
Instead of focusing on the disappointing outcome, focus instead on identifying the factors that contributed to the failure. Usually it’s not one reason, but a combination of many things like learning and/or attention issues, lack of motivation, lack of conducive study spaces or dislike for the subject matter. When academic problems are chronic, a professional psycho-educational assessment is the best venue for determining the cause. Most school boards can arrange this for their students and private psychologists also specialize in providing this service.

Get Your Child to Take Responsibility
Is your child at fault for the failure? Perhaps he skips class or chooses to watch TV instead of reviewing for an exam. If this is the case, it is important that parents get the child to acknowledge that he also has a contribution to the failure. This step is not to encourage self-blame, but to instill responsibility for one’s choices and behavior. And to make responsibility easier to accept, parents can also acknowledge their own shortcomings to their children and how they’ve addressed them over the years. Modeling how to take ownership for the consequences of one’s actions is one of the best gifts parents can give to a child.

Set Learning Goals Together
Parents can help children deal with academic failure by being future-oriented and proactive. Set learning outcomes together with your child, for example decide on acceptable and realistic targets for the next grading period or the next school year. Create a workable map on how to achieve those learning outcomes. Make plans too involving behavioral changes that need to happen in order to facilitate a better academic performance.

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