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My Child Is Struggling in School. How Can I Help?

Mary L. Gavin, MD
August 2020

My first-grader is not doing well in school. His teacher says he's a good kid, not disruptive, but not a standout student, either. I worry that he may be falling behind. How can I help him succeed?
– Kate

It's great that you're addressing this problem now, while your child is just beginning his schooling. Kids who struggle in school year after year have a harder time getting back on track once their learning problems are addressed.

You need to get to the root of the problem to learn how to help your son. Ask yourself: Does he struggle to see the blackboard? He could need glasses. Is he anxious about going to school? Maybe there's an emotional issue. It is hard for him to sit still and focus? He could have a problem paying attention.

Talk to your son and his teacher to see what may be getting in the way of learning. Then, schedule an appointment with:

  • His pediatrician. The doctor can evaluate your son to see if there's a physical problem (for instance, with his vision or hearing) or whether he might have a developmental or behavioral problem, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • His principal. Tell your child's principal about your concerns and request a referral for an educational evaluation. An educational evaluation can assess your son's strengths and weaknesses and pinpoint any learning disabilities.

When you know why your son is struggling, take steps to help support him. Some kids with learning differences meet with a tutor for a few hours a week to reinforce material and learn study skills. Others may benefit from seeing a psychologist for behavioral concerns, or take medicines if attention problems make it hard to focus and learn.

These identify a student's needs and outline goals and services to help the student learn. These plans may include extra help or resource room support, or recommend the use of special equipment, such as books on tape or laptop computers for students who have dyslexia.

With the right support, your child can adjust to any differences he may have and succeed in school.