There have been many changes for children and their families since the beginning of the pandemic, and the shift to remote or hybrid learning has been one of the biggest adjustments. This has had a large impact on students everywhere, causing many parents to be concerned for their child’s academic progress. Parents with children attending online classes may worry that the absence of a traditional classroom environment and the stimulation that comes with it could negatively impact academic performance. Even children who have returned to in-person learning may be experiencing academic setbacks as they try to recover from the sudden transition to remote learning at the end of the previous school year. You may find yourself comparing your first grader’s performance to that of their older sibling when they were younger, or consulting with other parents to determine if your child is behind. Whatever your situation may be, keep in mind that many families share the same concerns and are also seeking answers when it comes to determining the need for additional academic support.


5 Signs Your Child Is Struggling

It’s not unusual for children to have trouble adjusting to the pacing of online education, but it’s important to be mindful of your child’s performance so that you can help them overcome their challenges. Some key indicators to be on the lookout for include:

  1. Consistently has poor grades
  2. Grades are variable or there are significant discrepancies between test scores and homework/project grades
  3. Needs to spend an excessive amount of time and effort on schoolwork
  4. Has difficulty understanding and following instructions
  5. Avoids schoolwork


Overcoming Virtual Learning Challenges

Due to the unique circumstances presented by the pandemic, many students who were previously struggling are now faced with additional challenges in the virtual learning environment. Likewise, students who were previously able to get by in the classroom might now be having trouble with online learning. Many families must be more involved in their child’s learning this year as a result, needing to offer extra time and attention in order to help address some of these concerns. However, finding that time is a challenge in and of itself. Parents may be unaccustomed to the high level of involvement that comes with virtual learning, needing to adapt to the frequency of checking their child’s grades, or being available for support both inside and outside of classes.

Depending on the structure and format of a virtual class, it may be more likely for a student’s lack of understanding to go unnoticed. And without the social engagement of in-person learning, children may be more passive during instruction time rather than actively thinking about what the teacher is saying.To address these concerns, your child may need additional support during their virtual class to effectively learn and retain academic material. Double-checking with your child for understanding is an important component in overcoming these challenges. By encouraging your child to engage in-person with you or another family member, they may be prompted to discuss the new content they are learning. This process may also be facilitated virtually with a peer or in a small group. The idea is to incorporate more one-on-one or small group activities to hold students accountable for academic material by reinforcing the content and helping them better retain the information.


Monitoring Academic Performance

Whether your child’s school gives letter grades or uses another system to rate academic performance, it is important to be aware of how your child is doing across all subjects. This is probably the easiest way to identify if there is an area of difficulty. If your child consistently is below expectations in a certain area, something needs to change. By gathering information to get the full picture of your child’s learning experience, you can take the steps necessary to address concerns for learning differences:

  1. Encourage open communication. The first step toward positive change is to gather information about your child’s performance and their attitude towards what they are learning. By encouraging an open dialogue with your child or adolescent, you can increase your awareness of any potential issues. There may be embarrassment or other negative feelings related to an area of difficulty. This can lead to avoidant behaviors, including disengaging in classroom lectures during certain subjects, procrastinating or failing to complete homework assignments, and withholding information from parents regarding academic performance. When engaged in these conversations, it is important to not be punitive or shaming. A key message to get across to your child is that you are on their side and are working with them to figure out how to improve their learning experience.
  2. Utilize available technology. Many schools have online platforms that allow students and families to monitor assignment due dates and academic performance. To best make use of these platforms, parents should regularly check-in and stay informed of their child’s progress. As previously mentioned, there are times when students may provide incorrect information to their parents. Being aware of your child’s actual performance can help inform how to address these miscommunications in a constructive and positive way.
  3. Consult your child’s educators. Having open communication with your child’s teachers is another important step in this process. In addition to regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences, you should feel comfortable reaching out to your child’s teachers with any concerns. Ideally, teachers will also let you know when a problem becomes apparent. As soon as an area of difficulty is identified, it is best to act quickly so your child can receive the extra support that is needed. 
  4. Make a plan. After gathering information and checking in with your child and their teachers, you may decide your child would benefit from extra support. This may mean that your child works one-on-one with a teacher before or after school, engages in academic tutoring sessions, or  requires assistance and specific strategies that you can help implement when assisting your child with homework. For example, a child may need specific prompts to stop and think about what they have read to improve reading comprehension. Or when completing math problems, they may need reminders to highlight the operation so that they do not make errors due to inattention.


Assessing Time and Effort

Another factor to consider is the amount of time and effort your child spends on his or her academic work. Although a child may get good grades or receive average marks, they may be spending an excessive amount of time to maintain this level of performance. Since these difficulties may be more subtle, these children can fly under the radar for far longer before their problems are identified. If these children continue to proceed through school unnoticed, they typically come to a point where the academic demands exceed the amount of time they have to complete their work. 

For example, an elementary school student may be able to take longer to complete their work because the overall time demand does not significantly limit their availability to engage in other activities. However, given the increased academic and time demands of a high school course load, students cannot be expected to continue to spend an excessive amount of time on each academic assignment. If your child is one of these students that requires significant time and effort to keep up with academic demands, this may be the time to implement some extra support strategies.

Students may receive significant support from their teachers and families due to the above concerns. However, there are times when too much support allows a child to progress through school without obtaining solid mastery of academic concepts. It’s important to help your child find a balance of support and independent work, allowing them to overcome areas of difficulty with confidence in their own abilities. The goal is to hold them accountable for their work, but offer support as needed to help them continue to progress.


What If My Child Does Not Make Progress?

If implementing extra support strategies doesn’t result in meaningful progress, it may be time to seek professional help from a neuropsychologist or clinical child psychologist. In addition to learning differences, there are a variety of factors that can negatively impact a child’s academic performance and limit their ability to efficiently acquire new information. Inattention, trouble with aspects of language, and anxiety are a few examples of other factors that can masquerade as learning problems. It can be difficult to discern why a child is experiencing difficulty in certain areas because many children struggle due to a combination of factors. Without clarity regarding a child’s primary issues, it can be difficult to implement effective interventions.

Once you are able to accurately identify your child’s areas of difficulty, specific interventions can be utilized to address these concerns. However, keep in mind that effective interventions require adaptation based on the individual’s needs and personal preferences. In any case, your child will be best supported by a team of adults that practice open communication and work collaboratively toward the same goals.