Many children have problems with schoolwork or homework at one time or another. These problems usually do not last long because what caused them to happen in the first place gets better (for example, a child adjusts to his new school or new teacher, or a child recovers from a stressful family situation). On the other hand, school problems may continue and be a sign that your child has a learning disability or some other problem that needs special attention and additional help.
These "red flags" may mean your child is having significant problems at school that need special attention:
- He works hard on homework, but still gets poor grades (Cs or below).
- He is easily distracted, loses his focus when doing homework and has difficulty completing homework.
- He works hard in all subjects, but is much better in some subjects than in others.
- He "forgets" to bring homework home.
- He doesn't seem to care about schoolwork.
- He complains of being bored all day at school.
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Causes of school problems
There are many causes of school problems. Vision or hearing problems may make it hard for a child to read, to hear the teacher or to do schoolwork. Simply spending too much time with sports, hobbies or extracurricular activities may leave a child too tired or with not enough time to do her homework properly. Other issues, such as chronic illness, anxiety, depression or family problems can also interfere with a child's schoolwork. Finally, a specific learning disability or attention problem, as briefly described below, may make it difficult for a child to learn.
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A learning disability is a problem in reading, writing, math or memory skills in a child who otherwise has the intelligence, opportunity and motivation necessary to learn. One of the most common learning disabilities is dyslexia, a disability characterized by difficulty reading. Children with dyslexia have trouble understanding the words they read, but can usually understand the same words if read aloud by another person. Some children with dyslexia tend to reverse or misread letters or words after the age when it is normal do so, typically first or second grade. A child with a learning disability is not necessarily any less intelligent than his classmates, but he will need extra help with schoolwork, and may think of himself as "stupid." Let your child know that he isn't stupid, and that you're proud of his many strengths and accomplishments.
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Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is one of the most common behavior disorders of childhood, affecting about one or two children in every classroom in the United States. Children with ADHD have a hard time sitting still and paying attention, making it difficult to learn in school or to finish homework. They may also be impulsive, yelling (blurting) out answers or making inappropriate comments in school.
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If your child is having problems in school, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is work with your child’s teachers to find the cause of the problems and help to work out a plan to solve them. Let the teachers know that you respect their professional expertise and want to be involved in helping to solve your child's problems. Ask questions about the problem, for example, when does it occur? If your child is always disruptive during math class, it may be that he is frustrated by a learning disability in mathematics.
Ask the school to evaluate your child. By law, public schools must provide free evaluation and treatment for children suspected to have learning disabilities, behavior problems or emotional problems that may interfere with learning. Schools are also required to put together an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that outlines a plan for addressing these problems. The plan may involve teachers, special educators, the school guidance counselor, a psychologist, your child’s pediatrician, other health professionals and, of course, his family.
Discuss the results of the evaluation and the IEP with the school. If there are things you do not understand, discuss them with someone who can help you understand them, such as your child’s pediatrician. Do not sign the plan unless you are comfortable with the recommendations. You have the right to appeal these recommendations and ask for another evaluation. Most importantly, once you have agreed on a plan, be patient! School problems take time to get better.
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