Just because your child has low grades does not mean they are an underachiever. Rather, it is a child who gives a noticeably poor effort that results in grades lower than you know they are capable of. Regardless of the reason, your child probably does not feel good about under-achieving, so it is important to understand why they are doing so.
Symptoms of Underachievers
Many children who underachieve also do not have strong self-esteem. They may be lacking in social skills; perhaps they are withdrawn and shy.
On the other hand, underachievers can also be angry, defiant, and act rebelliously.
Listen to your child if you question whether they are an underachiever. Are they overly critical of others, but not themselves? Do they boast about their own “abilities” in an attempt to make themselves feel better?
In school, underachievers may have a tough time concentrating because they are easily distracted. They may seem like they are trying hard one day and then totally back off the next.
Sometimes these kids also suffer from feelings of depression or hopelessness because they are having such a hard time in school. You may observe them and assume they are lazy because they give up so quickly on homework or on hard work.
All these symptoms can turn into a vicious cycle of not trying, poor performance, and lower self-esteem.
Have a Plan
For children who seem to be underachieving, it is important to have a plan. Yelling, shaming, and comparing are not only ineffective long term, they are not the best way for your child to learn how to work hard and motivate themselves. Having a plan that focuses on doing what is best for your child is vital to their healthy growth and emotional development.
Start with small goals that allow your child to succeed. It may be as simple as remembering to bring home their daily homework and finish it. Small goals in other areas of life are important too–in sports, chores, etc. Each time your child sets and reaches those small goals, it helps their self-esteem grow.
Be intentional about expressing your unconditional love, both verbally and physically. If not, your child will attach their worth to their performance and that is a sad track for them to go down as they grow up. I saw this in one of my own kids and I will admit it was probably due to some of the language I was using in my parenting. Unfortunately, I did not realize it until the damage had been done and it was something that my child had to work through in their young adult years, as well as something I had to apologize for.
Give lots of appreciation vitamins. Last week I talked about giving your child “appreciation vitamins” as suggested by author Randall Schroeder in Simple Habits for Effective Parenting. Your child who tends to underachieve needs those bursts of appreciation when they show persistence in accomplishing any task or school work. Focus on EFFORT and praise each step of improvement to build their self-confidence.
Seek to understand the reason for their underachievement. Are they having trouble with a classmate? Forgetting homework? Misbehaving in class? For some, it may even be a learning disability. If you cannot pinpoint a reason, it might be good to have your child tested, or at least meet with your child’s teacher, school counselor and principal.
Help your child learn to love to read. Reading is essential for learning, so instilling a love of reading at a young age is the key that will unlock the door a love of learning. Children who underachieve tend to read at a low grade level. Teaching your kids to love reading should be a goal for parents whose kids are underachieving.
Instilling a love of reading early gives a child a head start on expanding their vocabulary and building independence and self-confidence. It helps children learn to make sense not only of the world around them but also people, building social-emotional skills and of course, imagination. (Why Read?)
Don’t nag or get angry at your child who under-achieves. Getting upset at your child for their lack of achievement will only further damage their self-confidence. Use the when you/then you method to motivate them to do their work. “When you finish your homework, then you can go outside and play.”
You could also use technology privileges as motivation for your child putting forth a good effort.
Be open to change. Sometimes, a fresh start in a new classroom or school may be the motivation that a child needs. This step should be taken with great thought and research. The goal is not to teach your child to always look for greener pastures, but to find an environment that nurtures their learning skills.
What’s Your Goal as a Parent of an Underachieving Child?
If your child is underachieving, your goal should be to help them to feel good about their effort and progress, and to keep trying to improve. If you are worried about college, remember that some underachievers don’t attend college, but opt for technical schools or settle into a job that has room for potential.
Be patient with your child and love them for who they are, not for who you think they should be.
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