By Raising Children Network, with the Centre for Adolescent Health
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Mum helping school-aged girl with homework

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  • School problems often come up during transition periods in a young person’s life – for example, the move from primary to secondary school.
  • These are times when children are more likely to become disengaged or struggle at school.
You have an important role to play in your child’s school success. This includes helping your child to enjoy school and to manage and overcome school problems.

School problems: what you can do

School problems are common. They can arise at any stage throughout a young person’s education.

When you’re interested and involved in your child’s learning, you’re in a good position to address any school problems as soon as they arise. 

Engage with your child’s school
Building a good relationship with your child’s school is crucial – even if your child doesn’t seem to be struggling. You can establish this relationship by getting to know key staff at the school, such as your child’s teacher, the year level coordinator, the wellbeing or welfare coordinator, or the special needs coordinator. This way you know where to go for help.

It’s never too late to get involved with your child’s school.

Keep an eye on your child’s progress
When you’re informed about your child’s progress at school – regardless of how your child is going – it can alert you to early signs that your child is beginning to struggle. It can also help you gauge whether existing problems are improving or getting worse.

You can get a sense of how your child is going by:

  • talking to your child regularly about school
  • noticing how your child talks about school – for example, if your child is reluctant to talk, or sounds bored or unmotivated about school, there might be a problem
  • checking whether your child is doing homework regularly
  • reading your child’s school reports carefully
  • attending parent-teacher interviews and other opportunities to meet school staff
  • watching out for any behaviour changes or problems.

Talk with your child
Talking with your child about school gives you the chance raise your concerns and ask your child about his concerns and how he’s coping at school. If you have trouble getting your child to talk, some specific questions might help:

  • What’s school like this year compared with last year?
  • What did you do with your friends today?
  • What are you learning about in English this term?

Recognise and respond to problems
Getting on top of school problems quickly can stop them from getting worse and having long-term negative consequences for your child’s progress and self-esteem. A quick response also sends your child a clear message that you have her best interests at heart.

Talk with your child’s school
A good place to start is a teacher that you feel knows your child. At primary school this is your child’s classroom teacher. At secondary school you might also need to speak with the school counsellor or the wellbeing or welfare coordinator.

You can talk with teachers at any time – you don’t need to wait until a scheduled parent-teacher interview.

Taking action together as a family will be more effective than taking action without your child. So let your child know who you’re talking to and what actions you’re taking.

Advocate for your child
Your child’s school has a responsibility to do all it can to meet your child’s educational needs. Your child is entitled to a range of services, through his school, that can help to address his academic or school-based problems.

These services include assessments by professionals such as an educational psychologist or a speech pathologist. Sometimes it’s hard to know what services might be useful and are available, so ask your child’s school for more information.

If the school can’t provide what your child needs, it should be able to refer you to a service outside the school.

Children with special needs
If your child has special needs, establishing an early and strong relationship with your child’s school, and regularly monitoring your child’s progress throughout her schooling, can help you tune in to subtle signs of any problems.

Whether your child attends a mainstream or special school, he has rights to educational opportunities, just like all other children.

Your involvement in your child’s schooling is crucial. Children do better at school when their parents go to parent-teacher meetings, get involved with homework, and watch them participating in school-related activities such as sports.

School problems: things to try at home

  • Provide a supportive home environment. Use as many opportunities as possible to let your child know that your family values education. You can do this by reading the school newsletter and by taking an interest in and helping your child with homework.
  • Try to minimise the impact of school absences. If your child needs to be absent, ask the teacher what can be done to help your child catch up, and how you can help. Or ask the teacher to give you the missed work for your child to complete outside of school.
  • Praise your child for all attempts and efforts. Let your child know that you’re proud of her for trying hard at school, whatever her grades. Try to celebrate your child’s achievements on their own merits, not in comparison with peers or siblings.
  • Consider a home tutor or a study group. Many organisations run free homework programs or homework clubs. You could ask your child’s teacher or your local council or neighbourhood centre for more information.
  • To keep your child motivated and help him succeed, look for interests outside of school. Work-related skills, technical skills, and visual arts, music and drama are all valuable fields of learning.

Other factors affecting school engagement and performance

Not all problems at school are because of school.

It can be easy to blame things like workload, homework or teachers, but your child’s mental health, social relationships and friendships play a very important role in learning too.

Also, your child is becoming more independent. It can be hard to monitor your child’s workload, school attendance and peer relationships as her independence grows.

Young people cope differently. Some young people might need to talk about their problems only when things are really stressful, but others will need more help.

You know your child’s learning and coping skills the best. Talking with your child about how he’s feeling is a good way to start working out how much help he might need from you.
  • Last updated or reviewed 12-02-2015
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with the Centre for Adolescent Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.