My Child Is Struggling In Primary School, What Do I Do?

If your child is dealing with bad exam results this year end, you’re probably feeling the stress too. However, it’s important that you refrain from fault-finding — don’t bring up what your child could have done better. Ideally, you should give your child at least a day or two to recover before discussing the results and steps for improvement. 

Should you wish to inspect your child’s exam papers, it’s best to do it when your child is not present. Take note of the mistakes your child has made, and look for similar questions for your child to solve when he or she is ready to start work again. Should your child be able to answer at least some of the questions at home, you can highlight that everyone is prone to making mistakes under pressure, and that exams are not an accurate reflection of one’s capabilities. (Read our article on responding to poor exam results.)

If your child has consistently been performing poorly in school, you may be wondering what you can do next. Below, our KSP community has some tips for working with academically weak kids. 

Does Your Child Have Learning Difficulties?

“I’m an ex-schoolteacher and a mother of two big kids, and I have taught children who have special needs.

To parents who suspect that their child might have some learning difficulties: request for a diagnosis. The earlier it is confirmed, the earlier your child can be taught strategies to help him or her cope with school. Primary 2 to Primary 3 is a good time to get tested, as younger children do need some time to develop psychomotor and fine-motor skills. My former students who had early intervention coped much better in school as compared to those who were diagnosed much later.

If your child has been diagnosed with a learning difficulty, you can request for the school’s Allied Educator (AED) to teach him or her some strategies to cope with schoolwork. You can also ask the AED for professional contacts outside the school. Professional help may be expensive, but it can truly boost your child’s confidence, and the strategies taught can help him or her a lot with skills such as spelling. 

I can’t suggest anything too concrete for helping your child at home. One thing for certain is that many children with learning difficulties suffer from exhaustion. Imagine having to cope with trying to understand science concepts or recall grammar rules while waiting for your brain to register the letters to form words that make sense. 

So, ensure that your child has sufficient breaks and sufficient sleep, and be there to cheer him or her on. Do not judge your child’s handwriting or criticise untidy work. If you need to correct a mistake, write the answers in clear, printed letters, and not cursive, so that your child can process the answers better.” — sgmamadreams

Does Your Child Have A Short Attention Span?

“Just sharing from my personal experience. 

My son was very active and hated sitting down to do written work. This is very common in boys. You can start with shorter periods set aside for work, and gradually extend the sessions. For my son in Primary 1, 30 to 40 minutes of sitting and writing was already a big stretch! But I would smile, celebrate, and heap lots of love on him every time he sat down with me to do his homework. In this way, he began to associate studying with parental love. Before that, study time used to be tense and stressful, no wonder he hated it. 

Things will change if you praise your child for trying. He or she will be motivated to try even more.” — zac’s mum

Does Your Child Lack Motivation?

“I used to tutor kids and had my fair share of hyperactive kids, academically weak kids, and kids who lacked the motivation to study. I am not a motivational coach, but here are some methods I have implemented that seemed to work for me.

First, try to find common ground with your child. If he or she is interested in a particular game, take extra effort to learn about it. The more common interests you have with your child, the easier it will be to get your child to work with you.

Second, always explain the rationale behind a task, as children these days want to know this. Always mention the benefits of a task to your child, such as, ‘If you do your homework now, you won’t have to stay back in school tomorrow to finish it.’

Third, be generous with your praise. Whenever your child answers a question, encourage him or her to move to the next one. Even a simple “high five” can go a long way to boost a child’s confidence. If your child is stuck on a particular question, break down the problem into smaller steps. 

Finally, if you are using rewards to motivate your child, choose a reward that is not monetary or materialistic in nature. Paying a visit to the Botanic Gardens, cycling on the beach, or spending time together in a tent definitely beats rewarding your child with the latest iPhone or a Europe trip. This way, they will get joy and satisfaction from their hard work, without always expecting a financial transaction.” — eastparent

Does Your Child Feel Discouraged?

“Shrugging off negativity [be it due to self-perception or external sources] may be one of the hardest things to do, but it is absolutely essential to the emotional and mental well-being of a child. 

I’m an educational therapist, and I tell my students that shrugging off negativity is like having a ‘mental shield’ that gets stronger over time. They may think it’s hard to develop this mental shield, but they need to recognise that each time they successfully ‘deflect’ negativity from their environment, it’s a major step forward. 

If your child is dealing with unhelpful comments from others, it may help to explain why nasty people act the way they do — often because they’re insecure about something, or because their parents didn’t teach them to empathise.

One more thing: you also need to demonstrate that you’re listening to your child. The last thing you want is for children to feel like nobody’s listening, and that they’re alone in their struggles.” — swortionery

Does Your Child Struggle Most With The Mother Tongue Language?

“I have coached my grandniece in Chinese for two years. The toughest part is not to teach more, but to teach only what is required for slower kids. 

It is difficult to achieve the vision of ‘cultivating a love for the language’ in such kids. So discard this vision for the time being. You can also forget about loading your kids with text-heavy storybooks.

Don’t send your child to tuition if his or her concentration span is short — unless you have hired a special needs teacher. My grandniece only has a concentration span of about 20 minutes, and I will teach her in 20-minute sessions followed by a break.

Forget about loading slower kids with impractical assessment books. For instance, most Chinese assessment books in the market are not made for kids who are weak in Chinese, as 95% of them contain many words that are out of the textbooks. Pick the easiest and simplest assessment books that are aligned to the textbooks. 

Your child should know the words that he or she is required to read as well as write. The crux of my 20-minute sessions was built on these words. If you have purchased the vocabulary guidebooks, that’s more for your reference and not for weaker kids. I made my own guides for my grandniece, with simple example sentences to demonstrate how to use the required words for each chapter.

For the Primary 1 and Primary 2 years, I only focused on coaching my grandniece in word recognition, grammar, and fluency in reading. I didn’t spend time coaching her on oral or composition writing — I felt that would waste our time as her foundation was so weak and we needed to overcome her initial apprehension of the Chinese language.” — Hercules (read her full post here)

Are You Expecting Too Much From Your Child?

“Some people are just weak academically, meaning in the way ability is measured by schools. There are some with lower IQs, some with different learning styles, and some with ‘imbalanced’ abilities. 

I have a daughter who has ‘imbalanced’ skills — of the four areas measured to generate an IQ score, she is average in two areas, and very weak in two areas. It makes her quite weak academically, which no amount of coaching or good study habits can completely change. 

It’s something we just have to accept, and we try to help her do enough to get by in her weak areas, and work on her strengths to equip her in later life. One good thing is that as kids move up through school, they get to gradually drop the subjects that they are weakest in.” — slmkhoo


Need more advice on working with academically weak children, or have a story to share? Join our discussion here!* 

*The tips above were excerpted from our KSP forum. They have been edited for length and clarity.