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The major (but often overlooked) thing that could be keeping your child from academic success

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Elementary student confidently going into school.

Have your after-school conversations with your child become more like trying to get water from a rock? Struggles at school can have our kids going from smiles and long stories about their day to barely saying a word.

As parents, it can be hard to determine the source of the problem to be able to help or fix it. Maybe you’ve tried flashcards or working with them one-on-one to study, or you may have even tried a tutor. If you’re reading this, those tactics probably weren’t as successful as you would have liked!

What you may not know is that in many cases, poor academic performance isn't due to a lack of ability or needing help with the schoolwork itself. It often comes back to one thing - your child’s state of mind. If they don’t feel confident or they’re feeling stressed, they have trouble focusing, have a hard time staying on task, and can’t easily move from one activity to another. It’s hard for an adult to be effective at work or in everyday life when they feel like that, so imagine how a kid feels!

The difference is that kids tend to internalize more and often don’t have the life experience or skills to shrug off what’s happening around them and keep pushing through. The workload alone can create stress that leads to falling behind and a domino effect of worry, anxiety, or even depression.

But their schoolwork itself isn’t the only source of mindset struggles. In fact, it can be the symptom that signals that something bigger is happening with them. In this post, we’ll cover three areas that you may not realize are affecting your child’s mindset, and as a result, their school performance.

At Home

We all try to provide the best home environment we can for our kids. But there are a few things that may be slipping through the cracks, or maybe you’re not even realizing they’re occurring. The first is unspoken expectations. Sometimes kids put added pressure on themselves or feel stress because they think you expect all A’s or that schoolwork should come easy to them. Even if you haven’t explicitly said that.

For high achieving parents, talking about how much you loved school or the subjects you were great in can inadvertently cause your child to feel like their expected to have that experience as well. It’s okay to talk about how things went for you, just be sure to factor in what you expect from them. And don’t be afraid to share what was hard for you as well! That can go a long way toward helping their confidence levels and mindset.

Another thing to consider is how you’re talking about school and your child’s teacher at home. Or, in some cases - NOT talking about it. It can be easy to let your opinions slip, especially when you’re frustrated and stressed in your own daily life. But kids can pick up on what you’re saying and take their cues from you about how they should approach school.

Lastly, even if you’re careful to keep your interactions with your child positive, the stress you’re experiencing can have an impact. David Code, author of Kids Pick Up On Everything: How Parental Stress Is Toxic to Kids,writes that parents’ own stress levels can affect their children’s cognition because tension is “contagious.” And in Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, author John Medina takes it a bit further: “The emotional stability of the home is the single greatest predictor of academic success.” (via Great Schools)

In the Classroom

It seems silly, but sometimes academic performance issues stem from your child just not knowing what to do or what is expected from them in the classroom. Being confused and feeling like you don’t get it can create stress and shame. It can start a vicious cycle that leads to falling behind and a general disinterest in school.

Remember that teachers are typically dealing with 30+ kids and they are trying to cover a ton of material. They may not be reviewing class rules, how they want things done, or what consequences are on a regular basis. This can especially be a problem if your child has switched schools or teachers mid-year.

You may have to learn more about the inner workings of the classroom if you believe this is the issue. And either way, it’s always a good idea to stay on top of grades, check your student’s take-home folders, and read any communications you can from the teacher and the school. Then you can determine if it’s a matter of your child not understanding, or just not doing it.

Middle School student sitting with her friends between classes.


As parents, we have a LOT on our plates, and it’s sometimes hard to remember what it’s like to be a kid trying to learn who you are and make friends. We focus on the schoolwork and forget that a big part of school is social. Not to mention the after-school activities, church, etc.

Trying to fit in can cause a lot of… feelings. For everyone! And when you don’t, the lack of confidence, anxiety, and worry from that can easily spill into other things - like academic performance. To make matters worse, the prevalence of bullying (both online and offline) makes everything more complicated. Even the very idea of going to school can be a block for kids, let alone keeping up with the work.

Staying connected with your child on a regular basis can help you more easily recognize when there’s an issue. Keeping the lines of communication open so they feel comfortable talking with you about their feelings and what they’re going through is crucial.

The Bottom Line

This is a heavy subject but we want to leave you with a feeling of hope. This is fixable and it can absolutely get better with time and work! To help, we’ve put together a list of 5 strategies to help you manage stress and your child’s mindset at home. You can grab it here.

Know that we are here to help when you need us! Much of what we do at The Learning Room involves getting to the bottom of these root causes. Spoiler alert: kids don’t always want to talk to their parents! We’ve worked with some of the toughest cases and there’s always a breakthrough that can be made. And when that happens it’s one of the great joys of our job.

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