What to Do When Your Child is Failing School: Tips and Advice for Parents

It's no secret that school is tough for many kids, but what can you do when tough becomes too much? Local teachers offer tips on how to help your child succeed in high school.

High school is a pivotal time in a teen’s life – and it can also be a very difficult period for many students. Concepts become harder, workload increases, and the pressure of college is officially hitting them. With these changes, many kids can start struggling in school – and parents will find themselves saying, “My kid is failing school.”

This doesn’t happen overnight. For a kid, failing school is a progression of missed assignments, skipping classes and failed tests. As a parent, it’s very important for you to address the problem quickly and get your child back on track before he or she becomes completely derailed.


Identify the problem

There could be a number of reasons your child is struggling. Your child might not understand the material, could be struggling managing time between schoolwork and sports, or just might not be doing the work. Three local teachers weigh in on what they’ve experienced with students.

Stephanie Givinsky, an algebra-based physics teacher at Lakeview High School in St. Clair Shores, says the most common struggle she sees is that kids are simply not trying hard enough. They just don’t put in the mental effort required to learn the material, either during class or at home.

Givinsky says she has noticed that freshman year is often the “first time a student has really been challenged. It’s the first time school isn’t easy, and they don’t know how to handle that. They don’t know how to study so they are reluctant to do the practice and give the attention needed to understand what is confusing.”

Doug McKnight, a biology, physics and chemistry teacher at Clawson High School, says that based on his experience, students simply do not want to study.

“Too many students show up late for class, don’t bring materials, don’t turn in homework, and don’t study for tests,” says McKnight.

However, local teacher Anne Oaks says that many students struggle with issues at home, which impact their overall academic performance. “Therefore, we first have to identify if the problem stems from a lack of understanding, a lack of motivation, or a personal issue.

Whatever the issue is for your child, it’s important to seek assistance before the problem gets really out of control.

Getting help

Schedule an appointment with your child’s teacher if you haven’t already been contacted. McKnight says he notifies parents when he has a student who is doing worse by a grade or two – compared to past performance. Some teachers will reach out to a failing student before contacting the parent. In a one-on-one, Givinsky and her student will address the problem, try to find the reason for the failing grade, and then set up a game plan to get them back on track.

The teacher may suggest additional resources to assist your child. For example, Lakeview High School offers free-of-charge peer tutoring and teacher tutoring during the school week – both before and after school. Clawson High School offers “Scholars Club,” where students can come for two hours after school to be tutored by teachers from a variety of subjects.

Encourage kids to take advantage of any of the study assistance available at their school. Or, take a look at our list of tutoring centers in southeast Michigan for more options to help your child.

Tips for parents

Oaks provides six tips on how to help your child succeed in high school – and overcome failing courses:

Be proactive. If you know your kid falls behind in their schoolwork or doesn’t do so well when it comes to grades, talk to the teacher immediately – before it becomes an issue in that class. “I have parents who email me on a weekly basis to check up on assignments, their student’s progress or behavior, and even things that are going on at home that might be affecting them,” Oaks says.

Make your expectations clear and stick with them. Did your daughter’s grades drop? It’s time to take away some of her privileges. Get in contact with her teacher, too, and inform the instructor of the expectations you’ve set for your child.

Attend parent-teacher conferences. “Students whose parents regularly attend conferences tend to perform better in school.” Read more about strengthening the parent-teacher bond and get some tips for making the most out of parent-teacher conferences.

Use online gradebooks. All schools provide personalized logins for parents and guardians, Oaks notes. Inform your kids that you’re checking on their grades and contact teachers if you have questions or concerns.

Create a routine. This should include homework time after school and dinner together – without phones. This can be difficult, but parents and guardians should have control and set rules for phone usage, video games and more if their child’s grades have dropped. Take away distractions from your child, such as, phones, video games, sports, and friends, until the student is able to manage their schoolwork.

Don’t believe everything kids tell you. Yes, you read that right. “Students with a proclivity for failure (and even those who don’t) have a tendency to lie about what’s going on at school and in the classroom,” Oaks says. They might tell you the teacher doesn’t like them, but the issue could be that the child is having a behavior problem. Maybe they say the teacher goes too fast. If that’s the case, your child might not be asking questions if they have them. Email the teacher to find out what exactly is happening in the classroom.

Turning bad grades into good grades is a group effort among parents, teachers, and students. “Parents need to be part of their children’s education,” says McKnight. As a parent, the best thing you can do is be involved, be consistent, be supportive and be patient.

This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated for 2016.


  • You suggested it at the beginning but then ignored it for the rest of the article. And what might that be?… that some students “might not understand the material”. Has it occurred to you that some students comprehension capabilities may not be up to what’s being asked of them? After all what say did they have regarding a curriculum they are required to learn regardless of their aptitudes and abilities. I can pretty much guarantee that if any of you were told you must learn quantum theory or membrane physics you would not be able to learn it no matter how hard you tried. Don’t worry only a handful of people are capable of comprehending those subjects. If I told you you must learn quantum theory or be stigmatized as a failure you’d feel outraged and deeply put upon that such an ultimatum was impose on you. Well it is no different with a struggling 16 year old. For some of these students algebra based science and trigonometry are like quantum theory for you and I. It is wholly unreasonable to expect them to learn material beyond their abilities or to stay mentally motivated while unintelligible course material is forced on them for an entire school year. Nervous breakdowns, anxiety attacks or fits of temper are natural reactions for anyone faced with the dilemma of “I can’t but I must”.
    In addition you stress the need for more study but do most school systems bother to teach kids how to study? No they just expect it as if instinctual. And worse they expect students to stay motivated. How?… somehow.
    Would you should be suggesting a change course material suitable for the variable cognitive abilities of each student. And further that curriculum choices reflect the aptitudes and interest of each student. A strength based approach to learning is vastly more effective than wasting precious time on areas of student weakness. But this approach is in diametric opposition to the philosophy of education that prevail in North America. The “grades are everything”, punitive, “your just not trying” crap most of us had to endure. Is it any wonder the frustration, anger and even rage many students experience after being dicked around by an education system of unsympathetic blaming machines and punitive mentalities.
    ““The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make weaknesses irrelevant.” ~ Peter Drucker

    • As a mother and a teacher, I feel what you are saying, but have to disagree with most of the content. The job of a teacher is to teach. The job of a parent is to both teach and parent. Should the parent have to teach content, no. The parent should support the learning from the classroom. As a parent, I have taught my student to study when I sit with them. I make the environment ready and available for them to study. If they happen to get stuck on something, I write a note to the teacher expressing my concerns and expect that the teacher will support me with offering additional assistance. I believe my children are capable of understanding everything they put their minds to, so to suggest that there are limits to anyone’s mental capabilities is unacceptable for me. I believe the problem is, and had always been, the relationship and expections between teachers and parents. Once you iron this out, your experiences with hopefully be better.

      • Yes, unfortunately most teachers can’t understand the concept of children not having the ability to learn something. That’s why they’re teachers, because they most likely enjoyed school themselves. Their kids, who typically are their biological offspring, most likely have similar abilities.
        Is it just superior teaching that allows many elite, private school children receive to notch scholarships? I think it has something to do with the generic pool of parents who can afford that elite, private school.
        I do think that there are amazing abilities in every child. Our archaic education system is squashing their God given gifts, that too often remain unopened.

        • I’m sorry, the teacher’s are programmed to believe the concept she felt she was rightly so rebuking you for. Trust me, a good teacher can teach. If your child is not working well with that teacher and honestly the content that in the USA has produced 70% of the population to have learned apathy and an aversion not passion toward learning and that same 70% they teach with that useless repetitive material to ensure no kid ever wants to see a book ever again has that 70% of the nation with a high school diploma or less from the horrible experiences. So, the child you describe is far wiser than the teachers that haven’t the capability to teach, in part, due to the criteria of teaching material and standards to dumb the kids down.My suggestion is that, if, this country doesn’t change, they stop funding education and start schooling the kids, themselves independently. Just have them get a GED and have them go to college on topics they are passionate about. Don’t waste time, stress and anxiety with conditioned teachers who can’t see past the parent is always the blame for the child’s lack. THAT teacher needs a refund on her education, too.

          • To speak with brevity and clarity: These teachers and criteria established by the government have produced the USA nation a 70% population with a high school diploma or less. I think I’d listen to your kid, get him the hell out of the school and find him another way to learn, until, they clean house and shape up their apathy training and adversity not passion towards education and growth.

  • Here’s a great youtube film on the pressures that high school kids feel. Watch it with your teen or share it with them and then use it as a conversation starter. Search YouTube for “The Pressure to be Perfect Val Orr” or open https://youtu.be/7rQskIdWU_U

    If you like it, share it with others.

  • My comment is that this article is full of crap… educators expect too much of parents, parents expect too much from teachers… Teachers expect students to go home and do work they were suppose to learn and do in class. What happens if the student gets stuck while at home. they are screwed, teachers expect parents to know the material they pay a teacher to teach their children. Teachers are to busy to actually teach their students. I seen it growing up and I seen it with my boys. I am not the smartest man on the planet. I never had biology, chemistry, Algebra, or Spanish in High school. When I got to college for my college Algerabra 1 class, I went to class on my scheduled day and sat in on two other classes and had tutoring sessions every off day just to squeak by to pass. No matter how many times I was showed something it never came out right. Teachers have to learn to recognize hey some students just can not understand certain subjects. Teachers need to stop relying on parents to do their jobs when they send the work home with the students.. if you can not teach a chld in a class room don’t expect their parents to beable to teach them at home

    • I totally agree some kids have a harder time catching onto things and others it comes so easy …
      I have a 3rd grader who is having problems in school in some subjects he just don’t get it but the teacher says in big letters on his paper he just don’t listen which he cries and says he just don’t understand how to do it but she says I just don’t listen .
      Teachers need to have more patience and not embarrass kids in the class room !!!

  • The myth of genetics and effort is still here. We assume students simply are not trying hard enough or have some deficiency in that area (that according to Gardner) requires more outside instruction to make them proficient . The myth of genetics has blinded educators to the real cause. Yes, aside from real organic damage, we are all pretty much normal but greatly affected by our individual environments. 1. We need to redefine our average stress in a more correct way as many “maintained layers” of resolved mental conflicts from our past, present, future – experiences, circumstances, needs, preparations for defense, any host of unresolved mental work that is maintained by our minds that take up real mental energy leaving less mental energy to think, learn, motivation (mental reward received for mental work expended), and also our mental health.
    By understanding how our individual environments create very different amounts and layers of maintained mental work that take up real mental energy, we can then begin help students and adults begin to understand, resolve, and more permanently reduce many “non-essential layers of mental work from their average stress to help approximate more so the stability of students in more stable, knowledge-rich environments.
    2. We need to also understand how along with higher average stress is the unconscious funneling of this energy into approaching newer mental work at an incorrect pace and intensity, thus exacerbating their already higher average layers and making learning more difficult. We need to understand how to teach the dynamics of approaching newer mental work more slowly to first develop mental frames of new knowledge, which can then be added on to slowly at first and then added to more quickly with equal motivation as those mental frames grow.
    3. We need to use this insight to bridge the woeful lack of understanding of students from less affluent backgrounds where there is much less knowledge/skills provided and also much more continuous needs, anxieties, circumstances, and fears felt in their own lives, their families, and the areas by osmosis of feelings of the areas they live in. We must not reflect our own more stable, knowledge-rich, support, and care we have received from infancy and then reflect our very different life and experience upon those students from less affluent areas. We must rid ourselves of the myth of genetics, which fit our nice, stable upbringing but demeans and creates hopelessness for those students in less supported anxiety filled areas of town. http://learningtheory.homestead.com

  • I read this and it seems that we don’t ask the students what is going on, what is it that is troubling them. It is true Teachers do expect a lot from students because it will be easier to teach if students get it on the first time they explain something, I’m not saying that teachers are lazy but as a parent I want to say it once and my child listen and get it right on the first time.
    So, my child and or teenager comes home comfused and asks me how to solve a problem, I do sit there and help, as much as I can, I have discovered that they have been taught different than I was taught and he/and she is looking at me like… um! mum! I will do it on my own, and I have also discovered that if I come at 6pm my kids come at the same time I have to pick up from daycare one of them, the other is just arriving from tutoring, I make dinner we sit at about 7:30 for dinner; is there enough time for homework? I have to now sit with them how long? one hr? two? the kids are tired. which brings me to the next subject schools start too early, kids need more sleep. My children have so much homework, which I do like because they have to practice what they learn. I have also discovered that I have learned so much from my children because I dont know all the subjects perfectly and in order for me to teach them what the teachers are supposed to teach them but “can’t ” because they have “too many students in their class room” of course one, two or three students don’t get the attention needed and will fail, or in addition one or two don’t understood and the teachers have the attitude of if they don’t ask they won’t bother to figure /check if the students are getting it all.
    When I went to school, my teachers checked every answer, and I wasn’t the smartest kid as you can tell on my awful grammar, but I think I learned the most when the teacher showed me which answers I got wrong or right, now my children come with their papers with a big check mark “done” so my child thinks all of it is perfect when I can see the messy hand writing or short answers.. so how can they do good on the test if the usual work doesn’t get graded the same..
    ok I said too much I got more.. but I’m frustrated that the main object of schools now is how good students do on those tests that doesnt even tell me anything about my child.
    thank you.
    and thank you to all the teachers that still care.. and BTW we need to pay them more..

  • My feeling is our education system suck. My daughter failed grade 3. Her teacher told me she was not emotionally ready for grade 3. But when i enrolled her for the 1st time I indicated on the form that i want her to start in gr3. But the school placed her in gr1. At the time i felt her teacher would have screened her or the school must have done it hence she started gr1. Now they say it’s best she repeat her gr3. My daughter is an emotional wreck right now cause she ridiculed everyday since school started. Her teacher brushed it off by saying she will get over it. Maybe my child is oversensitive but none of us like being teased about failing. What do i do. I motivate her but know that it doesn’t help because she feels alone and sad when shes at school. I recently watched a documentary of Michael Moore looking into other schools, Europe, their education systems. Why cant we have that type of schooling for our kids. Most teachers does not have the true passion for teaching i think. And if they are faced with a child that struggles they are not willing to put in extra hours.. If i dont get my work done my boss expects me to put in extra hours. Same principle as a teacher your job is to educate. Make the child understand. Why did u take the job then?

  • My son has ADHD, his meds don’t work, but thanks to Medicaid I can’t find him a psychologist to prescribe any other medications. He had an evaluation a few years back, the Dr said he should have an IEP & that he needs assistance. His school principal REFUSED to “give” him any accommodations because he had A’s & B’s, however if it weren’t for me sitting down with him every night, me getting all missing assignments, emailing the teachers (at one point before a month was over I sent one teacher 100+ emails), as well as other things I was doing to assist him.

    Now he was in 7th grade this past year & he ended up getting a D- in gym the first quarter, how do you fail gym, of all classes???

    I had to record ALL conversations with the school this past year, because the principal called my husband a bully (which he’s not-we are trying to help our son), the assistant principal told me to get a lawyer & fight the school board, & it gets crazier!!! The one teacher told my son he needed to move his seat, but would give no explanation as to why, which she then threatened to pick him up & move him, & she did place her hands on my son. When they had open house the one teacher said “don’t bother to email me, because I a treasurer for a union & I get so many emails that I don’t have the time to go through them”!!!

    I was told I would get an email from every teacher, & I got a few emails but not from every teacher. When I brought it up to the school they tell me “we can’t force the teachers to do things”, “it would violate their contract.” I can’t honestly tell you how many times we were told that!!!!

    It is a JOKE what this world has come to!!!

    I don’t know what else to do!!!! Does anyone know of an attorney? I need them to be free though because I’m on disability.

  • I totally disagree with those suggesting that since the material might be too difficult for their kids to understand, the curriculum should perhaps be changed or standards lowered. Or that it is due to teachers’ inability to teach. Here is a reverse argument: What if my child finds the material too easy and he gets bored, should the standards be raised to accomodate his superior intellect to the detriment of his average classmates? Just can’t believe that rather than challenge and help your kid to improve, parents blame the teacher and the curriculum, even as other students have no problem digesting the topics. When India and China take our engineering jobs, the same parents will complain about the system.


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What to Do When Your Child is Failing School: Tips and Advice for Parents
This is the link: http://www.metroparent.com/daily/education/school-issues/child-failing-school-tips-advice-parents/