4 surprising reasons why your child is doing badly in school

May 25, 2015
  • “I can't do it!” 
    1 / 4 “I can't do it!” 

    “After sitting for the CA1 (Term 1) exam in P5, my youngest son told me that he didn’t want to do maths anymore,” says Grace Yong, executive director of Character Montessori Asia, who has four boys. “He could not do a lot of the sums. In P4, his maths paper only had five problem sums, but this one was the full PSLE paper – with 13. I had to pick up the pieces and rebuild his confidence.”

    What’s happening “There are huge jumps in the amount of content covered, and in degrees of difficulty between certain levels in primary school,” says Grace. “Children get floored. I have friends whose children went into depression because they could not cope with the sudden jumps in Primary 3 and 5.”

    What you can do You should play an active role in supervising studies and supporting your child emotionally. Grace put aside a fixed time every week to tutor her son – and invited his friends to join in. “He’s a sociable child, so having friends around mitigates the drudgery of something he felt negative towards,” she explains. Her dedication paid off when he did well in the final exam that year.

    Related: 4 ways to help your child score better in exams

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  • “I’m so tired...” 
    2 / 4 “I’m so tired...” 

    Dr Ellen Tay, a paediatrician with Thomson Paediatric Centre at Novena Medical Center, cites the case of a bright six-year-old who started performing poorly at school: “He was complaining of headaches and sleepiness, especially in the afternoon, and needed to take naps.”

    What’s happening It turned out he had allergic rhinitis and was snoring at night. “Nasal obstruction and allergic rhinitis disturb sleep,” she explains. “Snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnoea (pauses in breathing or shallow breaths in sleep), which has been shown to affect school grades and behaviour.” With insufficient sleep, it was no wonder he was tired all the time.

    What you can do Common conditions like allergic rhinitis, snoring and sleep apnoea, and asthma can be diagnosed early if you can recognise their symptoms. “If parents suspect that their child is not sleeping well, they should take him to see a paediatrician,” she advises. After a few months of medication, her young patient was back to his cheerful self and started doing well at school again.

    Related: My child can’t cope with school work in top primary school

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  • “Leave me alone!” 
    3 / 4 “Leave me alone!” 

    Alex (not his real name) had always been in the top class in primary school. Up to mid-primary levels, he was a cheerful and polite child. But with his parents constantly being away at work, Alex and his younger brother began to spend more time playing online games. The boys only started their homework when their mother, Rose (not her real name), returned from work at night. By the end of P5, his exam results dipped from all Band 1 scores to a couple of low Band 2s. “When I had a pep talk with Alex, he talked back at me,” recalls Rose, 42. “It seemed like he had changed overnight, from being my sweet little boy to this rude, self-centred stranger.”

    What’s happening Parents may lament that their children spend too much time on the Internet, but they aren’t there to reinforce the boundaries. “My husband and I worked long hours at the office,” explains Rose. “I guess my boys just lost track of time being stuck to their games, and shut out everything and everyone in their lives.”

    Sometimes it may be a case of your kid feeling that you love him only for his school results. “When they reach upper primary or secondary levels and become more independent, they express this anger by purposely not working hard,” Grace explains. In other cases, it may simply be a case of addiction. “Some studies show that children who watch too much TV and are exposed to electronic gadgets for prolonged periods of time may develop Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder-type of behaviour,” says Dr Tay.

    Adds Geraldine Tan, a psychologist with Centre For Effective Living: “As parents, we may not be present to impose the boundaries. Or when we’re there, we tend to allow the children to push the boundaries at times.”

    What you can do Decide what your priorities are and act quickly. Rose quit her job and took up part-time work. This meant she could supervise her sons in the afternoons. The addiction to the computer faded quickly, and Alex did so well in the PSLE that he was admitted to the NUS High School of Math and Science.

    If you think your child is resentful at your perceived conditional love, learn to manage your anxiety and don’t add to his stress. “Make sure your child knows that you love him in spite of the results. Even if it’s because he has not been working hard enough, make him set goals on how he’s going to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This way, you train his sense of responsibility,” says Grace.

    And if it’s addiction, Dr Tay recommends human interaction and communication rather than stimulations from such gadgets, which are usually one-sided, especially for young children.

    Draw proper boundaries for older kids, says Geraldine. For example, some parents allow gaming only on weekends.

    Related: How this Singapore mom weaned her son off gaming

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  • “I don't like this topic!” 
    4 / 4 “I don't like this topic!” 

    Ken Tan, 11, often scores a Band 1 in maths. In the last exam, however, he tallied only a Band 3. The reason? “Ken has always been lazy when it comes to using rulers,” says his stay-home mum, G.H. Tan, 40. “He draws graphs freehand, so they’re inaccurate. There were several questions on graphs and he didn’t really like the topic. He also forgot to bring his calculator that day, so he panicked.”

    What’s happening “It’s common for children to enjoy certain topics and not others,” Geraldine points out. “This may affect their grades each semester.”

    What you can do “Talk to your child’s teacher and find out what the curriculum expectations are,” suggests Grace. “Analyse his mistakes in the test paper and detect the problem.” Ken, for instance, should be encouraged to work on graph exercises until he does a proper job of it.

    (Photos: 123RF.com)

    Related: Study tips for Primary 3

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