Does Your Child Underachieve At School?

Have you always felt that your child is capable of achieving a lot more than what is reflected in her report card? Here’s how to deal with the issue.

By Leena Ghosh  • 10 min read

Does Your Child Underachieve At School?

The class 12 board examination was fast approaching and Apoorva’s mother was apprehensive. Apoorva, though quite intelligent, had not been performing too well in her studies. Both Apoorva’s mother and father had always felt that she hadn’t been performing to her full potential. Even her teachers had been of the same opinion. Despite pointing this out to her, Apoorva had adopted a casual attitude. She had been satisfied with just scoring a first class. Her parents had always thought that, at least, towards the end, she would realise her true potential and give her best. Hence, the apprehension now…

Your child may be an Apoorva too – her achievement falling short of her full potential. If so, it is essential to first identify the cause and approach your child accordingly.

Let us begin by defining an underachiever. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary mentions an underachiever as ‘a person who does less well than they could do, especially in school work’. This simply means that the individual has potential, but this potential doesn’t get reflected in achievement.

Now that we’ve defined the term, let us see how to identify a child who underachieves. Following are the signs a parent should look out for:

Characteristics of one who underachieves

  • Lack of focus
  • Boredom
  • Inconsistent academic achievement
  • Reluctance in completing assignments
  • Avoidance of work
  • Bad study habits
  • Able to but not scoring well
  • Poor social skills
  • Not responsible
The role of parents is very important in helping a child meet his full potential. They must encourage him constantly because any negativity on their part may affect the child adversely. Also, a child may underperform because of many reasons – the teaching may not be up to the mark or the environment at home might not be conducive to learning. It is the teacher’s duty to develop a student’s interest in a subject, rather than encourage learning by rote.
- Sutapa Ghosh, Former Principal, Dalimss Sunbeam School, Varanasi 

Types of children who underachieve

The Procrastinator: These children avoid responsibility and confrontation, and their mantra is to do just enough to get by. They don’t feel the need for hard work and whenever they are confronted with a deadline, they tend to give up.

The Anxious Child: These children are constantly afraid of not being good enough. They keep thinking about the worst-case scenarios. Also, they constantly seek approval from parents or other authority figures. They, in fact, are perfectionists who believe in getting a project right or not doing it at all. They get weighed down by the unimportant details and fail to see the bigger picture. Also, they need assurance from parents or teachers to validate their work.

The One with the Lost Identity: These children are forever trying to figure out who they are and what their purpose is. They tend to be very passionate and care for the environment and the community, but their worry about their identity is such that they fail to get tasks done. They may come across as lazy, but their absorption with finding the purpose drains them of all their creative energy. They may do better in some subjects compared to others, if they care about that subject.

The Defiant Child: These children score poorly just to ‘defy’ their parents or teachers. They want to be independent but aren’t prepared for the real world yet. They see acts of rebellion as a way of asserting their independence. For them, everything becomes a power struggle and it’s important for parents not to be lured into it.

The Manipulative Child: These children can be very charming and impulsive. For them, immediate gratification is of supreme importance and they can lie or cheat to get their way. They do not think of long-term consequences and will manipulate anyone to get their way. They tend to look for youngsters with the same personality traits and like to be in their company.

Children who achieve well below their potential may show characteristics that pertain to more than one kind of underachievement. Therefore, as a parent, it is your duty to identify the cause and help your child. The key is to be patient and supportive, and help your child perform well.

Tips to deal with a child who underachieves

Don’t show your frustration: Screaming, scolding or passing sarcastic comments will not help you or your child. Neither will begging or pleading with him. It just shows him that you have run out of options and will not encourage him to talk to you about his problems. Keep calm and broach the subject with patience, and listen to his problems carefully. Don’t trivialise any reason he may give you. This would lead to him withholding his thoughts from you again.

Be there for her: It’s important for your child to know that she has your support, and that her likes and dislikes matter to you. Observe her activities and note what she likes to do. If she is good in any extra-curricular activity, acknowledge it and praise her for it. You can use the success in that activity to motivate her to do better in academics. Also, share her interests with her teachers so that they can encourage her to perform better.

Don’t do his work for him: In order to be supportive, many parents tend to chip in and do their child’s school work for him. This has a very negative impact on the child. It’s important that children learn to be independent, even when they find it tough. Doing his own work will enable your child to learn and arrive at solutions on his own. As a parent, be there to help him; but, do not make him dependent on you.

Be careful of manipulation: Children are very smart and learn the art of manipulation from a very early age. A large part of being a child who underachieves is shirking responsibilities and expectations. As someone who performs poorly, your child doesn’t deal with expectations to do better, doesn't compete with other children and doesn’t worry about failing or scoring less. This is because less is expected of her, and this gives her a sense of power. Recognise this and encourage her to perform to her full potential every time.

Introduce structure and deadlines: These children need a little push in the right direction now and then. Therefore, having a proper schedule and deadlines will help them perform better. Set a certain deadline by when homework or a project should be completed and make sure your child follows that schedule. Motivate him by setting aside free time for him after his work his done. Don’t schedule too many activities for him. It’s important that he has his space.

Make ‘work’ fun: Identify the subject in which your child struggles to perform well and find out ways to make studying that subject fun. Create activities you can both do, so she can engage in the subject without any fear.

Don’t let him hide: It’s easy to hide in the room, if your child has all his gadgets and accessories at his disposal. Bring out his computer into the living room, and let him earn his screen time. It’s important for you to hold your unmotivated child accountable. However, if he doesn’t care when you take away his goodies and prefers to stay in his room, he might be suffering from depression and it’s important that you seek professional help.

When you have a child who underachieves at school, it’s important for you to be her parent and her coach. Hold her responsible for her failures and praise her when she meets her goals. You must ensure she is made accountable for her responsibilities despite her fear, anger or apathy. The key is to remember that underachievement in academics is not a sign that your child is dull. It is just that your child has the potential, but her achievement doesn’t match it.

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