Dealing with Academic Setbacks

By Daniel Franklin, Ph.D

Struggling students with learning disabilities and other challenges are exposed to huge amounts of corrective input from adults • It’s important to make sure this feedback is not shaming, particularly when your child feels that they’ve failed despite their best effort


A pattern I see often involves kids who are willing to invest more time and energy into schoolwork, and yet their initial attempts do not result in high marks. As a parent, you need to be careful about how you respond if their efforts don’t result in the grades your child hopes for. Following are guidelines to manage these setbacks, and serve as a starting point for helping your child move forward.

1. Accept that progress will be slow. Keep in mind that progress is not linear for kids with learning challenges. Progress is often said to be “two steps forward and one step back.” It is simply not realistic to expect equal improvement across several categories at the same rate.

2. Value responsibilities over results. Place greater stock in your child being a responsible student than in getting good grades, especially during their early efforts at improving. Being a responsible student includes the following:

  • Giving consistent effort
  • Finishing assignments
  • Turning in assignments on time
  • Studying for tests

If your child is consistently working to understand the material and is given appropriate opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, the grades will eventually follow.

3. Avoid using reward systems. It has been my experience that reward systems frequently backfire. A child may become so preoccupied with the reward that they are unable to engage meaningfully in the task before them. In addition, a withheld reward, in the eyes of a child, can feel like a punishment.

Focus instead on the internal reward both you and your child will experience from a successful collaboration. Engage in activities that honor your relationship and are done regardless of academic results. Such unconditional rewards are an effective means of maintaining positivity over time, no matter what.

4. Prioritize collaboration. Working and planning together reaps countless benefits. Prioritizing the value of effort and collaboration over other considerations promotes a growth mindset and further learning. Nothing feels more rewarding than working hard toward a goal together and achieving it.

5. Respect your child. Be aware of what your child is really capable of doing, and do not force them to do something that will exceed their capacities. By treating your child with respect and interjecting positivity into his or her life, you will be tilling the ground for positive learning experiences and overall progress.

In the face of school-related trauma and negativity, a critical step in bringing about positive change is working together in a highly collaborative way. The awareness that your child can be successful when working collaboratively with you is itself positive thinking.

This article is excerpted from Helping Your Child with Language-Based Learning Disabilities (Strategies to Succeed in School and Life with Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, ADHD, and Auditory Processing Disorder), by Daniel Franklin, PhD; published by New Harbinger Publications (2018). Available at Amazon through this link: Helping Your Child with Language-Based Learning Disabilities. Dr. Franklin is a Board Certified Educational Therapist and the founder of Franklin Educational Services. 

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