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Finding Answers to Underachievement

Finding answers to a child's underachievement is often a difficult and complex process. Let intuition be your guide, knowing when and how to ask the right questions. Here are 7 steps to get you started:

1. Narrow the Problem.

By the time a family member or teacher steps in to help an underachieving child, it may be months or years since problems may have first appeared. It can be extremely difficult sorting out the source of difficulties, and what problems (depression, anxiety, apathy) are primary or secondary. Nevertheless, narrowing the problem is often the most first step in finding specific answers to underachievement, and realize it may take some time. Look for patterns in certain subjects, assignments, homework, or teachers. Are there more problems taking information in or getting it out? Did things get more complicated in middle school or when classroom expectations increased? Could there be a 'silent' learning disability? Could your child be overscheduled? Are problems related to subject areas like reading, writing, or listening?

2. Identify Strengths.

Realize the importance of strengths in designing solutions. Children need to feel good enough about themselves to have the mental energy to tackle school frustrations. Underachieving children often they have no strengths and they may even have existential depression. Also learning strengths should tell you the best routes for overcoming learning or performance 'blocks'. Look for strengths in personal or hands-on learning, language, or the visual arts. Problem solve best memory routes and styles of expression.

3. Share Your Stories.

Realize that you are probably a powerful role model. Share your realistic stories about learning difficulties, personal obstacles, and discuss what you continue to grapple with. Be aware that underachieving children easily succumb to 'catastrophism'. Encourage them, and give them perspective.

4. Commit to a Change.

Most children are already exhausted and defeated by the time you try to work with them. Encourage them to commit to a change and start small. The answers will be found by problem solving, and encourage them to celebrate every small bit of progress as it arrives.

5. Don't Forget Your Parachute.

Encourage realism and don't expect all your changes to work the first time. Underachieving children often need some aggressive accommodations (reduced work load, assistive technology, adjusted deadlines) at first to allow them to develop and become efficient with new styles of processing information or expressing ideas. Don't forget to take breaks and to enlist the cooperation of teachers as you devise a plan for overcoming your child's underachievement.

6. Adopt a Team Approach to Problem-Solving.

Partner with your child problem solving situations and crises. Let your child express her worries and desires. Develop a plan that seems sensible to you both, and then push forward.

7. Remember the Big Picture.

Realize that many of the anxieties of underachievement come from personal fears of futility and catastrophe. Fears about time running out and bleak futures need to be confronted and carted out to the waste bin. What you need to do is focus on the present, plan sensible changes, allow time to see their effects, and adjust plans accordingly. Constantly redirect the focus on the big picture - how can we help make them more happy, reduce their frustrations, accentuate their talents, and prepare them for their future.

About the Authors: Brock and Fernette Eide are physicians and consultants to a wide range of parent, teacher, and clinical groups seeking more information about learning and brain-based solutions. Together they have authored more than 50 articles and they speak internationally for keynote lectures, seminars, and small groups. The Eides have a free Neurolearning Newsletter and can be contacted through their website at: http://www.neurolearning.com or by email at: feide@u.washington.edu or drseide@neurolearning.com.

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