School should be an exciting and stimulating environment to learn and develop as a child, but we know it can be difficult and overwhelming. It is common for children to experience issues at some point during their time at school and this can feel worrying and distressing for parents. Knowing how to address this and support your child can help.
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How do I know if my child is struggling at school?
Issues at school can come at any time. They may be small and resolve quickly but there may be a bigger issue that does not improve with time and impacts your child’s wellbeing. Some of the issues they may be experiencing could be:
- Friendship issues
- Behaviour difficulties
- Learning difficulties, including Special Education Needs (SEN)
- Lack of confidence and self-esteem
- Exam stress
- Homework or schoolwork
- Moving schools
Spotting problems can be challenging, and your child might find it difficult to say they are struggling because they feel embarrassed, confused or they do not understand it themselves. Being alert to your child’s behaviour will help you identify if there are problems. Indications include:
- A reluctance to go to school
- Complaints of sickness, a sore tummy or head
- Low self-esteem, for example calling themselves stupid or saying they have no friends
- Returning home from school feeling low, sad or distressed
- Behavioural challenges at school, including getting into trouble more regularly
- A lack of engagement at school
- Poor attitude towards work, including difficulties with completing homework
- Achieving lower marks than expected
- Difficulties with eating in school
Talking to your child
Having open lines of communication with your child on a regular basis can help them reach out to you if there is an issue at school. In the mornings, ask them what they have got on today at school and when they come home, ask them how their day was. This will help them feel at ease to talk to you about their school life and you may even notice issues arising before they get more challenging.
If your child talks to you about an issue at school, acknowledge it calmly and compassionately. Tell them you are sorry they are going through this difficult time and offer reassurance, so they know you want to help them. Empower them by asking what they think might help resolve the issue, this will help you to understand their perspective.
Whilst you address this, you can build their self-esteem and confidence by praising them for their effort at school, offering to help with any work and celebrating their achievements, no matter how big or small. Getting them involved with out of school clubs will also build confidence and give them value and purpose. However, if you feel your child’s mental health is being negatively affected, it will be important to seek support from their GP as soon as possible. If your child is feeling anxious about going to school, you may find it helpful to read our online advice on school anxiety and refusal.
Working with the school
If the issue is affecting your child’s wellbeing, addressing it quickly will help prevent the problem from escalating. Start by speaking to the appropriate member of staff who supports your child at school like their class teacher, pastoral team or head of year. Let them know about your concerns and how this is impacting your child at home as this will help them to understand the issue.
Work with the school to create a supportive plan with your child so they can see that everyone is working together to improve things. Your school should be able to put support in place and this may include additional learning support, homework clubs, behaviour charts or support with confidence building and social skills. They can also make referrals to other agencies if they feel further support or assessment is needed and these services include school nurses, educational psychology and speech and language.
If you feel that the school are not being helpful or supportive, think about making an official complaint. There may be advocacy groups or peer advice support groups in your local community that can support you and your child if you are not getting support from the school.
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at email@example.com or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.
Other organisations that can help
Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) - an independent national service centre for parents of children in state-funded education.
Not Fine in School - a parent/carer-led organisation offering support and guidance for school attendance.
Homework Elephant - resources to help children complete their homework.
Childline - support for children and young people to help with whatever is worrying them, including issues at school or college.