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Help for students struggling in school typically begins with advice about creating distraction-free study spaces, organization, and tutoring for the subjects in which your child is falling behind.

We approach academic success for teens, tweens, and elementary-aged students by focusing less on the mechanics of learning and more on preparing the child to learn. We rarely find that disorganization or difficulty learning one subject is the crux of a struggling student. It takes looking beyond grades to discover the hurdles a child is inwardly facing and to find unique pathways that lead to their success.


Let’s explore 5 ways to help students excel in the classroom and beyond.


#1. Positive relationships inspire students’ engagement and motivation in learning. When we attune to individuals’ needs, interests, and opinions, they feel supported rather than pressured. Therefore, close parent-child and teacher-child relationships inspire greater social and academic success.

Zier Institute’s Study Partners program provides a positive relationship outside of the family and school dynamic to help students be ready to learn and ready for the win!

#2. Whether it is through occupational therapy sessions, social groups, or helping students who are struggling in school manage their workload, working closely with children allows us the opportunity to uncover their triggers.

In school, poor academic performance, lack of interest, not paying attention, disorganization of class materials and assignments are behaviors that tell us that something is triggering them. They don’t understand this and instead begin to internalize the belief that they’re a ‘bad kid’ or a ‘poor student.’

Understanding a child’s triggers provides a framework from which to move forward. Parents and teachers can better anticipate specific behavior and learn not to respond negatively. By empowering children to be self-aware of their triggers and subsequent actions, we give them tools to regulate their emotions, calm themselves, and control their reactions. More than good grades, this gives children a sense of real accomplishment.

#3. Asking a struggling student to sit still at a desk while working on a subject they are not interested in is never a recipe for success. Because emotional experiences, like learning, involve both the brain and the body, movement is essential to academic success. Using more of the body in regulated ways increases our capacity to tolerate and overcome difficult experiences. During in-clinic or teletherapy Study Partner sessions, we often begin with large motor work before talking about school. When we transition to school-related activities and topics, the child is energetic and engaged.

An attuned body = an attuned mind!

#4. Learning should be fun. It’s easy to forget that, especially when you have a child who is struggling in school, doesn’t fit in, hates to go to school, doesn’t like his teacher, etc. This past year online school added a layer of complexity to the social-emotional development of children of all ages. Children will feel the ripple effects for years to come.

Without dismissing or denying those effects, the onus is on us to bring joy into the educational process. Both adults and children learn better when it is fun.

  • Play to the interests of the child
  • Don‘t be afraid to be silly
  • Embrace mistakes
  • Happiness rules! Children learn best when they feel happy (and safe)

 “Boredom is a disease of epidemic proportions.

Why are our schools not places of joy?”   John Goodlad

#5. Lastly, all students need to stay organized to avoid becoming overwhelmed. For children who struggle academically or socially at school, learning how to organize their thoughts and emotions is equally important. The steps above help prevent overwhelm, but even with a close relationship, identified triggers, active bodies, and fun, it can be tough.

Many parents walk a tightrope between helping children stay on top of their homework assignments and nagging them to get it done. One too many “Is your homework done?” and bring out the butter because you’re toast. Temporarily, at least. Our parenting advice for struggling students is to stay close, be mindful of what works, encourage movement when discouraged, and add laughter when you can. You’ll get there!