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3.3 Signs of school and
learning problems

For children in care, school attendance
may have been a problem. The children also may have missed some school between
coming to live with you and when they were able to get into their new school.
Since missing only a couple of weeks of school can lead to behavior and
performance problems for children, the difficulties of a child in care may be a
result of missing school. If so, extra help, patience, and a few weeks to get
into the rhythm of school will usually get the child back on track.

When a child in care is having performance or behavior difficulties at
school, it’s appropriate to start by assuming the child can improve, with a
little firmness and assistance from you. Focus first on the behavior problems.

Talk with teachers to work out a way to get some feedback about the
child’s behavior, daily if possible. Calmly but firmly tell the child the
behavior isn’t acceptable and there will be consequences at home whenever there
are behavior problems at school.

After each technique, write a sentence or two about why you think it
is appropriate.

•           Take
away a privilege or two for one day or perhaps two whenever you receive
negative feedback from school. This might be something like watching TV or
being allowed to spend time with friends.

•           Don’t
punish the child or become frustrated or angry. There just needs to be a
relatively mild, predictable consequence consistently repeated whenever the
child misbehaves.

•           Don’t
increase the consequences over time. This never helps and will tend to make
things worse.

If the behavior of a child at school doesn’t gradually improve over
three or four weeks, you need to discuss the problems with teachers and with
mental health professionals. Don’t put this off. The sooner you get a handle on
the problem, the sooner things will improve. The longer you delay, the harder
it will be to ever correct the problem.

With performance problems, talk with teachers to be sure you
understand exactly what the child isn’t doing and then consider these
techniques. After each technique, write a sentence or two about why it is

•           Be
sure the child works on homework every evening but not for more than forty-five
minutes each evening. Any more won’t help and will likely cause more
frustration and performance problems. (For first and second grade children, thirty
minutes is enough.) For high school students, a little more time may be
necessary. Help the child learn where to study and how to pace himself.

•           Before
the child starts homework, have him explain to you exactly what the assignment
is and how he will go about getting it done.

•           Check
the child’s work two or three times during the study time, offering help and

•           If
it’s clear the child doesn’t know how to do part of the assignment, calmly
explain how but don’t push or get frustrated. The child is already frustrated
enough for both of you.

If the child’s performance doesn’t improve noticeably within a month
or so, talk with the school’s psychologist or mental health professionals about
the problem. The child’s trying harder or your trying harder won’t help until
you understand why the child isn’t doing better. This likely isn’t related to
real ability. It’s more likely related to a minor learning problem or to other
issues neither you nor the child can directly control. Just be clear about the
fact it isn’t the child’s fault and pushing, punishing, or blaming the child
will make things much worse, very quickly.

If you have followed the suggestions and you still are seeing these
signs, professional help is required, including immediate evaluation by a
qualified school or child psychologist. The psychologist should then explain to
you and the child exactly what the child’s problem is and specifically how you
and others can help work through the difficulties.

After each sign, write a sentence or two about what you think may help
the child with the problem.


•           Often
can’t express his thoughts and ideas.

•           Often
doesn’t understand assignments and what people expect.

•           Often
doesn’t understand what he reads.

•           Trying
harder usually doesn’t lead to his work and skills getting better.

•           Does
some assignments very well and others very badly.

•           Often
forgets what to do or what people expected.

•           Often
doesn’t follow instructions and directions.

•           Gets
bad grades.

•           Doesn’t
ask for help or let others help.

•           Regularly
has excuses for not doing well.

•           Thinks
his not doing well is someone else’s fault.

•           Has
to have an adult standing over him to be sure his work gets done.

•           Disrupts
the class or the activities of others.

•           Doesn’t
make much effort to cooperate and get along.


•           How
might differences such as racial, economic, religious, language, developmental,
or disabilities contribute to school and learning problems for children in

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