4 Ways to Inspire an Underachiever

As schoolwork gets more challenging, kids can feel overwhelmed. Here's how to help your child tackle tough assignments with confidence.




If you have an underachiever, you often hear the lament "I'm dumb" or "It's just too hard" from your perfectly capable kid. It often starts around 4th or 5th grade, when the workload intensifies. To get your stubborn student moving:

  1. Boost his confidence. At this age, kids begin to compare themselves to others, and may find themselves wanting. Put self-criticism into perspective by reminding him of his strengths: Okay, so he's not in the top math group, but very few write as well as he does. Be careful not to make comparison to older siblings. Instead of zeroing in on what he did wrong or forgot, focus on how much he's improved.
  2. Challenge "horribilizing." Teach her to dispute pessimistic thoughts ("I messed up the test . . . I'm never going to do well . . . I'm stupid") with accurate, specific information, to put disappointments into perspective. You might say: "Okay, so you didn't do well on that test, but you gave it your best shot. Let's talk to the teacher and see where you need to improve. Then you'll be better prepared for next time."
  3. Be a cheerleader. Remind him that good things don't just happen. He got an A on last month's math test — not because he was lucky, but because he worked hard and deserved it. Instead of saying, "Cut the complaining and get to work," try, "Sure, this is hard, but you've done work this hard before. Let's look at the problem again. Maybe we can break it down into simpler pieces."
  4. Ask about what she's learning. Show interest in the work she brings home. If she sees that you think it's important, she'll think so, too. Listen completely to her answer without arguing or judging. When you do, you build confidence, nurture self-esteem, and teach her to think. What's more, if you give her time to express her thoughts at home, she'll be more confident doing so in class.
Motivate for School Success
Age 10
Age 9
Age 8
Adjusting to School
Elementary School
Homework and Tests
Confidence and Self-Esteem
Determination and Perseverance