A concerned Mom was telling me the other day about her daughter whose IQ is very high but whose grades are lousy. I told her that lots of other kids have the same problem and that we do have strategies that work.
Who are the underachievers?
Underachievers are kids who have a lot of potential but don’t live up to that potential in school. Underachievers span all social, economic, and ability levels. Many underachievers have very high IQ’s. Teachers and parents often accuse underachievers of being lazy, of having attitude problems, or of not caring about themselves. Sometimes these kids get into trouble at school and at home. Nobody realizes that underachievement is the issue.
How do I know if my child is an underachiever?
Sometimes it’s easy to tell. Lots of smart middle-school boys underachieve because it isn’t “cool” to get good grades. If they did well in elementary school and are now getting bad grades, “forgetting” to turn in homework, and not completing in-class work, underachieving could be the culprit. You’ll want to rule out health issues, lack of sleep, and poor nutrition. Teachers can usually spot these “trying-to-be-cool” boys right away.
Often an IQ test answers your question. If a child has a high IQ and is doing poorly, underachievement could be the reason.
But the problems can also be so subtle that they escape detection through the usual tests. Huge numbers of children end up “falling through the cracks” in our schools every year simply because they aren’t doing school work that they’re quite capable of doing.
Many factors can cause underachievement including ADHD, boredom, disruptive family situation, lack of sleep, health issues, even something as simple as a child needing glasses.
And, of course, underachievement can come from low self-esteem. If your child has been told that she’s stupid, she may do poorly in school because she thinks that’s what is expected of her and that’s all she can do.
Research has shown that many children will perform in school according to what the teacher thinks about them. When teachers were told that certain children (chosen at random) had extremely high IQ’s and other children (also chosen at random) had low IQ’s, the children’s grades reflected the teachers’ perceptions.
Fortunately, the cycle of underachievement can be broken if the problem is diagnosed and the child is given the attention he needs. You, your child, and your child’s teachers will have to work together. If you know that your child can do better work, you need to make sure your child’s teacher knows this also.
How can parents help underachievers?
1. Learn why your child is underachieving. Talk to your child’s teachers, school psychologist or school counselor. Or go to a learning specialist or psychologist for an outside evaluation. You can ask your child’s pediatrician for referrals. In many cases, a child counselor or psychologist with a strong background in education can do wonders to improve a child’s achievement in school and her self-esteem.
2. Accept, support, and respect your child. Are you someone your child battles against, or someone who can be relied upon for support and encouragement? As the most important significant others, parents, more than anyone else, help establish how kids feel about themselves. So accept who your child is. Let your child know you are proud of him. Just simple phrases like “good job,” “great idea,” and “I knew you’d come through” help a lot. Show your children respect. If you expect them to say “please” and “thank you,” are you also saying “please” and “thank you” to them?
3. Be a good role model. Children have a better chance of developing high self-esteem when their parents demonstrate high self-esteem. Children learn by your example. Are you an achiever at your job? Or an underachiever? Do you talk about doing the least possible amount of work on your job just to get by? Or do you tell the family about a challenging project you just completed successfully and that you’re pleased with what a good job you did?
For many children supporting them in positive ways by accepting and respecting them goes a long way in helping them become achievers. And because children learn from parents, modeling achievement yourself is essential. You can help your child be successful at school.
Do you have kids who don’t work up to their potential? How have you been able to help them? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.