Low school performance: causes and how to help our children

Poor school performance is a common problem in children and has multiple causes. It usually becomes evident in cognitive, academic, and behavioral areas. However, due to ignorance, fear that our children were medicated, difficulty in identifying emotional or physiological problems, and even teaching malpractice, we do not act fast to seek help for our little ones.

Poor school performance is not a lack of interest

To talk about the subject, we spoke with Dr. Sandra Schaffer, Director of the Psychoaprende Center and the Neuroscience Foundation for the Integral Development of the Individual, who explained that poor school performance goes beyond the student’s lack of interest or being lazy.

“Sometimes parents and teachers don’t realize there is a learning problem and are not considerate with kids. That affects children in their self-esteem. Some teachers just say they are lazy or don’t work. What I always explain to parents is that there are no lazy children, no one wants to be in a room doing nothing. Rather, the children are not having the skills to carry out the tasks in the way they are asked to do”.

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What is a learning disability?

According to the expert, a learning disability is a neurological disorder that interferes with a person’s ability to store, process or produce information.

“This has to do with how information enters in our brain and how we interpret it. Children who have learning problems generally have an average intelligence, it has nothing to do with their intellectual capacity; yet their ability to read, to write, to do mathematics and sometimes social skills is affected”, Schaffer says.

Causes of poor academic performance

The neuropsychologist explains that the causes are almost always multifactorial, that is, there isn’t a single reason. They can be divided into emotional causes, specific learning problems, as well as sensory and behavioral difficulties and poor study habits.

Emotional causes

It is difficult to detect them because many times it directly involves the parents although it can also be due to external factors that happen in school, or causes inherent to the child himself.

Changes in the school environment: “The change of a teacher or when they start a new school system. For example, those who go from preschool to primary or those who change schools. You may have conflicts with your peers or difficulty in finding friends”, says the specialist.

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Environment: Problems in the family environment, parent breakup, the arrival of a new sibling or a moving. It can also be the loss of a loved one or if a relative moves in the house. If there are addiction problems or aggressiveness in the family nucleus. Overprotection or abandonment. Sudden economic changes, parents increasing their work activities.

Inherent in the child: These are situations that are within us. For example, a health problem, lack of security, low self-esteem. Physiological problems that cause insecurities: If I am tall, short, fat, skinny, a stutter. All of this generates a negative image of themselves.

Anxiety and depression: We usually think that children do not suffer from anxiety and depression, but this is a mistake. There are children who go from simple sadness to losing interest in things, they feel helpless or hopeless.

Specific learning problems

Reading: Difficulty in perceiving a spoken word as a combination of sounds. Even when they master basic reading, they may struggle with reading at a certain pace, understanding what they read, or making inferences based on reading. There are problems in the working memory (ability to retain information).

Writing: Slow and labored handwriting, difficult to read handwriting, difficulty in putting thoughts on paper, poorly organized text, problems with spelling.

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Math: Trouble at understanding how numbers work, difficulty in calculating problems and using math symbols.

Language: A child who has problems speaking or reproducing sounds, who does not pronounce the ‘r’, the ‘ñ’ or the ‘s’, is going to affect his learning because he is going to write and read just like he speaks. His understanding would be diminished.

Nonverbal skills: Problems interpreting

Language: A child who has problems speaking or reproducing sounds, who does not pronounce the ‘r’, the ‘ñ’ or the ‘s’, is going to affect his learning because he is going to write and read just like he speaks. His understanding would be diminished. facial expressions and using language appropriately in social situations. Poor physical coordination, fine motor skill problems such as writing, and difficulty in paying attention.

Sensory, behavioral difficulties and poor study habits

Behavioral: The most common is oppositional behavior. When the child does not want to do what he is asked and he does the opposite or constantly challenges authority. It may be that he confronts his teachers, his principals, or his parents.

Physiological: For example, the child does not see or hear well. Although there are no doubts, we have to do tests because a reading problem can arise from there. The same with hearing because it might interfere with dictations and can lead to a problem of discrimination, or that he falls behind.

Attention deficit: The child’s difficulty in concentrating and carrying out his tasks at the same pace of his classmates.

Bad study habits: Having distractions while doing homework or studying (television or toys), trying to learn something in the last minute, being tired or hungry, not having a suitable place for study or homework (well illuminated and with enough space), among others.

The reasons for specific learning difficulties, as well as attention deficit problems, are many. “It can be hereditary, some problem during birth (the child did not breathe well), RH incompatibility with the mother, premature birth, low weight, a bump in the head, even substances such as lead in the blood. Sometimes malnutrition because, although we think that children eat well, perhaps they do not have the right nutrient balance and that is a factor of poor school performance.


According to the expert, the first thing is to identify poor performance attentively.

  • There is a lack of attention. We have to talk to the child several times because he is not listening to us.
  • The child sits down to do homework but won’t sit still. He stands up many times, he is unfocused.
  • The teacher talks to him and he is distracted, thinking about other situations or there is a loss of interest.

Once you have observed one of these situations, you have to go to the bottom of the causes with the help of an expert. The person in charge of detecting and treating these problems is the neuropsychologist, preferably with a specialty in the area of special education.

“If just a psychologist checks the child, there may be gaps because he will not be able to investigate the neurological part. Another point is that many parents are afraid to take their children to a psychologist because they don’t want him be medicated.

They let two or three years pass by, but there are treatments such as neurofeedback where the child does not have to take medication; it focuses more to self-regulation and learning therapy. But that has to be diagnosed by the neuropsychologist, doing an electroencephalogram, digital mapping and computerized tests”, concludes Sandra Schaffer.

Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara

Spanish version: Here

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