How to Help a Failing Child to Pass

One of the biggest issues for children is the anxiety and effort required to advance in school. This anxiety can increase dramatically when that child starts to fail at a subject, leading to a spiral of shame, under-achievement, and loss of self-esteem. In addition, not learning a subject properly can create future problems, as subjects (like Math and English) often build on what was previously learned. The objective of this article is to provide constructive and actionable advice on how to help a child successfully improve at a subject they are failing at, and pass.


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    Determine what the real issue or problem is. Does the child have comprehension problems, or is something distracting him or her in class?
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    Speak with the child's teacher/instructor on what he or she thinks the issue is. Communication is key in getting help from the teacher/school, and to also let that person know that you are interested in helping fix the issue.
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    What are your own limitations, as a parent, tutor, friend, etc. with this same topic? Are you knowledgeable enough to be qualified to help your child, or will you require a tutor who has that extra experience?
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    Survey the situation. What parts of this subject is the child unclear or failing to understand, and what can be done to address this? The teacher/school can be very helpful in this respect, and you can also find online assessment tests to do your own testing on where the child's current level of achievement in the subject is.
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    Put together a plan, using what you know about the situation, for improvement. Set goals/benchmarks, and also set up rewards to motivate. Make sure to actually follow-through on the rewards, or this will backfire! You should have a scheduled amount of extra time spent on the topic, as well as reviews of the material before the test, and reviews after the test to highlight what went right, and to re-examine and re-work what went badly.
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    Stick to the plan, but also adjust as you get new information or results.
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    When the class/subject is over, re-asses the results, and see if you would like your child to go at a slower pace in future classes, or if they are now ready to progress without as much monitoring.


  • Consider possible medical issues that might be interfering with learning -- When is the last time this child had a vision or hearing test? Could this child have a hyperactivity disorder, or a learning disability?
  • Consider the history of the child with this subject. Is it just this teacher, or is this a pattern that is prevalent for this child with this subject? In other words, is the child historically bad at Math, English, etc., or is this class the first sign of trouble?
  • Conversely, trying harder or working harder is not always better. There might be a root cause why the child has a mental block on the topic that is not fixed by treating the symptom (failing the class) -- emotional problems, psychological issues, getting bullied, a boring instructor/teacher, someone talking to the child in class distracting him or her -- all of these could factor in on why this particular subject or class is a problem.
  • The child has to want to improve -- without good attitude on their part, and a willingness to learn, the plan will not work. There may be bigger issues at stake here, and valid, real-life reasons why the child is not in a good mental state to learn. If the child is dealing with problems at home, he or she may need therapy or psychological help to overcome the bigger issues in life at that moment, before tackling problems that are lower in relative priority.
  • Consider alternatives -- is this school, class, subject, etc. right for this child? Would home schooling, private tutoring, or a break from the subject (replacing it with something the child is competent at) the right move? We do not all have the same talents, and sometimes other talents bloom later in life.
  • To the point above -- help your child see the big picture, what life has in store, and why they need to learn this subject. Try to find something fun or interesting that might help this child have a better attitude about the subject and school in general. If you don't know either, your child's failure might be because of what you have been subconsciously signalling to them.
  • Examine what motivation the child currently has to succeed, and whether that is enough. School is the equivalent of a child's day job -- what is the child's reward? Parental approval? Peer approval? More toys? A special trip to an amusement park? Make sure incentives are in place.
  • Try full immersion into the subject -- It is possible other subjects are detracting from learning this one, and the child needs more specific and long-term focus on the subject. This is why students sometimes do much better in Summer school, concentrating all of their time on that subject, vs. regular school, where they have to split their time and mental resources.
  • Some teachers/instructors can be very helpful in terms of rewarding major improvement. See if the teacher is willing to reward significant improvement with a passing grade (in the face of marks that might not add up overall to a passing grade).


  • Failure in a subject needs to be addressed immediately, especially for children, who need to build a sound foundation for future education. Failing to understand and keep up with peers has long-term negative implications for their lives, careers, relationships with peers, and their own self-esteem. Think of this as a fire that needs to be extinguished -- if you don't do anything, it is only going to get worse, and do far more damage than intended.

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Categories: Parent Educational Resources