How To Practice Compassion & Understanding When Your Child Is Struggling In School

Take a step back and see how you can prepare your conversation about a disappointing report card.

father walking with teen son, talking seriously but kindly Lightfield Studios / shutterstock

Students with ADHD want to do well in school, and most of them put a lot of effort into their work. But at the same time, they must contend with issues around focus, organization, distractibility, impulse control and time management, and their academic workload.

It’s a lot to handle, and often grades may suffer as a result. To better address your child’s needs, you’ll need to figure out what your child is struggling with to find the proper support.


So let’s take a step back and see how you can prepare your response to a disappointing report card and a disappointed child.

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Here are ways to practice compassion & understanding to support your child with ADHD to be successful in school:

1. Be an ally, not a critic

It’s safe to assume your child is already disappointed and frustrated with his lackluster report card, so responding with anger, lectures, and punishments will only intensify your child’s stress.


You may feel upset and concerned: this is entirely understandable. However, addressing your feelings in private before speaking with your child or teen would be best. Taking time to process what’s happened and your frustration will leave you in a much better position to talk with your kid.

Your child will feel connected, comforted, and heard when you are calm, attentive, and constructive. This is when brainstorming and collaboration about how best to move forward will take place. 

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2. Read between the lines

“Listen more, speak less” is an effective parenting strategy to help your child get through a tough time.


Don’t assume you know what’s happening or rush toward a resolution.

When your child is going through a challenging situation, they need to get things off their chest. Maybe even cry or get their frustration out on a punching bag or old pillow. 

Give your child a chance to vent. When they feel they can share what’s on their mind with you without anger or judgment, they will feel more connected and likely to open up even more.

Please encourage your child to share their thoughts about what happened with their grades. Be ready to read between the lines and ask for clarifications, so you have the whole story. Avoid asking ‘why’ and stick with ‘how, when, and what.’ 


For example, when your child says, “I hate school,” or “My teacher hates me,” it could mean the teacher frequently reminds them to pay attention. Or the child doesn’t fully understand the teacher’s expectations and keeps falling short.

Instead, ask them, “How do you know this? What things does your teacher say or do to show their hatred?” The more specific the information you gather, the easier it will be to make a collaborative plan for moving forward.

So it’s up to you to first listen and ask questions to get to the bottom of the issue.

3. Set realistic academic goals for the remainder of the school year

Together, explore realistic and achievable goals for the next term based on their current performance. Identify what small steps they can take to make some progress.


Remind your child that even if their grades don’t go up significantly, they show growth in other ways; that’s a substantial accomplishment too. For example, if your teen makes it a habit to get homework help from their math teacher once a week, that’s excellent progress.

Ask your child or teen what types of support have been helpful in the past and would be useful now. For example, is there a teacher, friend, or counselor they have a good relationship?

Then, get your youngster to come up with one or two suggestions for improving their study habits and grades.

And if you haven’t done so already, reach out to teachers and guidance counselors to better understand what resources are available for your child.


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4. Make sure your child has the proper academic support in school and at home

If your child or teen does not already have mandated supports at school (in the United States, these would be 504, IEP, and behavioral plans), then request a team meeting or fill out the necessary forms to get this process started.

If a support plan is in place and your child is still struggling, as evidenced by their disappointing report card, set up a meeting with the team to find out why the plan isn’t working more efficiently.

Make it possible for your child or teen to participate in these meetings. We want them to feel part of a process that’s for them so they will be more willing to participate in it. 


While you can’t oversee what’s happening daily at school, you can provide effective support at home.

First, make sure your youngster has a quiet place to study. Next, enforce effective study habits by equipping them with tools such as checklists, alarms, reminders, and practical daily routines. Finally, collaborate on and use age-appropriate incentives.

Remember to rely on natural and logical consequences rather than punishments to motivate your student.


Most importantly, celebrate each win, no matter how small. Going from a C- to a C may not seem like much to cheer about for your standards, but it could be a world of improvement for your child or teen. It reflects an improvement based on a lot of effort on their part.

Your child or teen with ADHD does want to do well. With your empathy and support, they will shine. 

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Sharon Saline Is a psychologist, published author, and expert in ADHD. She shares her 30 years of experience through her workshops, books, and lectures.