Helping Underachievers Learn to Achieve

Question: Unfortunately, my 12-year-old son exhibits many signs of being an underachiever. Where does a parent go to get help for an underachiever?

I have a friend with a son who is having similar difficulties. She has tried tutoring, hiring a personal coach and many other means to track his assignments and skills. Nothing seems to be working. Who do you suggest we talk to to build a fire under our boys? - Baffled

Answer: There is rarely a magic wand that can be waved to turn underachievers into achievers overnight. In fact, many underachievers really do want to do better in school. The problem is they simply don't understand that they are consistently doing things that undermine their abilities to succeed in school. They fail to turn in homework, don't listen in class, don't study for tests and misbehave in class. Also, being a perfectionist or procrastinator definitely interferes with achievement.

All the lectures in the world do not change underachievers into achievers. The children might even agree with what is said. One of the first things parents need to do is to understand exactly what behaviors are causing their children to underachieve. There will usually be more than one cause. Teachers and counselors can often provide insight.

Once parents have a good idea about why their children are not working up to capacity, they can begin to help the children find ways to change these behaviors. For example, parents can help children discover that they really are making conscious decisions not to turn in homework and not simply forgetting. The next step is to help the children devise ways to change their behaviors by making better decisions. This will take time.

Excellent information on understanding and motivating underachieving children can be found in "Bright Minds, Poor Grades" by Michael Whitley, and "The Unmotivated Child" by Natalie Rathvon. If parents are completely unable to make any progress, help from a counselor or therapist might be the solution.