5 Tips for Reaching the Underachieving Child

5 Tips for Reaching the Underachieving Child

Excerpted from Raising Mentally Strong Kids, by Daniel Amen, MD, and Charles Fay, PhD

Underachievement is one of the most complex challenges facing children, parents, and schools, and it can have devastating effects on a young person’s sense of self-worth and mental strength. Too often, parents start with the assumption that the child is simply being lazy. Then these well-meaning adults often resort to practices that make the problem worse.

Here’s an overview of methods that seem like they should work but that tend to backfire. Plus, you’ll find 5 proven tips for reaching the underachieving child to boost their confidence, motivation, and performance.

Underachievement is one of the most complex challenges facing children, parents, and schools, and it can have devastating effects on a young person’s sense of self-worth and mental strength. Click To Tweet


 Some of the most common but wrong ways to try to motivate underachieving children include:

  • Threats
  • Lectures
  • Reminders
  • Punishment
  • An excessive focus on remediating weaknesses at the expense of nurturing strengths
  • Providing consequences that restrict the child from healthy social and physical activities

Those approaches look like they should work, and decades of parents and teachers have used them. In fact, those tactics may yield some positive short-term results. In the long run, though, they make underachievement worse by creating:

  • Resentment
  • Dependency
  • Entitlement
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness

Those practices also lower feelings of self-competence, especially with kids who are dealing with problems related to learning, family and peer relationships, mental health, and other deeper issues. As perceptions of self-competence diminish, so does motivation and social and emotional health.

Here are 5 better ways to motivate underachievers.


Tip #1: End the control battle.

As soon as a control battle begins, anxiety increases and academic motivation decreases. As soon as power struggles start, the bond we have with our kids weakens. Control battles can damage many aspects of our children’s development. 

Tip #2: Transition responsibility for learning to your child.

Whose learning are we talking about? Is it yours or your child’s? Obviously, you can’t do school for your kids. While true, this doesn’t stop many parents from taking way more ownership in their kids’ learning than their kids do.

Tip #3: Respond with empathy and reasonable, logical consequences.

Anger shuts the door on learning. Empathy opens the door to learning. Anger implies that the problem is ours. Empathy allows it to remain our child’s. Empathy, in and of itself, assists in meeting most of the needs for love and belonging. It calms anxiety, and it helps us communicate that we understand our child’s feelings.

Tip #4: Follow some guidelines for helping with homework.

Successful parents care about their children’s homework, and they follow some basic guidelines for helping in productive ways:

  • Help as long as your child wants it from you.
  • Help only when your child can prove that they listen to their teacher.
  • Help only as long as there is no anger or frustration.
  • Help in brief segments, so that they can see themselves succeeding.

Tip #5: Look for underlying causes of underachievement.

If you’ve tried these strategies but still aren’t seeing increased motivation or achievement in your child, don’t beat yourself up and don’t get angry with them. Be curious, not furious.

Investigate what might be causing the problem. A biological condition, brain health issue, or mental health problem may be at play.


You will find several more strategies to reach underachieving children in the book Raising Mentally Strong Kids.

In the book, Raising Mentally Strong Kids, Dr. Daniel Amen, a brain and mental health expert, and Dr. Charles Fay, a child psychiatrist and the founder of Love and Logic have teamed up to reveal what’s missing from most parenting books. It’s the fact that you need to address both the brain and the mind of your child (and yourself) in order to be an effective parent and raise competent humans.

In this groundbreaking, science-backed book where neuroscience meets practical psychology, parents are given proven tools to help children of all ages go from defiance, meltdowns, and power struggles to being responsible, resilient, and confident. Order your copy now and put your child on the path to a brighter future.

If you want to join the tens of thousands of parents and children who have already learned how to be mentally stronger at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.  

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