Why Your Stepchild May be Struggling in School

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From The stepchild Perspective

By: Laura E. - Millennial Stepmom

When children struggle in school, the initial reaction from parents is that their child must not be putting forth enough effort, or paying attention in class.  While that could be true, it does not explain the underlying issue, and does not solve the problem. There are many factors for why a child may perform poorly in school that have nothing to do with the child’s efforts.  A child may struggle with learning disabilities, social-emotional difficulties, medical conditions, cognitive impairments, etc. It also maybe because of a sudden change in their life such as their parents getting divorced and then remarrying. Children thrive on routine and consistency and when that is broken it throws them off balance. Despite our best efforts as parents and stepparents to make these family changes as smooth as possible, it is still a drastic life change and it may cause them to act out or reject things in their life they ordinarily would not.

Putting Things Into Perspective: After my parent’s divorce, I decided I was done with math…

When I was in 1st grade my parents separated.  I do not remember how I felt about it at the time, but I do remember certain behaviors that I developed as a result. One of which was my hatred for math.  I remember deciding one day that I no longer felt like doing it, but I knew that I could not continue my day at school until the work was complete. One day, our class was working on addition and subtraction problems and I thought to myself, “I don’t feel like doing this, I just want to get out of here.” So I did the only thing I thought would allow me to leave the classroom without having to actually do the work. I made up random answers and just filled in the blanks. Receiving the work back and getting every single problem wrong did not even faze me because the end result was always the same.  I would finish the problems by writing down any answer, and be able to move on with my day. Naturally, my school believed I was struggling in math and sent me for “math help.” I can only imagine my 7 year old self thinking “oh great, more math.” So my new found habit was of course going to continue. I wrote in random answers and handed in my paper so I could get out of there as quickly as possible. Next thing I realized I could start doing this with any subject I did not feel like doing. Because I was in first grade, and a child, I did not understand the consequences of what I was doing in the long term. As children we do not have the capacity to think ahead in that way, and thus we are focused on living in the moment, and in those moments I just wanted to be done with my school work.

As a result, I had to repeat the first grade.  It was not because of a lack of understanding or intellect, but because my home life was in such turmoil that it made any obstacles or challenges nearly impossible to accomplish. Learning abilities aside, a child who is struggling at home is going to struggle in the classroom. It is not something that you can blame on one person, as blaming does not help your child improve.  Forcing them to do the work correctly for hours on end also does not help them improve. You must get to the root of the problem, and look at what is happening at home and around them.

Ways in Which You Can Help...

Start by spending quality one on one time with them.  Play therapy is something that I have always utilized with my stepson.  I would sit in his room and play with whichever toys he wanted and without pressure wait for him to speak about what is on his mind.  For older children you can use this method as well and replace toys with basketball, games, etc. The point is to focus on what they want to do and what they enjoy. Giving them attention and making them the focus can build up a relationship where they feel comfortable expressing how they feel.  In addition, refrain from placing blame on the other parent(s) as that will only make them feel worse. Also, explain to their teacher and school what is happening at home. They need to be in the loop so they can help from the classroom.

Every year I send an e-mail to my stepson’s new teacher explaining that he has two homes so his teacher understands our family dynamic. Calmly sit down with your ex or (if you are the stepparent) have your spouse sit down with their ex and talk it out as best as you can.  As a stepmom, do not put pressure on your stepchild, or use discipline, they are likely receiving pressure from their mother and father. Instead you must take on the nurturing and supportive role.

- Millennial Stepmom