Until recently, my son has always been a confident student who gets reasonable grades. But now his grades have fallen and he has started to describe himself as "useless". How can I help?
It is sad that your child is going through some difficulties. No child should ever describe himself as "useless".
It is not uncommon for students to experience a setback in their studies. This may happen after an absence from school or when they transition from one level of learning to the next.
Often, there is a relatively simple solution to the academic problem, but the psychological effects need to be handled carefully.
Your first step is to identify the root cause. Is it related to a specific subject? Can your son identify where the issues are? His initial reaction may be to issue a blanket "I can't do it" statement, but you need to move past this reaction and look at his grades systematically.
Get a sheet of paper and divide it into columns - one for each subject. In each column, list the topics which have been covered. Use different coloured pens to mark them in the following categories: "understand completely", "understand but might need to revise" and "not sure about this".
You have two aims here: to pinpoint his weak areas but also to highlight ones where he is succeeding.
Once you have finished, look at the page, focusing on the topics which have been completely understood. Talk to your son about the quantity of work he has covered and the academic success he has already achieved.
Your next step is to design an action plan for areas he needs help with. You may decide to work through the problems together, you may hire a tutor or enrol him in an after-school "study clinic".
Working through areas of weakness in a systematic way often leads to breakthroughs. Students suddenly realise they aren't total failures but have just missed a few key points. Keep your chart in a visible place and mark off the areas as your son covers them. For future planning, the chart can also act as a revision planner.
Once you have reassured your son about his academic ability, find out whether his concerns are caused by feedback from teachers or peers, be it a remark in the classroom or a poor test result.
It is worth contacting your son's teacher to discuss his changed attitude. First, the teacher will be able to monitor your son knowing that he is going through a fragile stage. Secondly, the teacher could provide insight on areas of improvement.
If it is revealed that your son has problems processing information, consult an educational psychologist. Without diagnosis, it is difficult for a teacher to know how to adapt his or her teaching style.
This process should give you a better idea of your son's learning style and abilities, and help you cope with future challenges.
Jessica Ogilvy-Stuart is director of the Brandon Learning Centre