A child who is not performing in the classroom up to his
capabilities based on his performance on aptitude and achievement
tests can be quite frustrating to parents and teachers. There
are many causes for this problem which include 1) a poor
self-concept, 2) fear of failure, 3) a reaction against parental
domination, 4) excessive dependency, 5) a life crisis or
adjustment which makes concentrating on school work difficult.
Things like divorce, a change in residence or schools, death of a
loved one, etc. can all create a disabling amount of stress.
The underlying causes first need to be examined. Discussion 
of the problem with the child may help and counseling may be
necessary, particularly if the child is experiencing a great deal
of emotional stress. In most cases the child sees himself as
inadequate. It is much easier not to try than to try and fail.

Suggestions for Teachers:

1. Give the child short, easy assignments or, if possible, break
longer assignments up into shorter units which can be
completed in less time. Praise and encouragement are
essential to reinforce this behavior of completing work and
also to bolster the child's self-esteem.

2. Whenever possible create situations where the student can
experience success. Usually trying to convince the student
that he should do something only creates more fear and
anxiety in that child to perform to adult expectations. The
child must see that the chances for success are great. Only
as the underachiever sees and experiences success can he
build toward more self-initiated behavior.

3. Constantly reaffirm your confidence in the child. Help him
to feel competent and capable.

4. It may be helpful to have the child work with another student
on difficult assignments initially. However, it is important
to wean the child away from becoming too dependent on others.
Most underachievers have a history of having the people make
decisions for them and do things for them.

5. Give the child responsibilities. Have him run errands, or
pass out papers, or other activities which make him feel
needed and an important part of the class. Keep him involved
in what is going on. Give the child as many opportunities as
possible to make decisions for himself. Be careful not to be
too overprotective.

6. Be careful not to be too critical. In most cases this will
only increase the child's fear of failure and reluctance to
cooperate, both at home and at school. Be positive and

In general, the child should be made aware of the
expectations, needs to develop more confidence in himself, and,
importantly, realize that his goals are attainable. "Follow up"
by teachers and parents to make sure that the child is "following 
through" are important. However, criticism and ridicule should be 
avoided. In short, be patient, positive, and consistent. 

Suggestions for parents 

A very simple contractual agreement between the teacher and the 
child or parent where the teacher can simply circle a Yes or No would 
be best. For example: 

1. The teacher can simply circle whether or not the child completed 
all of his homework assignments and all of his seat work for the day 
and circle a Yes or No on the contract. There can also be some room 
for the child to list all of his assignments which he has to complete 
that evening at home. This could also be checked or initialed by the 

2. When the child comes home he should have a specific place and 
time to do his work each day. He should not be allowed to play, watch 
television, or engage in any other activities until his homework for 
that particular day is completed. Once this is completed and all of 
his previous assignments have been checked as completed by the 
teacher, the child should be allowed to do whatever he pleases provided 
they are within the rules of the home. He should be allowed to play 
his Nintendo, for example, if he has completed all of the work and 
assignments for that particular day. 

3. If the child fails to complete his assignments he should be made 
to make them up the next day or, if possible, kept after school or in 
at recess to complete them. 

4. He should not be permitted to miss an assignment. That is, 
if he did not complete his work for that particular day he should be 
made to make it up that evening and turn it in the next day. Even if 
the assignment is too late for credit he should be made to complete 
the work and turn it in for no credit. 

5. Rewards in the form of check marks, stars, candy, etc. would 
also be helpful for good papers, especially for thoroughness and 
accuracy of assignments.