Improving Academic Success in Children that Struggle with School

As children return to school this fall, parents often ask about what can be done to help their child achieve academic success. Taking note of your child’s behavior both in school and while working on home­work at home is crucial to identifying if a child needs some extra assistance. Do you notice your child has trouble paying attention and gets distracted easily from the task at hand? Does your child have trouble sitting in a seat for periods of time, needing breaks for physical movement? Is initiating home­work difficult in addition to completing the assignments? These are all signs of executive function struggles.

Executive functions are all mental processes related to achieving a goal including attention, focus, task initi­ation, working memory, organization and more. If a child struggles with ex­ecutive functions, the child may read below their grade level, have poor reading comprehension, struggle with written composition, make frequent math errors, and/or have trouble under­standing math concepts.

Because of the struggle to under­stand major academic concepts and trouble completing assignments, many children even experience anxiety re­lated to school. This anxiety leads to avoidance of academics, excuses to do anything but homework, and even full blown meltdowns about school work. Sometimes children even experience physical symptoms of anxiety, includ­ing stomach aches, headaches and trouble falling asleep on school nights, all of which negatively impact academ­ic performance.

In fact, children often start exhibit­ing signs of academic anxiety up to two weeks prior to the beginning of school. The anticipatory anxiety leads to dete­rioration of behavior at home that con­tinues throughout the year. Some ex­amples of such behavior pertain to the morning routine. Children have trouble waking up for school on time, but wake up at the same time on weekends with­out any problem. Leaving the house in a timely manner in the morning can be very difficult.

There are many ways parents can help ensure academic success for their child. Children need structure, so develop a solid routine for each day. Help your child get organized by developing checklists to ensure they have done their homework and have all of the materials they will need for their school day. Make sure your child is getting a well-balanced diet, as brain function is heavily dependent upon nutrients in food. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep each night. This also means making sure your child is getting enough exercise each day so by bedtime the child is ready to sleep. Ad­ditionally, limiting media use is crucial, not only to ensure your child completes homework assignments and chores, but also to help your child get to sleep in a timely manner. The light from the screens of devices will keep the brain active, so media should not be allowed for at least an hour prior to bedtime.

Looking to improve your child’s executive functions for better academic success without the use of medication? Neurofeedback is a safe and effective form of training to enhance brain func­tion, resulting in improved executive functions, improved mood and reduced anxiety. Many students consider neu­rofeedback their secret weapon as it improves a student’s ability to maintain attention in the classroom, to start and complete assignments efficiently, to focus on studying for major exams, and to eliminate testing anxiety, all of which positively impact a student’s report card.

Dr. Jolene Ross, Ph.D., is the founder and director of Advanced Neurothera­py, PC, located at 145 Rosemary St., in Needham. For more information, call 781-444-9115 or visit

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