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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Leading Underachieving Children to Achieve Unlimited Classroom Success

By Andrew Loh

Treating underachieving syndrome involves several important steps. As explained before in the previous article, some of the causes and reasons could relate to child's deficiencies in brain growth and development or due to some serious conditions. However, let us leave them out of the purview of this article because they form a different subject matter altogether. It is possible train such children to come out the vicious web of inaction, negligence and inattentiveness and streamline their attitude to perform better in the classroom. In effect, we can reverse underachievement syndrome by using a series of training methods.

Earlier, three different researchers worked on the concept of underachievement in children. In a broader sense, the term underachievement according to authors likes Mandel & Marcus (1988, 1995) and Rimm (1995) could be defined as follows:

“Underachievers, defined as children who are not living up to their expected capabilities, may have varying characteristics, backgrounds, interests, and educational experiences.” (Mandel & Marcus, 1988; 1995; Rimm, 1995)

According to Rimm (1995), there are 16 different types of categories that closely fit the definition of underachievers. In her article on underachievement, Rimm (1995) classified them as follows:

“Perfectionist Pearl, Poor Sally, Passive Paul, Social Sally, Jock Jack, Academic Alice, Dramatic Dick, Sick Sam, Taunted Terrance, Depressed Donna, Torn Tommy, Hyper Harry, Creative Chris, Manipulative Mary, Rebellious Rebecca, and Bully Bob” (Please read Rimm's well-noted booked with the title “ Why bright kids get poor grades and what you can do about it” for more information on this classification)

On the other hand, Mandel and Marcus (1995) descried about six categories of underachievers, in one of their well-recognized books titled, “ Could do better: Why children underachieve and what can be done about it.” These authors classified underachievers into six main categories as follows: coasting, defiant, anxious, sad/depressed, identity search, and wheeler dealer.

Note: All these authors clearly stated that these children may not belong to those group of children who suffer from some psychological disorders.

Although these authors suggested ways and means to reverse underachievement among children, Rimm's Trifocal Model is still considered as the best technique that can help parents to streamline their children's attitude to achieve the best in their life. This model is wholesome in its approach because it focuses both on the school and children's home where real factors come into play to prevent them from achieving.

Rimm (1995) offers a series of approaches to help children with underachievement problems. Rimm also suggested that:

“More of gifted children are at a greater risk for developing the underachievement syndrome because they are often given too much attention and power in their early years of schooling.” (Rimm, 1995)

Rimm (1995) also provided a series of laws and clauses to help children achieve more in their classroom. Rimm's twelve laws are quite famous they are very simple to use and adapt. Here are some extracts of laws with end comments:

Law #1. Children are more likely to perform better when their parents disseminate positive and encouraging messages about hard work and school outcomes.

Make sure that you are always by the side of your children to encourage them positive words. Never discourage them when they are at fault. Instead, tell them why their approach was wrong in the first place. Describe why hard work is needed to get the best in life especially the school outcome.

Law #2. Parents should be role models to teach appropriate behavior and mannerism to their children

Parents are the first and best role models for their children whether it is to teach them the right behavior or to train them in the art of studies. Children should also learn and understand that their parents are the best persons to imitate and follow. Unless parents become right models by themselves, they cannot hope to expect better achievement from children.

Law #3. Mutual communication between parents can dramatically alter children behavior and self-perceptions. The so called referential speaking might affect children's learning behavior too.

If at all parents communicate within themselves, it should be productive and not critical on children. The discussion should focus on how to improve all future achievements and not on criticizing the past performance. In other words, parental talk could seriously affect children's learning behavior and self perceptions.

Law #4. Over-reaction and over-expectation from parents might push children to despair, hopelessness, discouragement and intense pressure.

Every child is different. Likewise, all children have different IQs and learning behaviors. Some might score more while others may simply fail. Parents may not want to exert too much pressure on their children to perform in the classroom. Successes and failures should be taken in equal stride and efforts should focus on enhancing achievements.

Law #5. Children might feel stress and tension before they start doing some work. However, they may not feel it when they are actually working on a project or task.

More often, children feel a lot of stress and strain when they are about to start working on a project. However, they feel at ease when they are at a specific task. In other words, parents may need to help children to prepare for the task. They may need to ensure that everything is in order so that children can start working without any worries.

Law #6. Struggle and hard work can enhance children's self-confidence and will power

Parents may need to explain why working hard and struggling for better solution would eventually help children. Train them in the art of working hard with dedication and concentration. Sit down with them when they are doing their homework and project tasks.

Law #7. Deprivation of freedom and excessive pressure can be counter-productive

Children need some freedom to vent their inner feelings. They need enough playtime and relaxation too. Too much pressure and deprivation of freedom might prove to be counterproductive. Parents may also need to see that children get their playtime every time to freshen up their mind and body.

Law #8. As children become mature and older, they should be given enough power so that they can develop confidence and an internal sense of control. The power allotted should be in calibrated and gradual increments.

Children become adults as they develop their body and mental faculties. With development, they also develop confidence and an internal sense of self control. Now, parents may need to cede power to them in gradual increments so that children will be empowered to take their own decisions. This simple approach would help them to gain internal control and confidence.

Law #9. Often, some children become oppositional, rebel and more powerful than the adults. This could be due to one of the adults allying with the child against another member of the family (either father or mother).

Never ally with one of the children and put the other family members as a member of opposite party. This is very regressive and it can create divisions within the family as well affect children's overall classroom performance. Children, who become more powerful than parents, usually become spoiled brats and they tend to fall behind in their studies and eventual classroom performance.

Law #10. Parental confrontations with children may be one of the reasons for children's dipping achievement in classroom.

Confronted children often turn rebels and they tend to resist whatever their parents instruct them to do or work. Parents should make sure that they do not argue with their children unless there are compelling reasons.

Law #11. Competition and performance are directly related and are interdependent. Children often show their best if there is a serious competition among different stakeholders.

Children should be introduced to intense competition both in the classroom and home so that they know how to achieve better results in face of adverse conditions. Teachers may need to ensure that they allow free and fair competition among children so that they can extract the best from them.

Law #12. Children should understand that there is a relationship between the learning process and possible outcomes.

Learning process and achievement are related directly and better the learning process, superior would be the achievement. Learning is a continuous process and it involves serious participation from children. When children understand this axiom, they will start upgrading learning process and begin to show superior achievements.

Note: All these laws are modified from the monumental work performed by S.B. Rimm. Please read “ Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades: And What You Can Do About It” written by Rimm (2008).

Featured Resource

Bright Minds, Poor Grades: Understanding and Motivating your Underachieving Child
By Michael D. Whitley, Ph.D

For any parent who has ever been told, "Your child isn't performing up to his or her potential," this book has the answer. Renowned clinical psychologist Michael Whitley, Ph.D. offers a proven ten-step program to motivate underachieving children. This easy-to follow book identifies the six types of underachievers from the procrastinator to the hidden perfectionist to the con artist, and it presents the ten steps to help children succeed in school-and ultimately, in life.

This is an excellent book for the parents of G/T students who are not bringing home the great grades they are capable of making. Michael D. Whitley, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Houston, Texas. His clinic specializes in motivational difficulties and behavior problems of children, adolescents, and adults.


Featured Resource


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