How to support your child if they’ve failed at school


Whether your little one is in primary school or varsity, they are usually overwhelmed with sadness and frustration when they fail. Therefore, it’s important for you to know how to turn failure into a holistic learning experience for them.

GRADE 1 ­– 3

The manner in which a parent reacts to their child’s failure determines whether it will have an educational or detrimental effect on the child. “Parents have a powerful influence throughout childhood. They have to send messages about what failure is and how to respond to it,” says Kyla Haimovitz, professor of psychology at Stanford University. When Thabiso Mwelase discovered that her daughter failed grade one, she was devastated. “I was heartbroken and angry because I felt that the teachers were not doing their job properly. I threw a tantrum at the school, in front of my child and changed schools,” she says. Theresa Potgieter, a retired primary school counsellor, believes that Thabiso’s behaviour was harmful to her child’s development because she didn’t investigate the reasons why her daughter failed. “She should have held a meeting with the teacher, consulted with an education or child therapist and comforted and supported her child through the difficult time,” says Theresa. She adds that some of the common reasons why children fail grades one to three are; the inability to complete tasks, fear of failure, low self-esteem and a lack of concentration. Theresa also points out that every child is different, and each case should be investigated further by a trained professional, such as a child or educational psychologist. “I always advise parents to make their child complete school readiness tests and assessments before starting grade one. This helps to recognise the child’s strengths and challenges, and if a problem is picked up, there can be an early intervention,” Theresa adds. Some of the tests and assessments that are done are: an intellectual assessment to establish the child’s thinking ability or intelligence, the  visual and auditory perceptual skills test which determines whether the  child can accurately perceive the visual and auditory stimuli that reach their brains through their eyes and ears and the concept development test which checks whether the child has mastered concepts such as colours, shapes, counting and many more. Teachers are not solely responsible for the education advancement of a child. You also need to play a more active role and continuously support with schoolwork.


GRADE 4 – 7

At this phase, concepts become harder, the workload increases and there is more pressure on learners to get good grades, so that they can get into reputable high schools. This results in learners struggling to cope with research-based assignments, extra-curricular activities and studying for tests. When Mandla Mchunu noticed that his child’s academic performance was declining in grade 5, he met with the teacher who told him that his child was battling to cope with schoolwork and sport activities. Mandla intervened and helped his son manage his time, which resulted in the improvement of his academic performance. “We drew up a study timetable together and I helped him stick to it,” he says. Educational psychologist, Prianka Moodley, believes that early interventions like Mandla’s can help prevent a child from failing.


GRADE 8 – 9

Theresa believes that some of the common reasons why students fail at this stage are peer pressure, laziness, family or relationship problems, substance abuse and low self-esteem. “At this age, many children go through physical and psychological changes that often affect their studies,” says Theresa. When John Zulu’s daughter turned 15, she gained weight and had acne. This resulted in her failing grade nine because she developed a low self-esteem and was teased. “I first had a heart-to-heart conversation with her and told her that I also struggled with acne. I then worked on building her confidence before I focused on her studies,” says John. “Most teenagers struggle to adapt to their developmental changes and it often affects their self-esteem,” Theresa cautions. You need to deal with emotional problems first before focusing on schoolwork. Experts that help teenagers deal with emotional issues are school guidance counsellors, child psychologists and social workers. “I find that children often do well in school when parents are involved,” Theresa says. Have a close relationship with your teenager child, so that they can confide in you when faced with challenges. 

GRADE 10 – 12

“At this stage, most learners are under pressure from their parents to get good marks that will help them get accepted to prestigious higher education facilities. This often results in them failing,” Theresa says.  According to education researcher Nic Spaull, another contributing factor is poor learning in the foundation phase. Zama Mchunu remembers failing grade 11 because her parents wanted her to get straight A’s that would help her get a bursary to study further. “They expected me to pass, but I did not have all the learning material, I had a lot of chores at home and I wasn’t allowed to join after school study groups,” she recalls. “Children need all the help that they can get around this time. Some parents hire a tutor or enrol their child in afternoon or school holiday studying classes to keep up with the workload,” Theresa says. You can also help by lessening household chores and giving your child unconditional love and support.  Remember that when a child fails a grade, it’s not their fault alone. Punishing and scolding them will not help them to pass. “Most parents are quick to punish the child and criticise the teachers before investigating,” Prianka says. She also believes that when parents and teachers work together, the chances of a child failing are very slim.  It’s important to turn failure into a lesson on perseverance, hard work and learning from mistakes.


  1. Meet with the school teachers regularly.
  2. Ensure that your child has enough time to study at home.
  3. Your child must have all the necessary learning material.
  4. Help your child prepare for exams by revising with them.
  5. Encourage them when they are feeling demotivated.
  6. Empathise with your child’s disappointments and help them carve a way forward.
  7. Motivate your child so that they go through this difficult phase with dignity.
  8. Have daily conversations with them regarding their schoolwork.

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