My niece is just under seven years old, and in her first year of school, where she is doing badly. The main problem seems to be that she doesn't do her homework or try to learn, and the reason there, as far as we can figure out, is that if she can not do or learn something on the first try, she gets angry and gives up.

I'd like some recommendations on what to do in that case. I suspect that we need to somehow show/teach her that the harder something is to do, the better it feels once you succeed. But I have no ideas for how to do that.

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    Lots of questions come to my mind. Has she had any such problems earlier at home, in kindergarten / preschool? Does she have a good teacher in a good school, or is the teacher pushing too much? Note that at this age, there can still be huge differences between children, and a good teacher should take this into account. Are the exercises reasonable in difficulty and amount for her age? Jan 13, 2012 at 10:10
  • I don't know if the teacher is good or not, and although switching schools is a possibility, but one of the last ones. The exercises I have seen are reasonable. Of course I think the school sucks, but I think all schools suck, and that rote learning is evil. But there is no option. Other schools will do the same. Jan 13, 2012 at 13:05
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    Are there any alternative schools (Montessori, Waldorf-Steiner, Rogers, ...) within reasonable distance? (Actually, there seems to be Waldorf schools in Krakow.) State schools mostly do suck in my country too, that's why we chose Waldorf for our children. So far I can confirm it does make a huge positive difference. Of course, changing schools should only be last resort, still it is good to know the options. Jan 13, 2012 at 13:23
  • Although you haven't given much detail, what you did answer confirms my gut feeling. However, I don't think it is good to give advice based on gut feeling alone. Nor do I think it is good to treat the symptom without knowing where the root of the problem may be. Have the parents talked with the teacher about this? It may be that your niece doesn't get enough positive feedback, only negative, which discourages her. It may be that she would need a little help from the teacher to get started. ... Jan 13, 2012 at 13:31
  • @PéterTörök: No alternative schools. This is a small polish town. Homeschooling is not allowed (or practical). I'll pass your feedback about the teacher on. Jan 13, 2012 at 14:05

7 Answers 7


Nobody else has touched on this, and as an American, I'm not sure how it translates to European educational systems, but isn't 7 a late start? In my experience, this is a problem that I had with my kids when they were about 5, in kindergarten. I don't think it's a problem problem, but you may find yourself dealing with some age issues later on... an 18 yo junior in hs comes to mind. Just sayin "be prepared"

To answer your question, in my experience, this is the kind of thing that requires intense 1-on-1 time. Just like cleaning their room or the after school routine, homework and school is a process that needs to be taught.

For my own kids, I always sat with them, body contact (whether sitting on my lap or thigh-to-thigh next to each other), arm around and worked on the homework. it's a protection stance (I didn't really think about it at the time, but in retrospect that's what it was). We'd work thru the questions. When we'd hit that wall, then it's time for encouragement. "cmon, man, you can do this. you've been saying your ABC's since you were a baby, so lets try it again." and we'd keep at it until there was some kinda success, then of course the 'attaboys'.

I would recommend as much of the same as is appropriate for the relationship. Sit close, teach the kid how to do it, support them thru a few examples. then once they get the hang of it, you can walk away. It may take a couple sessions before they're ready to fly on their own, but with the right motivation, they'll get it.

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    (She started this fall, when she was 6. That's normal for Europe. Preschool in Poland starts at 3 and doesn't have homework.) Jan 16, 2012 at 8:40
  • @Lennart Regebro OH OH i missed the "just under" part.
    – monsto
    Jan 16, 2012 at 16:55
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    The increased one-on-one time for homework was what they ended up doing and it seems to have worked. Jan 26, 2012 at 11:01
  • @Lennart Regebro I'm a little tardy with the reply but I'm glad to hear that it worked out!
    – monsto
    Feb 28, 2012 at 0:57

You should praise effort and not intelligence. Children praised on intelligence are afraid of failure. But if you praise them on effort they are more likely to try and stick with it. http://trickistokeepbreathing.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/praise-effort-not-ability/

  • This! That was one of the biggest things that I struggled with growing up. I had a huge fear of failure, which drove my effort, work ethic, etc. Once I got over my fear of failure in college, then my work ethic, etc. collapsed. Only now am I finally rebuilding my work ethic based on trying, rather than fear.
    – Nick2253
    Jan 23, 2015 at 1:14

Has your child ever had to deal with failure before? This could be a new experience for her that she hasn't been prepared for in her life.

Failure is a part of life - and something that is very difficult to learn how to deal with. As a parent it can be too easy to try to shelter a child as they grow from failure. The result later on can be a child who is not prepared to face failure on their own.

On the other hand, they may have been taught how to deal with failure, but not how to deal with academic or independent failure - it is important to teach a child that failure is something that should not discourage them - that a second attempt can lead to success.

I suggest trying to work on homework together with your child. Encourage them to put in the effort even if they aren't sure of the answer. Reassure them that the effort is more important than success.

This can be very difficult, because there is less tangible reward for completion than there is for success. You might consider giving them a reward yourself for completing their assignments, but be sure to supervise them while they're completing it - you don't want to encourage quick, sloppy work.


Maybe you could tell her a story about yourself learning something, which is hard first, and then, when you learn it, it is very fun.

Another very important thing, which is usually not told at school, is that learning something will make further learning easier.

There is a great book written about this subject (and other important aspects on learning): http://www.amazon.com/Why-Dont-Students-Like-School/dp/0470279303

  • A story might help a bit, although I suspect that we will have to show her in practice. Just explaining things will not make a difference, there no long-term view amongst kids this age. Her mum has tried to explain that she must try harder and study more, or she will end up in a boring shit-job, but that doesn't mean anything when you are 6-7 years old. :-) Jan 13, 2012 at 13:09

I would spend more time worrying about the true root of the problem. Why is she not learning well? Is it that she is simply not mature enough to stay focused? Is it that she is having other emotional issues (social, home, ...)? Is there some anxiety issue? While there are children that just don't try, especially after getting something wrong, there is usually another cause other than just saying they are not trying? Maybe some sort of evaluation, both academic and social/emotional is in order. Here in the states most of the states provides it. I would not assume it is the teacher's fault, as it appears most people do here. Instead I would enlist the teacher's help. Believe it our not, this is not the first time the teacher has seen this problem and may have some ideas on how to deal with it.

I have a eight year old that had issues with making mistakes from a very early age. When she was younger we demonstrated for her how we solved the problem after we made a mistake. Once she started school she did very very well, unfortunately this did not teach her how to deal with any sort of failure. Just last night she was upset because she is having trouble learning her spelling words and kept getting them wrong. She went into the fact that all the students in her class are better than her at...and she listed a whole host of things (some true, like singing, some imagined). We discussed it with her and then tried to make the spelling fun. We will see how she does when/if she makes mistakes on the test, but overall I feel like this is a good lesson for her. In first grade (last year) she had trouble because she sometimes was afraid to try things for fear of getting them wrong (even though she to us she was clearly excelling academically). We had her tested to be sure that was the issue. We taught her the word anxiety and discussed with her to let us know when she was feeling that way. When she did come to us telling us she was anxious we discussed it with her and talked her down from it. She has been coming to us less and less frequently and I have a feeling it is because she now knows how to talk herself down.

Although some of the issues with your niece and my daughter are different the overall approach and need to solicit help from outside seems parallel. Start with the teacher and then move forward.

  • There is no evaluation here, and soliciting outside help at this point seems premature, and in fact I think that would risk implying to her that there is something wrong with her. (That said, maybe I misunderstand you, you don't seem to have solicited outside help...) Jan 13, 2012 at 17:44
  • @LennartRegebro Outside help meaning first the teacher. And no, she won't think anything is wrong with her if you get her tested. It can be explained in understandable and positive terms. If the parents feel it is a good idea the child will feel the same way. And if you are worried then it is not premature, in fact, if something is found that can be 'fixed' early intervention is the best policy! Jan 13, 2012 at 17:49
  • OK, sorry, I can't see how the teacher is "outside". :-) And I'll have to stand by my comment when it comes to *"outside" help except for the teachers, such as psychologists etc. It's too early for that. Also for any "testing". There is no indication that there is anything that needs fixing as of yet. Jan 13, 2012 at 20:57

I think first and foremost you need to model the behaviors you want to teach. Does your child see YOU trying again after a failure??

A little disappointment can actually benefit your child -- as long as you teach him how to bounce back from it and cope with failure. Always Remember one Thing "Failure is A stepping stone to Success". We're also told that failure is good for kids. Kids seem to learn from failing. Resilience comes not from failing, but from the experience of learning that it's worth it to pick yourself up and try again. That requires at least some experience of success.

Always Praise the EFFORTS made by your child. Praise your child in a 2:1 ratio – twice as often as you correct them. Your praise will boost their self-esteem and make them willing to try harder.

Support your child lovingly when he fails, and give him a face-saving way to get up and try again. Treat him the way you would want to be treated if you were a kid again.


Try putting your hand on her shoulder, it sounds like a small thing, but it can diffuse any anger that she has, and makes it clear to both you and her that you're on the same side.

Instead of being angry she'll feel supported.

Also if you're getting nowhere, just take a break and do something she enjoys.

This isn't the full answer, but it's helped me a lot with my daughter.

  • I should've read monsto's answer first, but I think my answer is different enough to stay. Full contact as @monsto recommends could get in the way of writing, or concentrating, but it may be appropriate for some children at sometimes.
    – chim
    Jan 26, 2015 at 16:06

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