What to do if your child starts to struggle during the school year

The school year is underway, and you’ve used every tool in your School Without Suffering Back to School Sur-THRIVE-al Kit to set your kid up for success.

You’ve planned, you’ve got your systems in place, you’ve talked with each of their teachers.

But there’s a voice in the back of your head asking, “What if something goes sideways anyway?”

This is where having a contingency plan comes in.

When you’re worried about something bad happening, planning for it can help relieve stress and anxiety.

Creating a plan will also save precious time and allow you to take quick action if your child’s academics do start to slip. You won’t be stuck waiting and seeing while things get worse. You’ll be able to act effectively as soon as you begin to notice warning signs that something is up.

Taking the time now to form a contingency plan will also ensure that you have a good idea of the warning signs so that they’re easy to recognize when the time comes.

Here’s how you’ll want to approach contingency planning for the school year. (And here’s a template to help guide you through the process.)

Assess the past landscape

The first thing you’ll want to do is think back on the past to acknowledge and identify what you’ve seen before and what you’re worried about happening again. You can consider the most recent past school year. Or if last school year was an outlier for any reason (I don’t know, off the top of my head, maybe there was a global pandemic?), consider the last time they were in a setting similar to where they’ll be this upcoming year.

Ask yourself:

  • What happened in the past that you are concerned about repeating?
  • What did you observe your child doing and saying while it was happening?
  • How about before it started happening?

Use your answers to those questions to list the things that could go wrong this year. These might look like:

  • Emma starts to cry while doing her math homework.
  • Jose forgets to turn in the assignments he completes.
  • Alex stays up all night completing an essay.

Record these statements in your planner.

Assess the current landscape

After you’ve considered what has happened in the past, think about your child’s current situation. Think about any agreements you’ve made with their teachers or their school for support. An example of this would be putting a 504 plan in place.

If no special agreements have been made for your child, consider what the school for all students offers supports. Or what resources you are expecting to be made available to them.

Ask yourself:

  • What supports have been established or promised in advance for this year?
  • Who is supposed to deliver them and when?
  • How will I know that they are being delivered?

Again, use these answers to list supports that might not be delivered or be delivered consistently/adequately. Record these in your planner as well.

Address your underlying concerns

List anything else you are concerned might happen and what their causes would be. Envision what you would hear and see from your child or your child’s teachers if this does happen.

You don’t need to worry about if other people would find these concerns “rational” or not. You know your child and your family. You have your own history with school. If you’re worried about it happening, list it so you can plan for it.

Add these to your planner.

Envision the consequences and decide on interventions

The list you’ve made of each of your concerns about what might go wrong is the list of things you want to have a plan for.

To determine how to best course-correct if one or more of those concerns comes to fruition, identify what the consequences of each are likely to be. Consequences may be things like:

Once you know what problem you’ll be trying to solve, you can decide on an intervention you’ll implement to get ahead of those consequences when you see the warning signs. Interventions may be things like:

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help on these last two steps. If you need a supportive community that can help you figure things like this out, please join our Facebook group!

Decide what you’ll do if the consequence happen

Life is hectic. Kids are constantly growing and changing, and new behaviors may not be recognized as warning signs until we see them in retrospect.

If you’re not able to get out in front of one or more of the consequences you’ve made a contingency plan for, it does not make you a bad parent or your child a hopeless student.

Sh!t happens is a fact of life, and planning how you’ll address it takes some of the emotional sting out of it.

Your plan here can be as simple as starting the interventions you’ve listed as soon as possible.

If the consequences you listed occur even with the interventions implemented, that is data to help you adjust your course and either tweak what you’re doing or put a new intervention in place.

Make sure you’ve got the support you need, and you will get through it.


Laura Fragomeni

Founder & Principal Academic Coach

Laura Fragomeni, Ed.M.


Laura Fragomeni is a Harvard-educated master academic coach and the founder of School Without Suffering, an academic coaching practice specializing in helping struggling students around the world be happy and successful.


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