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9 Reasons Children Underachieve

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

Underachieving students can be identified because there is a significant gap between their ability and their achievements in school.

Often underachieving children have no identifiable physical or learning disabilities; their academic performance is just significantly below what you know they are capable of doing. There is no typical profile of an underachiever. Some scrape by with passing marks. Others get an A on one exam and flunk another. Some are good students whose grades suddenly drop.

In her article Motivating the Underachiever – How to Motivate Teenagers, Students, Judy Shepps Battle tells us “It is during middle school--sixth to eighth grade-that a pattern of underachievement consistently emerges in both academic and non-academic areas. Not only do report cards reflect poor grades, but a youth may show extremes of behavior ranging from withdrawal to defiance.” It may be in middle school when the symptoms of underachievement become impossible to deny, but I believe the pattern of underachievement begins much earlier.

Child development experts say underachieving is a problem parents should address early on to avoid the chances of their child adopting and identifying with the underachieving label. But understanding the root causes of underachieving is not always easy. Let’s look at some potential causes for children underachieving:

  • 1. Fear of failing – Underachievers can be perfectionists who equate their worth with what they produce. Perfectionists are very often afraid to fail. That is why they attempt to do things perfectly, but in the process may not finish, or turn in assignments.

  • 2. Sibling competition – Children fight to carve out a place within a family that is theirs. If a child has a super achiever sibling, they may carve out the place of underachiever.

  • 3. Passive aggressive power plays – Some children figure out very early how to push their parent’s buttons. Underachieving can be a passive-aggressive way of getting back at their parents whose expectations they believe are too high, or they just want to see their parents sweat.

  • 4. Late bloomers – There are children who mature more slowly than others. These are children who simply take longer to decide that doing well in school is something they really want.

  • 5. Need Coaching – Some children just need coaching and extra attention from parents, teachers, mentors or tutors in order to begin to really feel confident about their abilities in particular subjects.

  • 6. Family Crisis – Some children who are underachieving can be dealing with life stressors at home such as a family crisis like Mom or Dad losing their job, a divorce, a death in the family. Teachers should always try to understand what is going on at home.

  • 7. Bullying at school – Children can be under a great deal of stress at school. If a child is being bullied or made fun of at school, they can begin to attempt to become invisible and lose all motivation to perform academically, participate in class or draw attention to themselves in any way.

  • 8. Apathy doesn’t fall far from the tree – If the parents of children are completely apathetic, then most of the time, the children will be apathetic and not care as well.

  • 9. No dream to excite them – I believe that if children do not have a dream for their future, they do not understand the “why” of achievement. Dreams motivate children, even from very early ages to understand why they need to do their best, and strive for excellence. They have a goal in mind for their future and this goal guides their efforts today. If I want to get to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard to have him help me get home and someone says, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, I know what to do to reach my goal. If I have no desire of dream to achieve an end goal, why in the world would I follow the yellow brick road? The same is true for our children.

We must encourage and inspire our children to consider what is the greatest dream in their hearts. Once they take ownership of the dream, the rest is simply helping them find the road that will get them there.

In 2008 Dawn was selected by Oprah Magazine and The White House project as one of 80 emerging women leaders in the nation. Dawn L Billings is a serial entrepreneur and a communication and personality expert. Founder of programs designed to heal, strengthen and enhance relationships including Dawn serves as executive director of Dawn is the author and architect of the only personality test specifically created to heal and strengthen relationships, the Primary Colors Personality Test and Insight Tools. Dawn is also the founder of OverJOYed Life and creator of the Happiness Curriculum.

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