ask blair, sea homeschoolers, Talk to Your Child about Not Being on Grade Level with Peers

Talk to Your Child about Not Being on Grade Level with Peers

ask blair, sea homeschoolers, Talk to Your Child about Not Being on Grade Level with Peers

How to Talk to Your Child about Not Being on Grade Level with Peers


How do I talk to my child about them not being on grade level with their peers? My child would be in 3rd grade if they went to b&m school. We work at their pace and level. At times we have been a bit more relaxed while working through neuropsych evals and more structured when we’ve been able to. They are very bright, but not working at a 3rd grade level in most subjects.

They recently started saying they think they are not smart because they can’t do the schoolwork their friends are doing. I told them that everyone learns things differently and at different times and that everyone has some things that come more easily and other things that they have to work harder at. That response seems to work in the moment, but it is becoming a daily issue. Is there a better way to talk about this? Or should I not focus on it? Is there something we should be doing in our homeschooling to help them not feel this way?

From Lyn
Homeschooling: 2 years
Kid age 9

Hello {{& HUGS}} Lyn,

It hurts your heart a bit when your child unfairly compares themself to their peers like this, doesn’t it? We are dealing with something similar with one of my granddaughters who is in 3rd grade. She is not at grade level in math. According to her, all her friends are. My daughter-in-law called me last week asking for advice similar to what you are looking for.

Based on what you shared, you are doing a great job. You are approaching the conversation with empathy and understanding. Everyone does learn things differently and at different times. Everyone also has some things that come more easily and other things that they must work harder at. The issue is that at your child’s age, kids pay a lot of attention to how they compare to their friends. In answer to your questions, there are some important steps you can take to help with this situation.

How do I talk to my child about them not being on grade level with their peers? Or should I not focus on it?

Listen to them.

If your child is aware that their peers are working at a higher level than they are, you should talk about it. If you don’t, you run the risk of your child internalizing their feelings and stuffing them. The fact that your child comes to you with these concerns shows that they trust you to help them with the big feeling they are having about this. They trust you to help them feel better. They trust you to help resolve the situation.

Ensure you address the areas where they are negatively comparing themself.

Your child trusts you to make them feel smart and to share evidence supporting that they are smart. Even when our children do not seem to be taking our messaging to heart, psychological studies show that they are internalizing it. As both their parent and teacher, you are helping them “write the script” for how they see themselves as a learner. To ensure you are addressing (and hearing) their specific concerns, encourage your child to share and then repeat back to them to make sure your help and guidance are on point. Make sure you actively listen to what your child says without interrupting or judging. I know it is hard to do, but let your own concerns go, so that your child gets the sense you are positive that can resolve the issues they are concerned about.

Use growth mindset language and help them set achievable goals.

When you respond, try to address the specific issues. Be honest about the work your child has in front of them. Use a growth mindset, where you acknowledge where work is needed to be at grade level, and then focus on the effort needed to get there. Set goals with your child that are doable in “kid-time.” Instead of getting to grade level for reading, for example, work toward the next level in books or easily reading a book that was challenging earlier.

When my son was recovering from post-concussive syndrome, he worried that he would not get all his brain function back, like short-term memory. I was honest with him about the work needed. Then I gave him actionable things he could do, goals.

I provided scaffolding and support to help ensure success. I also provided nudging as needed. Once my son had a goal, it was critically important he succeeded in these to alleviate his concerns and the way he was beginning to see himself.

It took so much effort on his part! As he worked, I used language with him that intentionally focused on the level of effort. I talked to him about perseverance as a life skill. I told him how proud I was, and it was genuine.

Is there something we should be doing in our homeschooling to help them not feel this way?

Provide feedback and evaluations that nurture.

As you know, instead of grade levels, your child should be focusing on their effort and how that translates into progress. You can help shift the focus by keeping regular work samples that you review with them. You might choose to do some focused work even while you are working on neuropsychic evaluations, so there is continued progress toward their goals.

Make sure you are genuinely proud when you look at their work. Emphasize how their effort has led to growth. You can say, “I know you’re working hard, and I’m proud of you. Look at the progress you have made.” Remember, you are the primary model for how your child perceives themself and the world. An important goal you could help your child work on could be around the language they use when they talk about themself.

As a part of that pride, celebrate achievements. Share progress with friends, family, and in the SEA Facebook community, wherever works best to get positive comments. This reinforces the idea that effort and progress are reasons for celebration. Since this will not be fixed, continue to provide reassurance and support.

Choose a subject or two that are undertaught in schools.

There are some subjects that you can be sure your child’s friends at brick-and-mortar school are not taking. When you say your child is behind, I assume that is in language arts and math. Science, history, world language, and computer coding are all examples of academic subjects that are generally undertaught in traditional school. Your child and you could choose one or more of these to work on. There would be no good way to compare themselves to their friends when studying these, taking away the pressure they are putting on themself.


I hope this advice helps! I know from personal experience how hard this situation is to deal with. It took a lot of work for my son. I can only hope he sees himself, as I do, through the lens of how much harder he had to work than some to get to where he is today.

Much Love, Blair

Check out more articles through the Ask Blair Page on this website.

This article was submitted in April 2023 and was not published in the July issue of the SEA Homeschoolers Magazine. This was done so that Mya could get her question answered sooner.

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