Schools are the modern day temples where kids acquire knowledge to face the world. Each kid is different and each one has one’s own abilities. But why do children tend to fail in some areas especially in studies and are usually termed as underachievers? Well, in the first place, how do we see underachieving in children?

Let’s take an example. A student, who does fine at home when he interacts, plays and does his daily chores, may not be able to concentrate and get nothing in school. Such a kid is usually termed as underachiever by everyone as his grades always decline. Let’s know something interesting. Underachieving students have a significant gap between their ability and what they actually produce and achieve in school.

Students underachieve for a variety of reasons, the least of which is because they are lazy, difficult or unteachable. The challenge for each and every teacher/parent is to find the individual key that unlocks a child’s motivation to succeed and build on that foundation. A right teacher should focus on how and what is the student doing that is making him an underachiever and what is that lacking in him or diverting the student which makes him different from all the other students of the class.

The sources of underachievement within the school mainly include the school system, the teachers and the peers.

School system

The school system itself can contribute to underachievement.  The conforming nature of the school setting, inappropriate or dull curricula, days and weeks spent on drill and practice activities for standardized tests, and inflexibility in scheduling, types of activities, or curricular content can lead to underachievement in many students.


Some teachers have impossible standards while others may have low expectations of their students. Either way, underachievement can result. Other teachers are authoritarian and lack patience with students who ask difficult questions, do not conform, are divergent rather than convergent thinkers, etc. This type of classroom climate eventually turns the students off to school.


Peer relationships become crucial during school and college days. Positive peer interactions contribute to some students’ reversal of underachievement but negative peer attitudes can often account for underachievement.

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is very common in a typical classroom. Every student cannot have the ability to handle it. Some students who are not used to face peer pressure and bullying, especially in sports, studies and tests, just give up.

Peer acceptance and peer rejection

Children and adolescents tend to be highly peer-orientated to an extent that they avoid being successful in their studies in order to gain peer acceptance. They choose to underachieve to avoid rejection by peers. A desire to conform to group standards may make even the academic able learners to deflect attention away from their academic ability.

Peer rejection causes unhappiness, alienation, poor academic achievement and low sense of self-esteem in children. Children who are excluded by their peers have more trouble engaging in activities than children who are not excluded and they are likely to withdraw from classroom activities and suffer academically.

Fear of competition

Some students tend to develop acute fear complex to compete with relatively smarter and brighter students who are active and can score higher grades. They tend to avoid the competition with the fear of comparison and the belief that they would certainly lose.

Peer relationships

Peer relationships can even cause pressures not to achieve. Informal labeling of the children within group such as “the smart one,” “the creative one,” or “the social one,” can cause competitive pressures.


Getting bullied by peers for their looks, complexion or height whatever, makes some students lose their enthusiasm. In order to obey the group rules, they tend to be submissive and remain silent when get bullied. This highly affects their self confidence and self esteem, which lead them to be underachievers.

Bullying has its effects in a peculiar way on different students. Some students believe that being an underachiever could satisfy the peers which could lessen bullying. Some students think that acting as an underachiever could bring them friends and stop bullying. Whereas some students take it as a challenge and try hard to be a real achiever getting high grades than the ones bullying him/her. Thus it depends upon their temperament.

Tips for parents for handling peer pressure

Here are certain tips for parents to make the children handle the peer pressure.

Encourage children

Parents must help their school going children from getting into the vicious trap of peer pressure and its dangerous consequence. Your children can balance well if constant support, encouragement and assistance is provided to them. Help your children develop their self-esteem and self-confidence which makes them believe that they are no way less than their peers. Give them a logical way of approach to each of their problem making them realize their worth.

Teach positive self-talk

Parents may also need to teach their children several important self-talk words and phrases like: “I can do it”; “I am capable”; “I have the ability” and “I can compete with others”. This helps a lot in improving their personality. Such a habit boosts their confidence in weak times.


There can be several sources of underachievement within the individual but mention is being made of specific sources like undetected learning disabilities, temperaments and behavior of children and poor handwriting.

Undetected learning disabilities

Learning disabilities are common all over the world. Many learning disabilities become obvious when a child is in preschool while others may go undetected till elementary or middle school.

A teacher should be able to identify the pattern of such learning disabilities in a child. Once the pattern is identified, it is no tough to make them learn the right way. Patience and sense of perception from a child’s view perspective should always be there, for a teacher, especially while handling kids.

Identifying Problems at Different Ages

The following is a breakdown of general warning signs that are often associated with learning disabilities at different stages of a child’s development. If a student exhibits specific learning disabilities, a teacher can suggest the parents that the child has to be seen by an expert.


Preschoolers might face the problems like the following

  • Difficulty mastering language – Trouble pronouncing words and slow to use new words, trouble with numbers and letters too.
  • Restlessness – over-active child, doesn’t rest well and unable to focus on activities or play
  • Difficulty interacting appropriately with peers – getting angry or over-excited

School-age Children

The School going children could face difficulties in simple activities like the following

  • Finding relation between the letters and their sounds
  • Confusion in the usage of letters and numbers
  • Cannot learn new skills
  • Poor planning and organizational skills.
  • Exhibits lack of coordination and disregard for physical surroundings.

Common Learning Disabilities

  • Dyslexia – a language-based disability in which a person has trouble understanding words, sentences, or paragraphs.
  • Dyscalculia – a mathematical disability in which a person has a very difficult time solving arithmetic problems and grasping math concepts.
  • Dysgraphia – a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letters correctly or write within a defined space.
  • Auditory and Visual Processing Disabilities – a sensory disability in which a person has difficulty understanding language even with normal hearing and vision.
  • Autism – Autism is also known as Autism spectrum disorder or ASD. Children with autism have social, communication and language problems.
  • ADD/ADHD – Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – While these two attention disorders are now well known, their widespread recognition also makes it more likely that a child may be misdiagnosed or receive inappropriate treatment.

The School teachers and also the parents should be aware of the problems that the child could be facing. In order to ward off the thought of underachievement, both the parents and teachers should contribute in the encouragement of the child. Take an expert help in guiding through this process. If you need help in handling your child or adolescent, an online counseling program provides it all.

Prof. Madhu Kosuri

I have completed 30 years of teaching and research in psychology at the Department of Psychology and Parapsychology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, India.