How to Help Your Child With Depression Succeed in School

Girl working in chem lab at school
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Children and teens who are struggling with depression often find themselves struggling in school. The symptoms of depression can directly interfere with learning and work completion. This can lead to a vicious cycle for child or teen with depression. Poor school performance can lead to feelings of failure and increased stress, exacerbating the depression.

There are steps and strategies that parents can take to help support their child or teen.

It is important to understand how depression can affect learning and school achievement to find ways to tweak your approach specifically to your child.

To understand how depression can affect learning, it is important to make a quick review of some  depression symptoms. For a more complete, developmentally appropriate look at depression symptoms, use these links: symptoms in children, symptoms in tweens, symptoms in teens.

Depression Symptoms And How They Affect Learning and School Performance

  • Loss of Pleasure, Interest or Motivation Your child may stop caring about their school work, or even their peer relationships. It is hard to see the value in doing work for something that your child can't see or feel getting benefits from doing.
  • Anxiety Your child may suddenly become fearful to attend or participate in school. It is also difficult to learn when feeling anxious. Anxious students are often preoccupied with their fear and unable to focus on lessons or school work.
  • Feelings of Hopelessness Your child may not see the point in participating in school if they believe that they have little chance of success. Depression can skew perception of reality, leading a capable child to believe they can't succeed at a task, or that any good will come from doing the task correctly.
  • Difficulty Concentrating Your child may not be able to focus and concentrate on their school lessons or to complete their school work.
  • Fatigue Feeling tired can make it difficult for your child to wake up and attend school, and to stay awake during class time. Increased time sleeping or resting can also interfere with time that could be spent on homework. What little energy your child has, they may want to use for less challenging activities than school related work.
  • Changes In Appetite Having steady, consistent energy levels leads to consistent attention and school performance. Children and teens with depression may not feel like eating which can contribute to low energy and lowered attention.
  • Body Aches That Can't Be Explained It is hard for a child who is sore and achy to focus on anything other than their pain.

Even if your child is only experiencing a few of the above symptoms, you can see how it would affect their school performance.

Tips and Strategies for School Success When Your Child Has Depression

1. Get Professional Treatment For Your Child or Teens Depression

Getting your child or teen treatment for their depression can help alleviate some or all of the symptoms that impact your child's learning. Your child's treatment provider may also be able to provide specific lifestyle strategies that will help your child's depression improve over time.

School years tend to fly by quickly. By getting your child appropriate and effective treatment quickly, you are preventing your child from missing out and falling further behind in school. Your child's treatment provider can also be a resource for you should you find that you need to provide documentation to your child's school.

2. Be Sure To Have A Strong Relationship With Your Children's School

Get to know your child’s teacher’s as early as possible. If you get to know your child's teachers before they begin to struggle in school, you will already have established open communication with the school  and your children's teachers so that they know you. With an open dialogue established, you and the school will be able to share observations about changes in your child's behavior and school performance.

3. Closely Monitor Your Children's Grades

Often, children and teens who are depressed will begin to silently fall behind in a classroom. Your child may just quietly stop participating in group activities. While not completing work is a cause for a teacher to be concerned, teachers are more likely to notice disruptive and loud students compared to students who quietly fall behind.

Many schools have online grade books with special parent access. Find out how parents at your child's school can quickly check on their children's grades.

4. Ask Teachers For Modifications To Assignments

If your child has fallen far behind, catching up may be downright impossible. If you believe that your child is simply not able to catch up on their schoolwork, you need to schedule a private time to talk with your child's teacher. Let them know that your child is struggling with depression and that you believe that they are not ready to catch up, or keep up, right now.

Next, ask your child's teacher if there are ways they can reduce your child's schoolwork to a manageable amount of work until your child improves. You may wish to keep a written note of this meeting for your own records.

Your written notes will remind you of exactly the exact assignment modifications you and the teacher agreed on, and for what length of time the reduced school work will apply. If you find that what you originally agreed isn't working, you will have a record of what you tried.

Also, in the event that your child's depression appears that it will affect your child's school performance for more than six months, you may wish to explore getting a 504 plan. The initial strategies to reduce workload will be useful to deciding what modifications should be included in the 504.

5. Find One Teacher That Will Help Monitor Your Child

Tweens and teens in middle and high school see multiple teachers throughout the school day. If your child does not have specific homeroom or advisory teacher assigned to them, find a teacher to fill that role. This should be a teacher that your child feels comfortable talking to and that can be sure to be a regular point of contact throughout the day for other teachers and you.

Discuss with the teacher how much they will collect information from other teachers and how often the monitoring teacher will communicate with you. Having one teacher who is central for school communication will keep the school teachers communicating with each other instead of not noticing problems or trying separate strategies that overload your child.

Different schools have different ways teachers communicate with each other and with parents. Work with your child's school to establish clear and open communication.

6. Help Your Child With Organization and Daily Routines

Fluctuating energy levels can make studying difficult. Help your child to notice when they are beginning to feel overwhelmed so they can take a short break - before they lose all of their energy pushing themselves too hard.

Find ways to break assignments into smaller tasks and work periods to prevent overwhelm. Rather than have your child or teen work continuously for one full hour on homework, perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes right after arriving home from school, followed by a long break, and then work on homework again after dinner.

Make sure your child puts their homework in a specified location before they lose it, and forget to turn it in. Creating a homework routine will get your child into the habit of putting their work in the same place, ready to return to school. This reduces the need for your child to think and remember where they put their work, reducing the amount of thinking they have to do to get their work done.

7. Find Ways To Teach And Encourage Social Interaction

Children with depression often have a negative view of their peer interactions. You may have noticed your child spending less time with their friends. Teachers may notice that your child avoids group activities.

Help your child find an extracurricular activity that interests them and will help them learn positive social skills. This could be a team sport with a coach who encourages gracious sportsmanship, or a book club where your child will discuss a favorite read with their peers.

You can also ask your child's teachers about their in-class social interactions. Once teachers understand that your child's depression may be affecting their classroom social behavior, the teacher can take steps to help make socializing easier for your child. The teacher may look to find more compatible work group partners, or intervene if they see your child is having a difficult time relating to other students. is having a difficult time relating to other students.

Pick and choose the tips that you feel will most benefit your child. This will help establish a partnership between family and school to help support your child or teen with depression. Once you are able to partner with teachers to meet your child's educational needs, you can find exactly what your unique child will need to succeed in school again.


Crundwell, Marc A., and Kim Killu. "Responding to a Student's Depression." Educational Leadership:Interventions That Work:. ASCD, Oct. 2010. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.

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