Students Who Struggle

Teachers: Here Are The Answers To Your Questions About Students Who Struggle And Have Challenges
by: Ruth Wells

80% of teacher training tends to be on content, with only about 20% of training focusing on the "human factors," those minute-to-minute problems with your youngsters that dominate each day. Whether you are a teacher, counselor, social worker or psychologist, there are days that you run out of answers.

Here is your chance to get the answers you need for your most challenging youth problems. Eavesdrop on the questions posed in our Live Expert Help area of our web site, and perhaps your question will be answered. Have a question for Live Help? Click on the Live Help icon at our site,

Q: Do you have any ideas how to get young children to show up at our site when no parent seems willing to assist the child to attend?

A: We believe in the ends justify the means in this area, meaning that unless it violates your site's rules or policies, then do it if it will help the child to attend. Your service is just that important, that you should do whatever it takes to get the child in. Actions can include waking the child by phone, picking up the child in the morning, or securing an alarm clock for the youngster to use. You can also use our popular "Countdown to School (or Agency) Schedule" or make a facsimile of it. The "Countdown to School Schedule" lists times for the child to perform the actions needed to get ready for school. It compensates a bit for the lack of vital family supervision.


If you work with young children, you know that many can't tell time and may not reliably know numbers, so put a piece of tape under the place where the numbers will click in on a digital clock. On the tape, write the time you want the child to get up. So, you might put a "7" on the tape, and teach the child to get up and go when the number on the clock matches the number on the tape. It is sad to have you taking over the family's job, but if you have been unable to engage the family, this may be an option worth considering.


For very young children, just teach them to "get up and go," and wait a bit before adding in other less crucial tasks like washing the face, for example. Once the child masters the basics, you can add on more tasks. In the meantime, you may want to have a few snacks, some sweatshirts, etc. to fill in the gaps. Whether an older youth, a younger child, a cold or hungry kid will have difficulty benefitting from your service. Be sure to also expose the child to plenty of motivation-makers; there are a few on our site, and hundreds in our books A child who believes that your service is incredibly important, may work harder to arrive.

Q: I am so frustrated trying to get some parents to do their job! What ideas do you have to get parents to do what they are supposed to do?

A: By the time you run into a troubled family, the problems have been in that system for a long time. We actually do not recommend that people who are not family therapists continue to spend large amounts of time working to engage parents who never seem to improve. If you are a teacher with 30 in your classroom, or a school counselor with a caseload of 500, for example, it is not realistic that in your brief seconds of "spare time," you somehow magically turnaround deeply troubled families. In your spare time, you probably will not be able to get that mom to finally stop drinking, or that dad to suddenly recognize the importance of your service. Instead, we recommend that you discontinue or reduce your repeatedly unsuccessful efforts with the adults, and devote all or most of your energy to helping the child succeed without family support. The ideas shown above, on helping even young children attend your site without family aid, are an example of what we mean. Yes, this is tragic, but you can still succeed with the child even though you may never succeed with the parents. The child is your real target, and where the best hope for success may lie.

Q: We are seeing more and more kids who are incredibly mean and violent, and it seems like absolutely nothing I do makes them behave. What can I do that would work better?

A: This is one of the most frequent questions we get. 11-15% of your population are conduct disorders. That is a mental health term that a mental health professional can apply to some extremely hurtful kids. The way you work with conduct disorders, and kids you believe might be conduct disorders, differs dramatically from conventional approaches. Conventional approaches will consistently fail with this portion of your kids. You have to use a different set of tools, or else you will continue to feel that virtually nothing you do yields any useful results. We have a good resource for you on this. Go to our site,, where some of the basics on conduct disorders are spelled out. If you need it, our "All the Best Answers for the Worst Problems: Conduct Disorders and Anti-Social Youth" books can give you more than the introductory information in the article.

Q: Can you explain to me what Aspergers is? And, what should I do?

A: Aspergers is a constellation of symptoms that varies from child to child. It may be related to autism, and is not fully understood. Only a counselor or medical professional can diagnose it. Some common symptoms are inappropriate social behaviors, distractibility, developmental delays, and repetitive talk or actions. It's more common in males. Unlike autistic children, language and cognitive functioning may not be as significantly delayed or impaired. Also, this disorder may be identified later, or occur later than autism. It is often misdiagnosed. We suggest that you not let the terminology confuse you-- even though many professionals are understandably confused by this diagnostic term. Instead, focus on the specific problems you see in the individual child, then prioritize the concerns and work on them systematically. We suggest you focus on three areas at a time.


If you have developed good methods to work with ADD-affected children, some of those methods will work well with Aspergers- affected youth. For example: for problematic verbal interactions, you can teach your ADD- or Aspergers-affected child how to make Opening, Middle and Closing Lines, as a way to give them essential everyday conversational skills. Opening Lines initiate the conversation, Middle Lines continue it, and Closing Lines terminate it.


That's what we are here for. Consider coming to a live Breakthrough Strategies class (, or order the course on DVD/video ( We're here to help youth professionals help troubled youth.

About The Author

Ruth Wells MS is the director of Youth Change; click here: Get free samples and see 100s more of her problem-stopping interventions at Youth Change's web site. Ruth is the author of dozens of books and ebooks, and conducts professional development workshops.

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