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My Son Is Not Adjusting Well to Fourth Grade

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist


My son has been getting C's and D's on his grammar and math tests. He was an A student in third grade. He is also an excellent creative writer. I am baffled as to why he is not doing well this year.

I have had talks with his teacher. She says he appears not to be paying attention and is often caught daydreaming. She even consulted his third-grade teacher from last year, who was surprised and said that was not like him.

My son says he misses his third-grade teacher and that she made classroom learning fun. It seems he is not adjusting well to his fourth-grade teacher's teaching style. How can I get him back on track to being the "A" student he is capable of being?


There's no question that fourth grade is one of the most challenging of the elementary grades, with several important changes taking place. Learning occurs at a quicker pace, with lessons in all subject areas being taught in longer segments (30- 45-minute blocks). The teacher will probably also teach "across the curriculum," using reading, writing and math to augment lessons in other subjects, such as social studies and science. There are added responsibilities, increased homework and greater emphasis on independence. It can be a lot to handle.

On top of those changes, adjustment to a new grade in school is often uneven at first and many children have problems at the start of the new school year. They may miss being home for the summer, or they may miss their friends from their old class. Some students, like your son, miss their old teacher and feel reluctant to connect with a new one out of a sense of loyalty. Your son could be feeling a combination of these issues.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Help your son re-establish routines from earlier grades for doing homework and studying. Make sure he has a quiet, well-lit place free of distractions. Review his assignments with him until he is back on track.
  • Be aware that children often jump to negative conclusions about a teacher, rules or procedures when everything is new. Go over the classroom rules and procedures with your son, and illustrate for him the similarities between these and those of his past classrooms.
  • Resist the temptation to make excuses for your son's attitude. Remind him that throughout life there will be people who are not his favorites. Sometimes those will be peers, other times it will be a boss, co-workers or a teacher. Explain that he needs to work hard and show respect in school, regardless of his personal feelings.
  • Speak with the teacher again about her observation that your son was daydreaming and inattentive. Does it occur only during particular subjects, or is it consistently seen? Consider a visit to the pediatrician to discuss these concerns and rule out a health issue. Ask for a hearing and vision check.

If you still have concerns about the teacher, then arrange a conference. A good teacher will want to work with you to make your child's experience a positive one.

Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"What all of you are missing is the 4th grade component in all of this. I have been teaching 4th grade for some time and this is the time in their lives when all the socialization skills that they have been developing come into play. That Bunning avoids this part is understandable because this part of the equation is too hard for clinical psychologists to address - this whole arena comes down to the students and the teachers and the psychologists are not equipped to deal with what the teachers know best. The 4th grade curriculum is not easy - at best it is a killer and that is what parents and the higher ups need to realize. That and the whole idea of self-development - the socialization is there and will not go away. We all must accept and acknowledge that as a problem. 4th graders have three things working against them: 1. The extremes of hormonal changes; 2. The increased academic demands; and, 3. Adults who will not accept and adjust to the horrible demands made of our students. Get a child psychologist to address both issues in the same sentence."
"I find it disturbing and disgusting that so many of your 'Answers' to letters begin with advice concerning medication. When did ADHD become the go-to diagnosis? Sure, in some extreme cases children have a real disadvantage that can be overcome with the help of medication, but when I was growing up we called it character and celebrated the fact that we all had our own unique challenges to overcome. We have built a generation that seeks the easy answer. Instead of encouraging enthusiasm we modify behavior to force fit it into a narrow minded system, when an encouraging parent or mentor could help a child focus their energy and exuberance towards a hobby, team or group activity or whatever random curiosity the little sponge of a mind stumbles across. Please stop discouraging children from bring different, passionate and easily excitable. "
"my daughter has been struggling for 2yrs now in the 3rd and 4th grades both years she did not like her teacher the work is hard and she is not understanding nor do the teachers at her school care all the want to do is write her discipline and complain about her not paying attention i think there is a real problem here i also have spoke with the principal again nothing being done i think my child needs to be in slower pace classes and they will not place her in there.And this is the redbird elementary school in madison ohio i bought a home here in madison because of the schools now im stuck here and not happy with the school or how they treat my child."
"he may be in love with a girl tell him remember what your 3rd grade teacher did tell him to use the tips from 3rd grade to 4rth "
"Hi my daughter is adjusting to a new school with a different type of environment. She tells me that she does not like her school and that they are giving her to much work and for failure to bring a book. She stated that the teacher is giving her detention. She has only been attending the district school for four days. This really bothers me. Can they do that to my daughter. We have been through so much recently..loss of her grandfather and voluntarily removed from dwelling."
"I have a 4th grader too, and he is struggling to keep up with the overwhelming class work they have to do every day. His grades are average, he misses his third grade teacher too. I tried my best not to be too negative about his teacher, but I can't help wondering if he had a different one, would he be doing better? I have to mention that he also gets 2s in organization and spending his time wisely. I talked to him about this and his answer was that he was having difficulties collecting information to write an essay about an assessmant or solving a problem which requires a detailed analysis. I should also add that his best and favorite subject is Math, though he's not so good at demonstrating his answers! Is there anything I can do to help him with these issues?"