Bad Grades –And How To Deal With Them

When a child who has been doing well in school suddenly comes home with a report card that could best be described as “alarming,” what should a parent do to help the student get back on track? Children have a very complex life full of stress, desires, and a complex social web that they try to navigate. When a child suddenly begins to perform poorly in school the parent wants to take action, but what is the best way to handle the situation?

To help guide parents through this situation, Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer at Scholastic and Gretchen Johnson of Columbia University were interviewed.

Punishment Will Not Help Improve School Grades

For many parents the first reflex will be to punish the child, usually by removing privileges or cutting back on the amount of social time that the child is allowed. However a sudden drop in performance is not necessarily something that can be resolved by punishment.

“It can be frustrating when a child isn’t doing well in school,” says Francie Alexander. “However punishment and showing frustration are not helpful and productive. Be positive and let your child know how supportive you are by limiting TV or other activities in favor of study time to help rather than punish.”

Uncovering the Cause of Poor School Performance

The first thing that a parent should do is to assess the situation and find out what happened. With class sizes growing and school budgets shrinking, it will fall upon the parent to determine the cause of the problem and how it can be addressed.

Begin by talking to the child. “Kids are very good at describing problems like ‘long division is too hard’ or ‘I messed up on the test.’ It is best to start a conversation about poor grades with your child’s take on the situation,” Alexander says.

The reasons for the drop in performance can be simple such as poor time management or lack of organization. However the reasons for bad marks can also be more complex. The child may be being bullied at school, losing a good friend, or worrying about their home life.

Think about all the problems and worries that adults have to contend with every day. While a child’s life is certainly different from an adults, it is no less cluttered with real world demands.

Gretchen Johnson lists problems with peers, being overtired due to using TV or radio to blot out unhappiness, being discouraged with new work and not feeling comfortable seeking help, and home distractions as some common reasons for a child to suddenly begin bringing home bad grades. She also recommends that parents ask their child open ended questions when trying to reach the root of the problem.

“A parent will get the most information from a child or teacher this way. A child may mention things that a parent might never think to ask about,” Johnson said.

Addressing Poor School Performance

Once the child has explained what happened, a decision must then be made as to whether to involve the teacher. The teacher can offer greater insight into exactly why the child failed and may be able to offer some more background on the situation than the child was able or willing to provide.
Just as a parent should not approach his child with an accusatory manner, neither should he with the teacher. Parents should consider the teacher as their partner in fixing the child’s bad grades.

Francie Alexander recommends asking these questions to get the information parents need to help:
“When did you first notice the change in my child’s schoolwork?”
“What are you going to do to help her or him get back on track. What does my child need to do?”
“How can I help?”
“Can we set up a time to re-evaluate before the next grading period?”
“Be ready to share your observations and a summary of the conversation you had with your child. When teachers and parents work well together, the child benefits,” says Alexander.

There are other ways to communicate with the child’s teachers outside of going to the school. There is nothing wrong with talking to the teacher via phone or even email, most schools today will have an internet connection where parents can contact the teacher directly, and don’t be afraid to call the school and ask for the teacher’s email address.

Helping a Child With Low Grades

While the problem and the solution to the child’s poor grades may be as simple as helping them with their work and getting them organized with new folders and a binder, other children may be facing obstacles that parents and teachers cannot address on their own. The child may require tutoring in one or more subjects or may have a genuine learning disability. In either case, the parent still has options and help available to them.

Many schools have free tutoring programs available and some have mentoring programs where older students come in to privately discuss social situations that a child may not be comfortable talking with their parents about. If the school does not offer tutoring or student evaluations there are options available through the No Child Left Behind Act.

A child’s life can be just as stressful and complicated as an adults. The reasons why a student may suddenly experience bad grades are as individual as the child. To help a child overcome this problem, the parents must open a line of communication with both the child and the teacher so that the root cause can be found and then addressed. Once the cause has been found, the teacher and the parent can work together to help the child overcome these obstacles and get back on track for a successful school experience.