8 Tips for Talking About Bad Grades

Handling the talk without deflating self esteem

Bad report card

Every child brings home the occasional disappointing grade. Sometimes their own hurt or shame is enough to set them on the right path. Other times, parental intervention may be needed to make sure it’s not the beginning of a pattern. But when is the best time to talk? And what do you say?

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Here are some tips from pediatrician Courtney Nolan, DO, Community Pediatrics, Cleveland Clinic Strongsville Family Health and Surgery Center.

1. Address the importance of grades early

Don’t let a bad report card be the motive for your first talk about your expectations. Discuss this each year with your child.

2. Approach the subject with concern, not anger

Although you want to address a bad grade when it occurs, take a break to cool down if you find yourself angry, Dr. Nolan recommends. Remember that what is important is what happens from this point forward. You can’t change the past.

3. Separate the child from the grade

Be sure your child knows that, while you dislike the grade, you love her. Keep in mind that although grades are important, they are just one measure of success.

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“Uncovering the cause of the poor performance will let you address it before it becomes a bigger problem.”

4. Ask questions

You’ll want to know why your child got the poor grade or report card. Is something going on at school? At home? Did he simply not study? Were assignments missed? Is she spending too much time with friends? “Uncovering the cause of the poor performance will let you address it before it becomes a bigger problem,” says Dr. Nolan.

5. Talk to the teacher

The teacher’s input can shed valuable light on whether there is a need for more help, or if your child may have signs of a learning disability.

6. Know that rewards and punishment don’t work if you want your child to love learning

Be supportive of school, regardless of your own level of education. If you make learning enjoyable, children will do their best because they love to learn. That’s a much better long-term motivator than fear of punishment.

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7. Beware of pressure

It’s good to be a concerned, involved parent. But don’t encourage your child to compete with others over grades. “Children should compete only with themselves and do their best,” Dr. Nolan stresses. Pressure can result in depression, not sleeping and other significant problems.

8. Take the simplest steps first

Check your child’s organizational skills. Limit television. Provide a good study environment and establish homework times. Be careful not to over-schedule your child with extracurricular activities.

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