8 Tips for Talking About Bad Grades

Handling the talk without deflating self-esteem
Mom and daughter looking at school test score on computer

Every child gets 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. 

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You may ask yourself: When is the best time to bring it up and talk? What should I say? Here are some tips from pediatrician Courtney Nolan, DO:

1. Address the importance of grades early

Especially as many of our school years are more stressful this year with virtual, hybrid or in-person sessions, it’s critical to stay on top of grades before they become a heated topic at home.

That means you shouldn’t be seeing your child’s grades for the first time on their report card? Don’t let a bad report card be the motive for your first talk about your expectations. Discuss this each year with your child and be aware of how they’re doing before you receive a report card. This way, you’ll be aware of any areas or subjects your child may be struggling in and help them to prevent that bad grade at the end of the year. Thankfully, many school districts now have ways to keep on top of your child’s grades online (and often their daily assignments!) so finding out is just a few clicks away. 

2. Separate the child from the grade

Bad grades can be embarrassing and it’s probably not something that your child wants to tell you about immediately. Be sure your child knows that, while you dislike the grade, you love them. Acknowledge other areas that your child is excelling in and praise them for that. Reassure them that no one is perfect and their bad grades don’t make them a failure. By working as a team, you’ll both find a solution that will set them up for future success at school.

“Keep in mind that although grades are important, they are just one measure of success,” says Dr. Nolan.

3. 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. Your child already knows that they have poor grades. 

“Remember that what is important is what happens from this point forward and you can’t change the past,” says Dr. Nolan.

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Getting to the root of the problem is the most important conversation you can have when you receive the report card. Asking questions and letting your child do the talking will put you both on the path to figuring out what can be done to help them get better grades.

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 they simply not study? Are they having trouble finding the correct links for assignments or keeping track of their Google Meet or Zoom sessions? Did they forget to bring in your signature on an assignment? Are they spending too much time with friends? 

Be mindful of talking too much during this conversation. Let your child explain what happened and what they will do differently in the future. By listening, you’ll open up the floor for them to point you in the direction of the problem. Together, you’ll find a solution.

“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

Your child’s teacher can be the most valuable resource in setting up your child for success. 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. 

They’ll also give you insight on their teaching style and grading system so you have a better understanding on what’s expected in class. Plus, they’ll be able to give you resources for tutoring and tips on how to help your child understand the material. Remember that it’s a team effort and the teacher is there to help.

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,” says Dr. Nolan. “Pressure can result in depression, not sleeping and other significant problems.”

One study reported that about 49% of students reported feeling stress on a daily basis, which can lead to health problems and can affect their behavioral and emotional well-being. 

8. Take the simplest steps first

Sometimes the best results come from the simplest steps. Don’t overcomplicate things. Instead, Dr. Nolan recommends:

  • Check your child’s organizational skills. 
  • If they’re learning remotely, make sure they have all the tools they need and understand how to use them. And make sure younger kids have all the school supplies they need handy to reduce stress.
  • Limit television and phone time.
  • Provide a quiet study environment.
  • Be careful not to over-schedule your child with extracurricular activities. 
  • Establish homework times and a routine.
  • Remove any distractions from their desk.
  • Set short-term and long-term realistic goals.
  • Track your child’s progress.
  • Celebrate accomplishments, even if they’re small. ​

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