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What do I do if my child is getting bad grades?

No one wants to see his or her child struggle – academically, socially, physically… When dealing with bad grades as the adult, it’s great to talk about the grades with the child. Here’s what that could look like – “Wow.  That stinks that you have an ‘F’ (or ‘C’) in Math.  What are you going to do about that?”

Talk about the grade. Listen to their ideas about how they are going to fix it.  Encourage them to brainstorm ways to learn how to take better notes, engage more in class, and prioritize their time. If the student goes into a space of blaming the teacher, redirect the child to “what are you going to do about that?”  Our Family Level Educational Services address these issues and more!

Bad grades are common.  Let’s be patient and improve!

For prepared high school graduates, we want them to have the literacy skills which are essential for students to fully participate in and expand their understanding of today’s global society. Whether they are reading functional texts (voting ballots, a map, a train schedule, a driver’s test, a job application, a text message, product labels); reference materials (textbooks, technical manuals, electronic media); or print and non-print literary texts, students need reading skills to fully manage, evaluate, and use the myriad information available in their day-to-day lives.

Kindergarten is about learning letters and numbers, to follow 2-step directions, and to positively interact with peers. But there is more to it than that – Regarding reading, there are several overarching standards to work towards, such as developing basic reading skills through the use of foundational skills, developing and applying the concepts of print and comprehension of informational and literary texts.

Moving through First and Second Grades, students refine the “learning to read” process.  THEN…something big happens in Third Grade – students start “reading to learn”.   The standards change from being taught how to read to being taught how to learn.  The students are responsible for figuring out vocabulary and context.  They are instructed on how to apply knowledge of spelling patterns (orthography), word meanings (morphology), and word relationships to decode words and increase vocabulary.

Fourth Grade is sort of the same – students are taught how to apply strategies to comprehend and interpret literary and informational texts as well as how to apply knowledge of spelling patterns (orthography) and word meanings (morphology) to decode multisyllable words and determine the meaning of unknown words.  See how that is a little different than Third Grade?

Fifth Grade – similar, but instead of being taught how to apply, students practice applying knowledge of word meanings (morphology) and word relationships to determine the meaning of unknown words in and out of context.


parent and teacher

Speaking up and asking for help is key to improvement.

Sixth Grade…they’ve learned how to read, they’ve learned how to decode and apply knowledge to figure out meanings of words and texts. Sixth Grade – they begin a new process.  ANALYZE.  Students analyze literary elements within different types of literature to make meaning, analyze organization and structure of informational text to make meaning, apply knowledge of word relationships, word structures, and sentence structures to determine the meaning of new words in context.

Seventh Grade – CONNECTIONS…students analyze the connections between interrelated literary elements to understand literary texts.  They SUMMARIZE and EVALUATE to show understanding of informational and literary texts. They APPLY knowledge of word relationships, word structures, and sentence structures to determine the meaning of new words in increasingly complex texts. 

Eighth Grade – ANALYZE and EVALUATE literary elements and an author’s choices to understand literary and informational texts. And, they practice a little more application knowledge of word structure, grammar, and context to determine the meaning of new words and phrases in increasingly complex texts… to prepare for high school.

AND THIS IS JUST FOR READING.  There are several “main” standards for each subject through every grade.  This is just a small piece of the Language Arts / English Standard.  Go here ( and click on the right sidebar to take a look at the standards for Colorado PreK – 12th grade.  

Why am I telling you this?  Because there are steps in the process of teaching and assessing that are far more complex than most families realize. There are steps that a student must master…not just in facts and figures, but in the process of learning. If a child earns a bad grade, that usually gives the teacher (and the student, and the family) an indication of what needs to be retaught, taught differently, or even backtracked to a skill that might be missing from earlier in the student’s education.  That doesn’t mean that the bad grade needs to go away.  It’s okay to earn bad grades….most teachers will tell you that grades are a reflection of what the child still needs to learn – not a reflection of what the child didn’t learn. And, the students will get lots of practice … all year in fact … to learn the skills needed to move to the next level of learning – the next level of independence.  And, the student needs to learn this on his or her own.  They won’t know they need to learn it if they don’t fail first. And not all students will master something the first time it is taught.  It would be surprising if they did.  But the failure the first try….that’s where the teachers step in and encourage the second try.  Some students will take years to learn a task, but if they get an A the first try – why would they think they have to work at it again?

Like learning to tie shoes.  We were terrible at it in the beginning.  We got F’s.  The shoestrings were knotted or didn’t tie or whatever….that is an F in shoe-tying.  So, we kept practicing and maybe tried different ways and maybe had different people try to teach us because our parents got frustrated.  And that’s ok.  We got frustrated, too. Some learned at four, some at eight. Maybe we gave up for a while and had to get Velcro shoes, but eventually, we were ready.  Our hand-eye coordination matured. Our step-processing matured. Our determination matured. Either way, that’s just the right time. 

Learning to ride a bike? Same.  We fell. We got skinned knees. We crashed into cars or curbs.  We yelled at the person teaching us.  They yelled at us.  They ran alongside of us to guide, steady, and occasionally let go….but they didn’t get on the bike and do it for us.  How would we ever learn?  And while we would like to think that learning to tie shoes or ride a bike is all encouragement, smiles, and high-fives, we know that’s not the case.  There are tears, sweat, and blood.  There is yelling and frustration. But ultimately, it’s up to the learner to follow-through, practice, and persevere.  We can’t do it for them.  SAME. WITH. SCHOOL.  

Failing is sometimes the push that children need to figure it out.  To try different things. To get mad and push through. To pedal harder and faster. To multitask with the feet and the hands.  To not give up. To pay attention.

What can you do? 

1. Be Patient and Understanding

Ask the child why this happened.  If they deflect to the teacher – turn it back on them.  What did you do or not do?  

“The teacher is too fast.” : “Have you asked him to slow down?”

“The class is too hard.” : “Have you re-read the chapter for homework?”

“I don’t have time to do all the homework!” : “Have you turned off your iPad / device and taken the time to really work on the assignments?”

“Everyone is failing!” : “What are you going to do to make sure you aren’t failing?”

It’s important to get to the root of the problem before making assumptions – and don’t accept the student placing the blame on others.

Questions to ask your child: 

Are you doing your homework? (and why not?)

Are you studying for the quizzes / assessments? (and why not?)

Have you turned in every assignment?” (and why not?)

2. Follow Up and Follow Through

You should be checking your student’s grades regularly, but also teaching them to look.  If there is a question about grades or missing work, it is important at a very early age to have THEM…the student…email or contact the teacher.  When I was 23, I flew to meet my boyfriend / future husband for an event in another town.  My mom drove me to the airport, and because of a power outage on the road…I missed the plane.  This was before pagers and cell phones, so my mom had to call the friends with whom my boyfriend was staying to tell them I was on a later flight.  Boy – did we get teased.  “How old is she?” “Her MOMMY had to call!”  We, as educators, parents, and a community need to start helping children take accountability…be their own advocates.  I mean, I didn’t really have a choice, but it did seem silly for my mom to call my boyfriend about me.

Also, children tend to lie. If you ask them about their grades – they might say they are fine when they are not.  They might say the teacher needs to still put in grades – but those assignments are not really missing.  They might say the teacher goes too fast and doesn’t help them when they ask questions.  And – as children are children…that’s ok.  It’s really not a huge deal.  But instead of taking their word or even accusing them of lying – turn it back around.  “OK.  Yikes.  That sounds tough.  What are you going to do about it?” Either way, it’s their responsibility to fix it.  You can always follow through and follow up with the student – but help them follow through and follow up with what they say they’ll do.  And – it’s up to you as the parent / guardian to follow up with the student.  You have to check their homework habits, their study habits, their time management habits.  It’s not your responsibility to check in with the teacher.  

Are they involved with too many extracurriculars?  Are they saying they are doing homework but really chatting with friends or playing Roblox? There may be a need to closely supervise your child to complete their homework or improve their study habits. Any negative reinforcement must have follow-through – empty gestures don’t help anything. 

3. Follow-through part two

One of the best pieces of parenting advice was this little story told by a friend:

“When I was younger, I adopted a kitten.  My dad wasn’t super excited about having a cat, but gave in.  One time, the cat was scratching on the side of the new sofa…and my dad threw the cat outside.  For the next 20 years, every time the cat wanted to go outside, he scratched on the sofa.”  Children (and really, adults) are the same.  If you reward unwanted behavior with a perceived “award” – you’ve just established a habit.  If you “threaten” something – you HAVE to follow through. I’m going to say that first part again:  If you reward unwanted behavior with a perceived “award” – you’ve just established a habit. If screaming, blaming, crying, avoiding, disengaging, or disrespecting earn the child a break, earn a teacher a “talking to,” or earn the child a fake grade / free pass, that is establishing a fairly detrimental habit.

4. Set Reasonable Expectations

Do we need to expect all A’s from our children? Nope. We can expect them to do their best. We can expect them to complete and to hand in homework assignments on time. We can expect them to study for tests.  If they study and fail?  What are they going to do about it?  It’s not on the teacher…it’s on the student.  Life skill reference – a 20 year old can’t make rent? Are you, as their parent, going to call the landlord and ask for more time to pay rent? Give them the money? Ask for lower rent?  I hope not.  If my older children can’t make their rent, my response is “Wow.  That’s too bad!  How did you get yourself in this position and what are you going to do about that?”  If they don’t know – of course I’ll walk them through some budget brainstorming and adult life skills they need to work on, but they don’t need to be rescued.  Sick dog, wrecked car, unforeseen emergency?  I would of course help out, but not bail out.  It’s important for them to come to the realization on their own that they should have a month’s rent saved up. How are they going to learn if everytime they need help – you hand it over?  They need to panic, pay a late fee, work an extra shift or two, go without that fifth tattoo.

a frustrated parent

Let us help you, guide you and collaborate with you!

If your child has challenges in a certain skill set – make allowances.  And our children are not carbon copies of ourselves…great basketball players have short children all the time.  It might be time to get over your expectations and embrace the child you have; maybe they won’t always earn A’s like you did.  Maybe they won’t be the star quarterback.  Maybe they won’t be on the cheer team.  But they do have to do their best and be accountable for their worst.

So – are they going to be great at everything? No.

Are they going to always be successful? No.

Are they going to be good at stuff we were good at? No.

Do we need to take responsibility for their mistakes? Not really. 

5. Contact your child’s teacher

Great idea – reach out to the teacher to see if he or she has any insight on what is going on.  What is the teacher seeing in class? What works and doesn’t work?  What does the student’s work ethic look like in class?  Is the student doing his or her best? Is he engaged? Does she need help with time management or study skills?  Consulting with the teacher, collaborating with the teacher, talking with the teacher….YES!  But when it comes to your child’s poor grades / poor performance – it’s most likely not the teacher’s fault.  Reach out from the lens of getting that insight, not blaming. 

6. What are the child’s realistic goals?

Grades are just part of the bigger picture.  Getting in trouble for a D in a class the child doesn’t care about?  Probably not going to help.  Telling them, and teaching them how, to advocate for themselves is probably a better practice.  

Set small goals – making A’s might not be realistic.  An A is for the best of the best.  C’s are for “met expectations.”  

Turning in all of the assignments? Yes. 

Studying a difficult subject for 15 minutes every night? Yes.

“Searching up” how to learn something difficult on their own? Yes.

Long term goals are a whole other topic…we’ll talk about those later.

7. What IS the purpose of all this?

The best gift we can give children is their independence.  We teach them how to manage time, manage tasks, and manage life.  We teach them how to learn.  We have conflicts and failures.  It’s part of growth.  The real purpose of grades is to help children learn to manage time, responsibilities, and concepts / learning independently.  As I showed above, everything in school is scaffolded: taught and practiced in small steps to achieve an ultimate goal of self-sufficiency.  We teach these things in steps – and there are times to learn, times to practice, and times to apply; times to analyze, connect, and implement.  Grades are no different.  Once children go to college or move on to adulthood, we can’t intervene.  Grades are a small area that we can teach children to advocate for themselves and take responsibility.  Remember…it’s blaming the landlord for the higher rent vs. taking responsibility for our spending / work / lifestyle choices and being able to make adjustments.  

Children need to have the inner voice or “what can I do to fix this?” opposed to “whose fault is this that I’m not getting what I want?” 

Goals – 

learn to be self-sufficient

avoid procrastination

advocate for themselves

take responsibility for the good and the bad

accept feedback

accept consequences

So – what are you going to do about those bad grades?  Step one: ask the child what he or she is going to do about the bad grades and just leave it at that for a while.

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