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TALKING ABOUT BAD GRADES

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

It happens to the best of them! In general, our children are doing their best to study and get good grades, but sometimes they come up short and come home with bad grades. This past week has been a midterm break for most schools, and while some students have received their exam grades, some have had the pleasure of receiving them after the holiday (or, the stress of waiting until after the holiday!) Either way, you'll have either spoken to them about the grades or will be speaking to them soon. Depending on how bad the grades were, you might need to clamp down and lay down the law, as it were. You might also want to consider a slightly different approach this year. It really has been a while since the stakes were as high as they used to be, and students are still getting back in the groove of things. It's not an excuse to be sure, but it's worth considering when discussing the year's first significant bad grades. Here's a little advice on how to speak to them about it.

 

1. SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD

You have every right to be upset with your child if they've been slacking off or constantly procrastinating or even, possibly, forgetting their exam entirely (yes it actually happens!!) You even have the right to feel frustrated when they perform poorly despite putting in effort and hours of studying, probably with a little bit of your help. Scolding your student, though, will do very little in the way of improving their next performance. Your child knows they messed up and most likely feel bad about it. If you can, do as Dr. Stephen Covey said and seek first to understand, then to be understood. When discussing anything, especially a heated topic, we very often listen with the intent of replying. Think about that. You would be listening to the other person, get hung up on something they said, and just wait for your turn to speak so you can pounce on it. Worse yet, we may even interrupt the other person in order to offer an argument or a solution, without hearing all the facts. When you speak with your child and listen empathetically, you'll have a much better chance of getting to the root cause of the problem rather than simply offer the usual solutions (study harder, go out less, watching less TV/video games).


Listening with empathy shouldn't be too hard; after all, we've all gotten badgrades at one point or another. Try to understand what their actual problem was instead of comparing it to your own past experiences, and for the love of God resist the urge to offer up a solution that worked for you after every sentence they tell you. It's much better to just listen and wait until you've gotten all the facts. When you've shown to them that you understand their issues, and it is your turn to be understood, you will then have much more credit with them, and thus a much more attentive audience.

 

2. ASK QUESTIONS TO FIND THE ROOT CAUSES

Speaking of finding the root causes, what's the best way to do this? Now that you've listened to them attentively, paraphrased what you've understood, and confirmed their feelings about it, it's your turn to diagnose and prescribe! You'll want to ask questions that are general at first, that get more specific as you go on. We should also remember that we aren't interrogating a suspect in custody here; we're on the same team, trying to figure out the root cause of the problem so we can correct and prevent it from recurring. The goal is finding a solution together. You can start, for example, by asking if they actually studied? Are they having any problem at school or with the online classes? Are they working on the correct assignments and preparatory work? Was the test similar to the homework and classwork they've been doing? Are they spending too much time doing something else other than studying (good luck with this last one)? Having put time in earlier to listen to your child, you should have some leeway to ask these questions without sounding like a badgering parent. When you sense that one of these areas is a probable cause, dig a little bit deeper. For example, if you find out they actually had not done the homework, dig deeper and youo may find out that it was much too difficult. In that case, why? Is the class itself too difficult for them, or perhaps they need extra help? Or if they tell you the test was totally different than the homework, then it's worth asking what materials they studied with and where they got them. Maybe it was the wrong material; we can find out why they got the wrong study material, and where to find the correct ones. Once you've identified and corrected the problem, don't forget to ask them what they will do differently next time. That's prevention, and it's always better than correction. Helping students find a real reason for poor performance gives them a chance to fix things and improve their grades the next time around.

 

3. SPEAK TO YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER

Now that you've (hopefully) pin-pointed the main source of your child's recent badgrade, and discussed with them how to prevent it from recurring, you can share your concerns with their teacher. Your child's teacher is the one who sees them the most, albeit virtually, in the classroom setting. They are also the experts on the subject and usually have a lot more experience than us parents. It's probable that they can use the information you've come to learn. It's even more likely that they will have more insight to give you, like if you child is having issues at school, or behaving differently than usual, or showing a weakness in particular topic. Mostly though, you will get a good feel for the teacher's style and, of course, their grading system. Many times, a student simply isn't on the same page as the teacher and is answering assignment and test questions in a manner deemed unclear or incomplete by their teacher, without even knowing it. Their instructor may even give you tips on how best to teach a subject and what resources are most effective. Working together with your child's teacher will accelerate the process of solving the problem and getting back on track.

 

4. SETTING PUNISHMENTS AND REWARDS

When a student gets badgrades, we’re very often tempted to react with resentment, looking to punish them for “bad behavior”. As mentioned earlier, you should resist the urge to act impulsively and listen to their explanation first. Even after hearing them out and discussing possible causes, you may still want to hand down a punishment. This punishment, though, should be appropriate. Some parents may sort of lash out and deny their child an enjoyment that has nothing to do with grades or studying. For example, taking your kid out of their weekly dance class for messing up on a test may not have the motivational effect you might expect. In fact, it may be detrimental to take them out of such classes that are actually a big part of confidence building. You can instead focus on the typical distractions which can directly affect study time and probably their grades i.e. phone time, video games, and the like. Even then, try making it sound like a reward rather than a punishment: “When you complete your assignment, then you can have some social media time.” It’s also recommended to keep rewards on a short- to medium-term basis. Promising our children something at the end of the term is a little too far away and so works only for a short while.

 

THIS WEEK'S BRAIN TEASER!

 

JUST FOR LAUGHS!

Just an average joke...



Until next time!

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