Reasons a child is getting a bad grade in a class: They are struggling with something.
Incorrect assumptions about why a child is getting a bad grade in a class: They are a terrible kid who doesn’t care about school.
Things that could help the child with their grades: Finding out what they are struggling with and dealing with it.
How not to help a child raise their grades: Ignore the root causes and just go straight for punishments.
Here are some possible struggles that can cause low grades:
- Issues at school, such as bullying
- Poor study habits
- Sleep deprivation
- Mental illness
- Poor fit with instructor
- Nutritional issues
- Big stressors (death in family, divorce)
- Learning disability
- Having a difficult time understanding the material
- Undiagnosed physical illness/issues
- Executive dysfunction (this is not laziness)
How do these things make a child perform worse in school? I’ll break them down quickly.
Stressors: Anything that causes stress is likely to affect how well a kid can concentrate on schoolwork, homework, studying, and information retention. Their mind is literally somewhere else, and their bodies are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, causing them to constantly be in fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode. Their brains are not ready for algebra – they are ready to run. Bullying, harassment, or being assaulted by another student (or teacher) at school causes huge amounts of stress. Abuse outside of school does, too. The prolonged illness of a close family member, the death of a loved one, parents’ divorce, and other major family upheavals can also impact concentration and executive function.
Learning issues: Kids can go through school for years before a learning disability is discovered. Don’t assume that, just because they got As and Bs through elementary school, your sixth grader is failing English out of spite. Get them evaluated for possible dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and processing disorders. They may also just literally have a difficult time with that new variable in math, or not be able to hear the teacher from where they’re sitting in science. Lastly, they may simply be having a really hard time understanding what their instructor is expecting from them. In some situations, finding a teacher who is better at communicating the material and the assignments may be in order.
Physical issues: How well do you work when you’re hungry, exhausted, or sick? Kids, especially teens, are like cats – they can be pretty good at hiding physical ailments until they have gotten pretty bad. Low grades can be an indication of a bigger problem, so check on your child’s sleep and eating habits, and make sure that they get a regular doctor’s checkup. And, of course, check on their hearing and vision to rule out what could be a pretty obvious problem.
Mental health: Much like with stressors and physical ailments, mental health issues can make schoolwork just about impossible to concentrate on. If a kid is depressed or anxious enough, they literally can’t conjure the energy to care about studying for World History. They’re just trying to survive the next few hours. Substance abuse will also fall into this category. There are plenty of personality and behavioral disorders that will affect performance, too. We have a mantra in our household – Mental Heath Comes First. It’s impossible to build a solid building on a shaky foundation, after all.
Executive Dysfunction: Have you ever put a pile of laundry on your chair, with the full intention of folding it just after dinner, and then it sits there for over a week? Sometimes our brains do some weird stuff when it comes to starting or finishing projects, and it can feel nearly impossible to do what seems like an easy assignment for someone else. ADHD, anxiety, autism, and depression can all be causes of executive dysfunction. Nearly every high intelligent or creative person I know has some degree of this issue and has to learn how to bend time and space in order to compensate for it. It looks like straight up laziness, but I promise you that it isn’t! Learn more about it here: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/23224-executive-dysfunction
Study habits: Ironically, there is no class in school on learning how to learn. Study habits need to be taught and practiced, and it is, unfortunately, not a one-size-fits-all situation. What works for Cayden may not work for Hayden, so if you see one of them struggling to get good test scores, help them through a couple study sessions and see if that’s where the problem lies. A tutor may be needed to help them develop good study habits.
How to help
None of these issues can be helped by grounding, hitting, or taking privileges or items away from the child. Instead, talk kindly and directly to the child, the teachers, and possibly the counselor and figure out what is actually going on, then work with them to solve it.
If you are a parent, guardian, or teacher, and this post made you mad, then you should take a closer look at your relationship with the young people in your care.