Talking about “Bad” Grades

In my last post I wrote about praising the effort your child puts into school work and the positive impact that has on grades. This week, let’s take a look at what to say and do when the grade is a disappointment to the parent.

The first step is to check in with your own emotions so you know how you’re feeling about the grade. You may feel disappointed, worried your child is heading toward a bad year or angry at the teacher. Take a breath and acknowledge to yourself how you’re feeling. Remember, your child is on a long journey of learning that will ebb and flow. If poor grades are becoming a regular pattern for your child, the good news is now you know you need to get involved and make some changes. Either way, the key is how you approach the subject with your child.

After you’ve checked in with your own emotions, the next step is to acknowledge the “good” grades by pointing out the effort and hard work your child has put in. Then, find out how your child feels about the poor grade(s). This ideally happens before you express your own opinion. If you respond negatively to a grade before your child has a chance to think about it, there’s a good chance he will react to your emotion vs. the issue at hand. If you want your child to take responsibility for learning, the ability to express how he feels about his grades is the first step so he can take ownership.

Finding out how your child feels about a less than stellar math grade might look like this: “Looks like you’ve put in some great effort with all these As and Bs. Lots of hard work. How are you feeling about math?”  Pause and wait for your child to respond. If he begins to talk about the mean teacher who doesn’t explain or how he doesn’t get the work, make a statement that acknowledges how he feels and bring up effort.
“Sounds like math is a tough subject this year. The important thing is that you’re doing the best work you can each day. How would you grade yourself in effort?”
If your child’s answer is less than an “A,” then it’s a good time to reiterate that working hard and doing your best work is more important than the final grade. The goal here is to get your child to recognize the need to work harder and agree to do it. When you see that beginning to happen in the future, be sure to praise the effort.
Since most elementary schools have done away with traditional As and Bs in favor of  “standards based” report cards, a  kindergarten through fifth grade student will often get up to 40 marks on each report card.

The good news is that these marks break down the individual skills a child needs to learn throughout the year and indicate how a child is progressing. This approach lends itself to a natural discussion about effort vs. grades.
For more information on understanding grades and report cards, visit To re-visit why praising effort over smarts will lead to better grades, check out my last post, Praise Effort, Not Smarts

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