6 Questions to Ask When Your Child Brings Home a Disappointing Report Card

Don’t panic! If your kid’s grades have tanked, here are some steps to get back on track.

There’s nothing quite like the shock of seeing a constellation of bad grades at the end of a marking period. But before launching a short-fused, all-out interrogation, take a deep breath and put it into perspective, advises Eli Stein, director of academic counseling and academic advisor at LogicPrep, a tutoring company based in New York.  “It’s not the worst thing if your child doesn’t do well on a report card,” Stein says. “It’s a great opportunity to figure out where this is coming from and set them up with good habits going forward.” Hit the reset button by asking these questions:


Where exactly is the problem?

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Make a checklist of any red flags. Are the lousy grades reflective of a single class, are they across the board, or are they clustered in a discernable pattern? Maybe you’ll notice the not-so-stellar marks are in classes that are heavy in writing, or only in ones that require strong math skills.


What might be causing the problem?

First, consider whether any outside issues, like anxiety, bullying at school, or even experimentation with alcohol or drugs might be contributing to your child’s performance, and address that through your pediatrician or a counselor. If it’s strictly an academic concern, put the grades into the context of the teachers’ grading expectations. Did your son just bomb one test that was heavily weighted? Or are two months of homework assignments gathered into balls of paper pulp in the bottom of his backpack? A little forensic work may offer the clues to what’s negatively affected his grade.


When did the problem start?

Reflect on the past marking period and calculate how engaged and organized your child seemed, and if her attitude and work ethic changed along the way. Was she excitedly sharing what she’s learning in social studies and discussing books at the dinner table? Or did you get nothing more than “It was boring” when you asked about her day? Did she allow for ample time to study for tests, or was she regularly having meltdowns the night before a big assessment? How your child performs at home offers a pretty reliable window into how he or she works at school says Stein.


How can we provide the best study environment at home?

Be honest and realistic about what works best in your home. Maybe a no-phone policy during study and homework time is the way to go, suggests Stein, or creating a dedicated workspace that’s exclusively used for school assignments.


What kind of learner is he and what study aids are best suited to his style?

Maybe the struggle in class is merely a matter of how the material is presented. Does he only grasp difficult concepts if they’re written across a SMART board? Or can he recite the first three scenes of King Lear after hearing a single reading. “There are many learning tools and study aides out there suited to visual learners, auditory learners and everything in between,” advises Stein.


Who is the best person to approach for help?

Think about someone your child would be most comfortable approaching for help—maybe it’s a favorite teacher, a coach, or an after-school tutor. Even though asking for help may rate just above having her teeth pulled, the conversation should come from the student, and not from the parent, says Stein. Advise your child to just be honest and straightforward about what she’s struggling with and what she needs. Taking ownership of the problem is the first step on a road to success.