Dropping Grades: How to Deal with Your Child’s Poor School Performance

Your child started out the school year doing fine, but maybe he hit a mid-year slump after the holidays and his grades started going down. Or perhaps your daughter has spring fever and is having a hard time concentrating in class-and nothing you say to motivate her is helping. What's a parent to do?

Related: Child Behavior Problems?

If your child's grades are dropping, rule number one is to become an investigator. In other words, really find out what's going on with your child. Is he having problems at home or with other kids at school? Is he having a tough time adjusting to middle school or high school? Are his study habits poor-and can you work on that together? For some kids, learning disabilities and medical problems may play a role. And for still others, drug and alcohol use may be the cause of falling grades. The main thing for you to do is find out the "why" and then come up with a plan to help your child. Here are some steps you can take immediately:

  • Meet with your child's teacher: Call your child's teacher and ask for a meeting. Tell her what you are seeing at home-and then ask what she has observed in the classroom. Ask her for any ideas she might have to help your child get back on track.
  • Set up more structure at home. A common problem for many kids is a lack of structure in their after school schedule. Make sure sports or other clubs do not come first, with homework being fit in at the end of the day (when your child is exhausted). This is not a good lesson to teach your child because it gives them the message that play comes before work-and is therefore more important than work. Clubs or sports should not come before school work and family time for your child. The bottom line is that schoolwork has to be prioritized, and a structure has to be set up so it isn't squeezed in at the last minute.
  • Be realistic in your goals: When you structure your child's study time to help him bring his grades back to an acceptable level, be realistic in your goals. Remember, it took time for your child to get behind, so you need to allow time for him to catch up. Get actively involved in your child's homework by reviewing it and helping with study strategies. I also recommend that you try to be present during study time. I know that many parents work and can't be at home with their children after school. As a working parent and grandparent myself, I completely understand and sympathize with that situation. If you or your spouse can't be there, try to get your child into in an after school program or ask another trusted adult to be there with them.
  • Don't restrict your child from privileges until his grades improve. Understand that restricting your child from all of his privileges until he brings his grades up usually backfires. In effect, you end up taking away something that might actually motivate your child to improve. Instead, I recommend that you require your child to study for a certain amount of time each day to earn those extras that night.
  • Talk to your child about what's going on. Have a frank conversation with your child about his grades. Say, "Look, I've been letting you manage your homework on your own, but it's not working. Now we're going to set up a study time every day where I supervise your work. We can talk about not doing that once your grades get back up where they need to belong. But in the meantime, we have to seriously set aside some time to work on this."
And remember to ask your child about his day and show that you are interested; ask questions that require a longer answer than "yes" or "no." On the Support Line, I've found that when parents really make a consistent effort to keep up with their kids, they are seldom caught unawares when it comes to dropping grades or poor school performance.

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Carole Banks, MSW holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of New England. She has been with Legacy Publishing Company for four years working on the Parental Support Line and writing for Empowering Parents. Carole has worked as a family and individual therapist for over 10 years, and is the mother of 3 grown children and the grandmother of six.