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Mendo Lake Family Life

What to Do When Your Kid Gets a Bad Grade

By Sean G. McCormick

Have you ever stared at your child’s less-than-stellar report card and wondered, “What now?”

How can you, as a parent or educator, provide the support and guidance needed for your student to bounce back?

Is a bad grade an obstacle, or can it be transformed into a valuable learning opportunity?

What can a student do when they receive a “bad” grade?

Receiving a “bad” grade isn’t the end of the world; it’s actually a learning opportunity to address skill gaps and improve. First, your student needs to assess why the grade was low-be it gaps in knowledge, study habits, or test-taking skills.

They can schedule a meeting with their teacher to get specific feedback on areas for improvement, then use this feedback to identify their skill gaps, and then set focused, achievable goals to close those gaps.

How to talk to your child about a low grade (script included) Confronting a low grade can be emotionally charged for both you and your child. However, in a calm and supportive setting, this moment can transform into a constructive learning opportunity. Choose a time and place where you both can focus without distractions. Maybe it’s a quiet corner of your home or perhaps during a calm afternoon drive. The idea is to create a setting where you both can speak freely and listen attentively.

Parent: Hey [Child’s Name], do you have a moment? I’d like to talk to you about your recent grade in [Subject]. Is now a good time?

Child: Sure, what’s up?

Parent: First of all, I want you to know that a single grade doesn’t define you or your abilities. We all have areas where we can improve. What are your thoughts on this grade?

Child: (Shares feelings and thoughts)

Parent: I appreciate your honesty. Do you have any idea why you might have earned this grade? Was the material difficult or maybe you didn’t have enough time to prepare?

Child: (Explains reasons)

Parent: Thank you for sharing that. I think the key thing now is to identify ways you can improve. Have you thought about talking to your teacher for feedback?

Child: (Answers)

Parent: That sounds like a good first step. How about we work on an action plan together? We can set some achievable goals and find the right resources to help you.

Child: Sounds good.

Parent: Great, and remember, everyone has setbacks. It’s how we handle them that defines us. Let’s use this as a learning opportunity. How does that sound?

Child: Sounds good, thanks for helping me through this.

Parent: You’re welcome. I’m here to support you every step of the way.

If the Conversation Veers Off Script

Recenter the Conversation If emotions run high, take a step back, and suggest taking a brief break before continuing.

Active Listening If your child brings up unexpected concerns or feelings, listen actively and acknowledge them before redirecting the conversation.

Be Flexible The script is a guideline, not a rulebook. Feel free to adapt your questions or responses based on what seems most effective in the moment

Success tips for students when turning a bad grade into a learning opportunity

Use the word “Earn” In your communication with your teacher, say you want to “earn” a better grade rather than “get” one.

This small tweak in language signals that you’re committed to putting in the work needed to improve.

Be Specific in Your Questions When asking for feedback, be as specific as possible. Knowing exactly what you need to work on will make your action plan more effective. For example, instead of asking the teacher, “What should I do?”, describe your plan of action and ask for feedback.

Follow Up After implementing your action plan, schedule a follow-up meeting with your teacher to discuss your progress. This not only shows commitment but also allows you to make timely adjustments to your plan.

If you find that your child consistently struggles with grades, organization, or focus, it may be beneficial to seek external support. Executive function coaching can offer tailored strategies and tools to help your child develop essential skills like time management, self-regulation, and effective study habits.

Other Resources

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (The How To Talk Series)

Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be 

Sean G. McCormick is the founder of Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business that guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered.