Dealing with bad grades is frustrating for both you and your children.
You know your kids are intelligent, and you care about their future.
You want them to have academic success now, so they have more opportunities for scholarships, higher education, and employment in the future.
But your well-meaning attempts to motivate your children only result in energy-draining power struggles and strained relationships — not improved performance or the accomplishment of academic goals.
Here’s the problem…
Nagging your kids to study harder is like adding fuel to the fire. It only makes the situation worse.
Fortunately, there’s an easier way to help your child do better in school and become a disciplined student — no annoying arguments or stressful micromanaging required.
In this article, I’ll walk you through how to deal with bad grades and give you valuable tips to improve your child’s motivation today. Let’s dive in.
Why do students get bad grades?
The first step to helping your children do better in school is understanding why they’re getting bad grades.
Through speaking to and working with more than 20,000 students, I’ve learned there’s almost always an explanation for poor academic performance.
This is why telling your smart kid who’s getting bad grades to “study harder” rarely works. Instead, we must recognise the root problem behind the bad grades and make appropriate adjustments from there.
Each student is unique. Actively listening to and empathising with your child is an effective way to discover why they’re struggling academically and motivate them to do well in school.
Here are some of the most common obstacles to good grades to watch out for:
Do your children have a difficult time focusing on their schoolwork? If so, they’re not alone.
Study after study has found that technology like smartphones and laptops can be more harmful than helpful — in some cases distracting nearly 50% of students.
Then there are the external stimuli of the classroom: whispering classmates, cluttered desks, and attention-grabbing posters.
Back at home, potential interruptions like pets, ringing doorbells, and video games make achieving quality study time all the more difficult.
It’s not necessarily that they dislike studying. They simply can’t focus on the material at hand.
If you have an intelligent kid who is getting bad grades, minimising distractions is a considerable stride towards better academic performance.
Pressure to be “perfect”
I have not failed 10,000 times — I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work. – Thomas Edison
Mistakes are crucial for growth and discovery. Imagine if Thomas Edison had given up because of a fear of failure.
He certainly would not have become one of the most successful inventors of all time!
Yet many students (and adults, too) feel the crushing need to be “perfect”.
If your children fear failure, they might quickly become discouraged the moment they make an error. As a result, they might give up on academic success altogether.
Instead of criticising imperfections, help your children identify and learn from their mistakes. Teach them about failure and how to hold their head up high. That’s how to raise a confident child.
As a result, they’ll be more motivated to stick with schoolwork — and likely earn better grades in the process.
A lack of challenging assignments
Do your children regularly say that school is boring? Do they struggle to complete their daily homework and assignments?
These are signs that your child might be under-challenged in the classroom.
When students don’t feel appropriately challenged, they often disengage with the subject matter.
They might find they don’t need to study or complete assignments to understand the topic, at least at a basic level. As a result, even though they’re smart kids, they still get bad grades.
Check in with your children and their teachers to ensure the course material is at the right difficulty level. Then, make adjustments to challenge your child accordingly.
There’s a reason why I wrote the ultimate 58-page guide to test-taking success. Exam anxiety is a common, debilitating issue for students of all ages.
Many smart kids aren’t great test-takers. They want to do well in school. They study hard and pay attention in class. But their exam grades don’t reflect those efforts.
The thing is, performing well on tests is essential for getting good grades. There’s no way around it.
Now, for some good news…
With the right test-taking strategies, many of the students I work with improve their bad grades by 20–30% — many without even studying more.
Tests and exams are a significant part of your child’s academic career. Knowing how to manage exam anxiety and master test-taking skills will pay off for years to come.
Too many obligations
Homework. Extra-curricular activities. Chores and part-time jobs.
Pre-teens and teens often feel overwhelmed because of their demanding schedules. Unlike adults, they’ve yet to master valuable organisational skills.
So to cope with their busy agendas, they sleep less, miss important assignments, or “escape from reality” by playing video games and watching television.
Help your children review their responsibilities to support their mental health. Encourage them to write down due dates and make lists. Show your kids how to plan out their days and weeks.
When students know how to manage the various things going on in their lives, it frees up important mental space for more of what matters most.
How to deal with bad grades
Now that we’ve explored some of the reasons why your children might be getting bad grades, let’s look at five ways you can help them overcome poor academic performance.
1. Set achievable goals
In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Once you stop telling your children to study hard for their own good, ask them what success looks like to them, both inside and outside of the classroom. Get specific.
It’s much easier to arrive at our goals when we know where it is that we’re going.
Actively engaging with your children about their ambitions also puts you on the same page with regard to expectations.
Encourage your kids to outline the action steps they’ll need to take to achieve their goals. If they want to get straight A’s, what routines and study strategies will enable them to do that?
While goals are important, remind your children that it’s not the outcome but the process that matters most.
Yes, grades are an excellent source of feedback. But the growth mindset and habits necessary to achieve straight A’s? Those are what will serve your children far into the future.
2. Communicate with your child’s teachers
You’re not in the classroom with your children. Their teachers are, so have a chat with them.
This isn’t about arguing with the teachers or defending your kid’s intelligence. At the heart of it, open communication is crucial for everyone involved in your child’s academic experience.
Here are some questions that you might ask your child’s teachers:
- How is my child doing emotionally and socially?
- Can you tell me about any specific situations that have occurred in the clasroom that you’re concerned about?
- Are the school assignments adequately challenging my child?
- Where is my child seated? Is a front-row seat with fewer distractions a possibility?
- What can I do at home to help my child learn more effectively?
By communicating with the teachers, you’ll gain a well-rounded understanding of what’s happening inside the classroom. Pair this knowledge with a healthy teacher-parent relationship and you’ll set the foundation for your child’s academic success.
3. Engage a coach
Sometimes we all need a little support — and that goes for you too as a parent.
Maybe there’s an ongoing conflict between you and your kids about their bad grades. Or perhaps your children ignore your advice, yet listen to similar perspectives when it comes from a fresh voice.
Here’s where a coach comes in.
I’ve coached hundreds and hundreds of students 1-to-1. I’ve helped them to find their inner motivation and to become successful and happy.
I love what I do, and I’d be thrilled to help coach your teenager to make a positive transformation, too.
Of course, you can also look to teachers, neighbours, or even family friends to coach your child. It’s vital that you find the right coach and mentor for your child!
4. Make studying more fun
Homework will never be able to compete with video games in terms of fun.
But even if your teen hates school, there are ways to make studying a less tedious and more engaging activity. Here are a few ideas:
- Encourage your children to reward themselves with short (technology-free) breaks after laser-focused study sessions.
- Turn homework into a game. Puzzles, trivia, and flashcards are great. Even teenagers enjoy gamification when it’s age-appropriate.
- Create a relaxing space for your children to study. A designated homework area will keep distractions at bay and improve concentration, all while making the study process a more enjoyable one.
5. Give your child control
If you want your children to get better grades, give them control over their academics — with boundaries.
You’ll still be involved in your children’s lives and studies, and you’ll need to work with them to set clear expectations and consequences.
But there will no longer be everyday nagging and wondering how to get your teenagers to do their homework. Your children will understand their responsibilities, and they’ll act accordingly.
With this approach, your children will gain a sense of autonomy. They’ll also perform better in school.
But, perhaps even more importantly, your kids will develop a sense of responsibility and empowerment over their actions and choices.
Are punishments for bad grades effective?
I’ll get right to it…
I don’t believe in punishment for bad grades.
That’s because, as outlined above, there’s typically a reason why kids aren’t doing well in school.
And that reason is rarely that they simply don’t care.
Grounding your children for two months because they failed an exam doesn’t identify the root problem behind the poor academic performance. If anything, it leads to frustrated kids with even less motivation to do well in school.
Instead of imposing consequences for bad grades, I recommend actively listening to your children. Explore what’s contributing to their bad grades, then work to solve the problem together. The tactics outlined in this article will help.
I don’t recommend rewarding your children for good grades, either. Instead, we want to reach a point of intrinsic motivation.
This is a process-oriented approach where self-improvement and contribution are the main rewards, instead of the desired outcome being the main reward.
This approach will help your children throughout their lives, and it will result in them becoming more successful too!
The bottom line
I know it’s not easy to see your smart child getting bad grades.
But instead of micromanaging, nagging, or otherwise adding fuel to the fire, try implementing the tips in this article. Your child will perform better in school and gain essential life skills that are more important than any grade.
And remember, it’s okay to engage a coach when you and your child need it.
Learn more about my 1-to-1 coaching programme for teens (it’s life coaching and much more!) and how I empower students to succeed through science-backed techniques. I’m on a mission to maximise the potential of every student, and I’d love to support your child, too!