When a child gets bad grades in school: how to behave

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Bad grades in school how to behave

One of the main sources of discussion with children is academic performance. Take a bad grades in school it is a small setback, irrelevant in the span of a lifetime, which however can become a great opportunity for education in failure. Instead, it often causes a family earthquake, because the parents are the first to experience the grades with anxiety and as mere performance measures. Marina Zanotta, developmental psychotherapist and author of the book "You learn to do it yourself" (BUR, 2022), suggests the right approach in the face of school assessments and bad grades.

In this article

  • Grades at school: what they tell us
  • How important are grades in school
  • Why being wrong is important
  • Because a child gets bad grades in school
  • Smart kids who do poorly in school
  • Bad grades in school: what to do
  • Bad grades in school: what to say
  • Bad grades in school: how to solve

Grades at school: what they tell us

«The vote - the expert begins - is one photos of the work done in a single task, query or test. It is not a judgment on the person, nor the confirmation or denial of preconceptions about the pupil ". He just says "how did it go", what worked well and what didn't both during the exercise and in the work at home.

"In primary school, for example, the grade has a triple value:

  1. it is used by the teacher to see how well his pupils have understood the topic and how the basic learning tools are being built;

  2. it is used by parents to get feedback on their children's schooling, so as to intervene in case of important difficulties;

  3. it is useful for children to learn to self-evaluate and to deal with gratifications and frustrations ».

Read also: Non cognitive skills: what they are and how the school can develop them

How important are grades in school

Teachers are increasingly attentive to relativize the importance of votes, whether they are good or bad: they only serve to understand at what point is it limited to that single topic, with the awareness that you cannot always go well or always go wrong. “They don't mean that the student is a genius or a 'donkey', nor that the teachers are not capable, nor that the parents are not adequate. Too bad that so many live the mistakes of the children as their own failures and thus they charge them with anxieties and expectations, or vice versa they judge the schooling of their children only in terms of grades. This is deleterious on the one hand because then the children grow up convinced that at school only grades count, and this creates middle school pupils who allow themselves disrespectful attitudes, strong in their high academic performance. On the other hand, because if you live bad grades badly, you will always look for the guilty ones instead of seeing them as opportunities for growth ".

Why being wrong is important

School is the first big one gym of life: a fundamental protected environment in which to learn, among other things, to deal with any mistakes and frustrations. "The possibility of make mistakes and fix them, or sometimes even to fail, it is the very essence of the promotion and development process autonomy. Yet we adults forget about it very often and spend a good part of our energy to prevent our children from stumbling into the possibility of making mistakes. A bad grade, if taken for what it is (i.e. a 'opportunity to re-read the work done), allows you to develop knowledge of yourself and your limits and forces the child to use your own tools to overcome the obstacle or to ask for help ". Like this the error acquires a pedagogical value which has the apparently paradoxical ability to consolidate and improve self-confidence and abilities.

Read also: Autonomy of children in primary school

Because a child gets bad grades in school

When does a child get bad grades? The reasons can be different:

  • In the first years of primary school. Here it is more likely that the reason is a particularly complex topic or a learning disorder, which normally emerges in these first years. "In both cases, be careful not to transform such awareness into labels, but as a point of discussion between the child, teachers and parents: the pupil is not a" donkey ", he only has a difficulty in mathematics or on a certain topic . Sometimes it is just a different learning time, or just a few repetitions are enough to fill the gap ».

  • In the final two years of primary and middle school. The more the pupil grows, the more frequent it is that the grade indicates not so much the innate abilities but rather the quality of the work done: "Boys and girls at this age, when they take an unexpected grade, must begin to realize that they have had an active role in this result. Sometimes there was a lack of commitment and study, and it is necessary to understand if it is a rejection of the subject or if, distracted by other commitments, it is lacking the organization to find time to study. Sometimes it's just a bad day, or else l'anxiety he played a bad joke and then he will work on that. Or again, especially in middle school, you need to build a study method new because the elementary school is no longer good. In any case, the solution is certainly not pointing the finger but starting with them to understand the reasons for the slip ».

Smart kids who do poorly in school

How many times, as parents, have we wondered why our so intelligent son does not have brilliant grades. First of all, the votes, as we have seen, do not judge intelligence; it is certain, however, that if our child has no didactic or learning problems, the reasons for a bad grade are to be found elsewhere: "Often behind there is a lack of esteem, or performance anxiety about parental high expectations. Or there are individual or family emotional strains; in pre-adolescent age, there are also healthy individualization movements that can determine a greater or lesser interest in certain subjects ». It also happens that the pupils have not yet understood why they encounter negative results in rare moments and therefore they reappear from time to time. Some students, on the other hand, divest for girl when school systems are not adequate to their level.

Read also: What to do if the child does not want to go to school

Bad grades in school: what to do

Here's what to do in the face of a bad grade.

  1. Problematize yourself. Reduced the importance of grades at school, they are nevertheless facts to be taken seriously. "No power struggles with threats and punishments, remember that your child goes to school and not you! Always keep a certain margin of distance from an early age, which gradually increases with age because the school will be less and less the competence of parents. But you have to ask yourself why, together with your child, and be present and ready in case of need or to help identify possible solutions ».

  2. Dialogues. To understand what led to a negative vote, the only way is through dialogue. "Talk to your child, ask" What happened? " first of all to hear from them what the reasons may have been. Remember that the vote is not a judgment, but a signal, a starting point for opening a discussion. Otherwise, your child will also begin to hide their negative results from you. And if he doesn't get used to finding the personal tools to overcome difficulties, he will build an image of himself as stupid and incapable ".

  3. Don't make comparisons. The comparison on grades is often suggested by the parents themselves, who ask the child how the classmate went or, worse, indicate the example of the "better" brother or sister. “There is nothing worse than negatively working on your child's self-esteem by making voting a label that reflects individual predispositions. Instead, especially in primary school but not only, each child has a very personal learning path that depends on many factors. So let your son understand that he is he, the others are the others ».

Bad grades in school: what to say

Read also: Games and activities to overcome the fear of not succeeding
  1. Do not go on the attack. It's normal to be bitter and sorry for a child's bad grade, but try to stay focus on him and don't vent your frustration. “Remember that guilty people are not looking for, but motivations and analyzes. Therefore, do not accuse him of not having studied (even if perhaps the reason that will come out will be that), but neither complain about the difficulty of the task or the severity of the teacher ".

  2. Difference between performance and performance. In Life Coaching, both work and sports, the results achieved (performance) are distinguished from performance. With your child, focus on the latter, to highlight the relative improvements or worsening between one check and the next and overshadow the result in absolute terms: for example, if you go from 3 to 5, you have to be cautiously satisfied. despite not having reached absolute sufficiency. Remember that difficulties are not always overcome on the first try.

  3. The right questions. Put the grade aside and concentrate on your child, urging him to do a self-assessment even before providing him with an interpretation of the grade: "" How did the test go, in your opinion? Did you expect it? "; "What worked well in this question? What went wrong instead?"; "What parts of the exercise did you find difficult?"; "How do you think you worked in preparation for this task?"; "In your opinion, is there a way to change things?". Re-analyzing what happened, for better or for worse, opens up a relationship in which there is no weight of judgment, but only the desire to reason together and listen to each other ". In this way that number or letter is no longer a brand, but becomes a synthesis filled with meaning.

Bad grades in school: how to solve

  • Primary School. At primary school the interventions are the result of a network work between parents, teachers and pupils also to teach children that adults are not next to them to evaluate them, but to work in their support. «If the discussion with your child is well set up, some solutions come by themselves: sometimes the children recognize that the question was easy, but they got agitated; or they realize that they had misunderstood the delivery, and then they promise themselves more concentration for the future. Maybe they discover after verification that they have not understood how divisions are made, or instead they admit that they have always had doubts but did not have the courage to ask for help. By opening the conversation with the teachers, you will quickly identify if your child only needs time, repetition or an assessment of learning ».

  • Secondary school. As the kids grow up, the network thins and the pivot of collaboration becomes them, no longer the adults. At this age the most frequent reflections are on motivation and on the study method to be developed: "Sometimes they arrive unprepared for a task because they have studied something else, and then it is a question of working ontime organization. Or they have not studied at all and it is necessary to understand if a form of rejection of the subject is being created out of a sense of inadequacy. Start asking them how they think they can be helped, to get them used to formulating their request for help. "

  • High school. From the seventh grade onwards, the dialogues on grades become part of a broader journey about oneself and one's identity. «This is where their path of building responsibility comes into play, also with respect to the choice of how well to do in school and how much to value each individual subject. Get ready to welcome and accept that your child can tell you one day "It went wrong because I just don't like geography": the solution will not be certain that then they will not be able to study it, because it is their duty. But it will be in their power to decide to keep it on six ».

The interviewee

Marina Zanotta (www.dottoressazanotta.com) is a developmental and adult psychologist and psychotherapist. She is in charge of Brucaliffo, maternal-infant area of ​​the Alice Onlus Association, she is responsible for the coordination of training projects and prevention of child abuse, training and support of parenting and training and supervision for teachers, educators and psychologists. She is the author of "You learn to do it yourself" (BUR, 2022) e "Let's be calm!" (BUR, 2022).


  • children at school
  • family and schools
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