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What Do Grades Really Mean?

So many parents worry constantly about their child’s grades. I totally understand this concern, but I do worry about how this can affect children who are struggling in school. 

There are many reasons for a child to get poor grades that are not in their control. Unfortunately, low grades are often blamed on the child without concern for how hard he may be working. Children are called “lazy,” “stupid,” “unmotivated,” and even worse. I have spoken to more than one girl who was told, “Just find yourself a husband who can take care of you and you’ll be fine.” 

Philip Schultz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry, was often called stupid in school. He later wrote, “My image of myself as a dummy is neurologically…wired into the core of my being.” Children believe what we tell them. They especially believe what their parents and teachers tell them, and this self-image does not go away even after great success later in life.

There are a number of reasons a child might have poor grades in school. Many of these can be corrected with proper instruction and plenty of practice. In the meantime, be very careful what you say.

Three common reasons for poor grades are:

Learning disabilities. Many smart children have skills much lower than you might expect. These children are not able to succeed in school because of their low skills in reading, writing, math, or even study skills. They can work very hard, but still not succeed. Children can learn how to compensate for their disabilities if given proper instruction. And remember that low skills do not mean low intelligence.

Attention problems. Some children pay attention to everything in the room equally. Others simply cannot focus their attention on their schoolwork. They are typically called “wiggle worms” because they have trouble sitting still. If you ask them to sit still, they will use every ounce of their energy doing that. Unfortunately, they learn much better if they are actively moving and doing hands-on activities. If you are concerned that your child may have an attention deficit, you probably should have her evaluated by your physician.

Executive functioning disorders. If a child cannot seem to get their work done on time, does the wrong thing, forgets to bring what he needs to school, loses track of time, or is generally disorganized, he may have an executive functioning disorder. Executive functioning plays a huge role in school success. There are strategies to help with this, just like there are with other learning issues.

If you are concerned about your child’s grades, talk to her teacher to find out what she thinks is causing the problems. Tell your child that you would like to figure out why her grades are low. The school psychologist is most helpful in determining what is going wrong and what to do to get help. Most important, make sure your child understands that you know she is not a dummy and that you love her regardless of how she does in school.

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