Tension is high at the dinner table.
Your child just brought home a failing grade. You’re worried and maybe a little disappointed. Your child might be upset too—or worse, apathetic.
No parent wants a screaming match over a bad report card. But it’s not an easy problem to tackle. How do you balance appropriate consequences with helping them grow?
In this article, we highlight six things you should definitely not say to your child when they’re struggling with grades.
“You Have So Much Potential!”
Also avoid: “But you’re so smart!”
Phrases like this focus on the child’s inherent qualities rather than their actual efforts. Children internalize the message that their skills and abilities are all fixed and can’t change.
This often leads to a life-long quest for perfection and the fear of failure. Because they’re afraid of being seen as “not so smart after all,” children with fixed mindsets tend to avoid situations where success is uncertain.
Instead, encourage a growth mindset by praising perseverance, effort and hard work.
“What’s Wrong With You?”
Also avoid: “Are you an idiot?”
Reacting out of frustration or disappointment, some parents snap and shame their kids or call them names. Questions like this suggest that your child is not capable. In other words, you’re telling them that they’re not good enough for you.
Young children especially will unconsciously accept that they’ll always be a “bad person”. Being shamed for academic performance undermines self-esteem and self-confidence well into adulthood.
Instead of scolding them for what happened in the past, look to the future together. Create an environment of open communication with your child and work with them to find a solution.
“I Wish You Were More Like Your Sister!”
Nothing hurts children more than being compared to siblings, cousins or classmates.
Rather than motivating them, these comparisons make them less engaged with schoolwork.
Comparing children and encouraging unhealthy competition has been shown to crush individual growth. Showing favoritism within the family inevitably causes sibling rivalry and negative self-worth.
Remember that each child is different, with their own unique strengths and challenges. Encourage your child to compete with themselves and celebrate progress as it happens.
“Why Didn’t You Get an A?”
Some parents hope that setting high academic standards will push their children to do their best. However, if you emphasize that a B minus is just not good enough, you’re invalidating the effort your child put into achieving that grade.
Being constantly stressed about grades negatively impacts physical and emotional health. Children will beat themselves up for every imperfection and eventually lose motivation to even try. This leads to a worse performance than before and confidence issues later in life.
Instead, set realistic expectations and celebrate each milestone. Focus on the process rather than the end.
“Why Don’t You Just Try Harder?”
Also avoid: “You’re so lazy!”
When it appears like your child is not trying their best, always take a step back and evaluate if there are any underlying problems. Possible hidden issues include learning disabilities, vision problems, stress over a recent divorce, skill deficits, sensory issues, anxiety and substance use.
A pair of glasses might help your child see the blackboard clearly. Other children might need dyslexia-friendly fonts and classroom accommodations. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help when needed. Therapy can make a huge difference for children dealing with grief or past trauma.
It might be scary to start looking for a “rehab near me,” but it’s especially important to get external support when your child is struggling with mental health, substance abuse, or both. Addiction can lead to a negative spiral that affects every aspect of life, including relationships and school performance.
“You’ll Never Get Anywhere in Life.”
Also avoid: “You’ll always be like this.”
Using absolutes like “always” and “never” implies that you believe your child is incapable of improvement. If you don’t have faith in your child, they are likely to give up hope and become more rebellious and defiant.
Instead, sit down with your child to figure out the next steps and make an action plan. This empowers your child, gets them invested in their education, and gives them a chance to take accountability.
A failing grade isn’t a reflection of your child or your parenting, though it sure can feel so at times. Remember that a couple of bad grades—or failed classes—will not hold your child back forever.
The important thing is providing the right tools for success. Raise them to be motivated, responsible, and determined to change the world.