Your child’s report card is downright scary: What can you do? First, calm down. Then consider these questions.

  1. Are these bad grades something new and sudden? If your child usually brings home good to average grades, and yet this time around she is suddenly failing several subjects, something is seriously wrong in her life. Could there be a new source of stress?

    Often children cannot concentrate in school due to emotional problems that occur when parents divorce, when someone dies, or if they develop a new fear. The problem can be as serious as molestation or as everyday as the death of a beloved pet. With teenagers, failing grades can mean drug and alcohol experimentation.

    Could your child have an undiagnosed physical problem such as hearing loss or headaches? If you suspect this, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

    If your child just entered middle school or high school, the problem may be that she does not have the organizational skills to handle four or five teachers instead of just one. Consult with her homeroom teacher for advice.

    Do not ignore a big drop in school performance: something is wrong and you need to find out what it is and deal with it.

  2. Is your child failing nearly every subject? If your child is failing across the board, it often means he has not mastered basic reading and math skills. If he is in middle school but reading at a third grade level, he will have a hard time not only in history and in English, but also when he has to read math and science materials. Try to access his scores on standardized tests.

    Find out if the school offers remedial education to help him catch up, or consider enrolling him in an after-school learning center. You may want to allow him to repeat a grade to prepare himself to go on to the next levels.

    Children frequently fail because they have undiagnosed learning disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder. Such problems occur in children of normal to above average intelligence, who can succeed through special teaching methods. Your school psychologist may offer free testing services for such problems.

  3. Is your child failing only one or two subjects? There may be a personality clash between your child and one of his teachers. Teachers are human; if your child presents ultra-conservative views in a liberal teacher’s government class, the teacher may unconsciously be marking him down. Some teachers notoriously lose homework. If you suspect something like this, make an appointment with the teacher and talk things over in a diplomatic way. Consider transferring your child into a different class or letting her drop the class altogether.

    All students hit what educators call “education walls” or points where they cannot go on to the next level in a subject. When a student hits a wall, he will not be able to “get” complex physics or the intricacies of Jane Austen. If your child is trying his hardest and working at top capacity, be human enough to allow him to fail every now and then. These kinds of failures will help him determine where his strengths are when he chooses college majors and career paths.

  4. Is your child slacking off? Round up the usual suspects. Your child may have to cut out video games, television, Internet chats and some after-school activities until his grades go back up.
  5. Talk to teachers. Have your child with you at these meetings. Most teachers want their students to do well: between the three of you, you can come up with a plan for success for your child.

To download free government publications for parents to help children succeed in school, go to

Other References

“Helping Children Succeed in School,” from The University of Illinois Extension Center, posted at

“A Parent’s Guide for Helping Children to Succeed in School,”, advice to parents, posted at

“Help for Parents,” The National Education Association, see their website at