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Bad Grades After the First Quarter? Here’s How To Turn Them Around

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Is your child’s report card making you break out in a cold sweat? Are you wondering if it’s time to hit the panic button? If so, you’re in the right place.

The first quarter of the school year has wrapped up, and maybe you’re starting to see some grades that are, well, less than stellar. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious, but here’s the good news: it’s not too late to turn things around.

In this blog post, I’m diving deep into actionable strategies that will not only help improve your young person’s academic performance but also strengthen your parent-child relationship. From my years of experience as a child psychologist, I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to address academic hurdles as soon as they appear. If you’re the type who tends to avoid confronting the issue, only to find it’s escalated into a DEFCON 5 emergency by semester’s end, then this article is tailor-made for you.

To illustrate what I mean, let me share a couple of stories from my private practice that I think you’ll find really relatable.

The first example is from a parent who used the “wait and see approach.”

First up, I had a patient a while back —let’s call him Jack. Jack was struggling academically, and his parents decided to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. They noticed he was spending more time alone in his room and less time on homework, but they thought, ‘Well, Jack doesn’t like to talk about school, so let’s not push him.’ However, as the year went on, they also saw poor grades coming in. When they tried to approach Jack about it, he got visibly upset, so they backed off, thinking it was best not to push him. This cycle of avoiding the issue and backing off when Jack got upset continued all year long. The end result? Jack had to repeat not one, but two classes. His self-esteem took a nosedive, and the family had to spend the summer scrambling to make up for lost time, adding more stress to an already stressful situation.

Now, contrast that with another patient of mine—let’s call her Emily. Emily was a bright young girl but started showing signs of struggling during the first quarter in math. Her mom, however, was proactive about it. She noticed the early signs—homework taking longer than it had in the past and Emily seeming more stressed than usual. Emily’s mom decided to take action right away. She sat Emily down for a heart-to-heart conversation, asking her open-ended questions like, ‘How do you feel about math these days?’ and ‘Is there something specific that’s making it hard for you?’

After understanding the root of the problem, Emily’s mom brought in a math tutor and even coordinated with Emily’s teacher to keep track of her progress. Now it wasn’t an overnight fix, but by the end of the school year, Emily’s grades had improved, and more importantly, she regained her confidence. She ended the year not just surviving, but thriving!

So, you see, the approach you take now can make a world of difference in how your young person navigates academic challenges. And here’s the silver lining: Young people don’t have to struggle forever – especially if you implement the tips that I talk about in the rest of the article.

To get the most out of the information in today’s article, you’re going to want to download this week’s free homework helper. It’s called

“The Parent-Child Academic Check-In Checklist,” and it’s designed to be your go-to tool for meaningful conversations about academic success. This isn’t a one-and-done kind of resource either; you’ll find yourself reaching for it time and time again as you work with your young person to improve their grades. It complements everything we’re discussing today, turning this episode into actionable steps for your family.

Is This a Full-Blown Academic Emergency?

So maybe your spidey sense is starting to tingle, alerting you that something is up with your young person’s grades. But how can you distinguish between a serious issue and a not-so-serious hiccup? That’s where your parental intuition needs a little backup. To help you navigate this tricky terrain, I’ve put together a list of six telltale signs that signal it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get involved. These indicators will serve as your roadmap, guiding you on when and how to intervene effectively.

Here are six telltale signs that it’s time to get involved:

  1. Sudden Change in Attitude: If your young person suddenly clams up when you ask about school or becomes evasive, that’s more than just a typical mood swing. It could be a sign that they’re struggling with something they find difficult to articulate. Don’t brush it off; it’s a red flag that warrants a deeper conversation.
  2. Homework Patterns: Now, let’s talk about homework. If you notice that your young person never seems to have any, it could mean they’re not engaged or they’re not being challenged enough. On the other hand, if they’re spending all their waking hours buried in assignments, it could indicate that they’re struggling to keep up or manage their time effectively. Either way, it’s a signal to dig deeper if you notice that their homework routine has dramatically changed.
  3. A Teacher’s Concern: Teachers see your young person in a different context than you do, and if they take the time to express concern, it’s not something to take lightly. Whether it’s about grades, participation, or behavior, a teacher’s insight can be a valuable early warning sign.
  4. Consistent Poor Grades: We all have off days, and a single bad grade isn’t the end of the world. But if your young person receives several poor grades in a row, it’s a sign that they’re consistently struggling in that subject. This isn’t just about academics; it could also affect their self-esteem and motivation.
  5. Frequent Illness: If your young person starts claiming to be sick more often and wants to stay home from school, consider the underlying reasons. Are they avoiding a bully? Struggling with a subject? Feeling overwhelmed? Frequent illness could be their way of avoiding a problem they don’t know how to deal with.
  6. Lack of Interest: When a young person starts saying things like “school is pointless” or “I don’t care about grades,” it’s a major red flag. This could indicate a lack of motivation, a feeling of hopelessness, or even deeper emotional or psychological issues.

Now, if you find that several of these signs are resonating with you, it’s a strong indicator that your young person is facing some academic challenges that would benefit from your involvement. Don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back; remember the mindset we discussed earlier? That ‘school is your young person’s job’ mindset isn’t just a mantra—it’s your guiding principle as we dive into actionable strategies to tackle these challenges head-on.

How To Talk To Your Child or Teen About Their Academic Struggle

So, you’ve recognized the signs, and now you know it’s time to roll up your sleeves and talk to your young person about it —especially before a small challenge snowballs into a major issue. I know, I know, this is the conversation many parents dread. But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with five actionable steps that will not only make this conversation effective but also help build a strong and positive bond between you and your young person.

Step 1: Open Up the Conversation

Start by sharing your observations without judgment. Let your young person know that it’s completely okay to struggle sometimes, and it’s your role as a parent to step in and help. This is a life lesson in itself—it’s smart to seek help and use available resources when facing challenges. Many young people feel ashamed or embarrassed about school problems and may not have the skills to articulate it. Show the

 that you’re a safe space for them.

Step 2: Get Specific

The devil is in the details, as they say. Being specific about the challenge at hand is crucial for formulating an effective plan. Let me give you some examples to illustrate what I mean:

  • Math Struggles: Instead of saying, ‘You need to improve in math,’ you could say, ‘I noticed you’ve been struggling with algebra lately, especially with quadratic equations. Is there something specific about it that’s giving you a hard time?’
  • Reading Issues: Rather than a vague, ‘Your reading needs improvement,’ try, ‘I’ve seen you re-reading the same pages in your English book. Are you finding it hard to understand the themes?’
  • Social Challenges: If you notice they’re not enjoying school but can’t put a finger on why, don’t just ask, ‘Why don’t you like school?’ Be more specific: say something like, ‘I’ve noticed you’ve been sitting alone at lunch and not talking to your friends as much. Is something going on?’
  • Homework Woes: Instead of the broad, ‘You need to focus more on your homework,’ go for, ‘I see that you’ve been rushing through your history assignments lately and not giving them the time they need. What’s making it hard for you to focus?’
  • Class Participation: If you hear from a teacher that your young person is not participating in class, don’t just say, ‘You need to participate more in class;’ instead, ask, ‘Your teacher mentioned you haven’t been raising your hand in science class. Is there a reason you’re holding back?’

By being specific, you’re showing your young person that you’re paying attention, and you’re opening the door for a more focused and productive conversation. It’s not just about identifying the problem; it’s about understanding the ‘why’ behind it, which is the first step in finding a solution.

Step 3: Listen to Their Ideas

Before you jump in with your solutions, ask your young person for their thoughts on how to improve the situation. This not only makes them feel heard but also teaches them problem-solving skills for the future. Once they’ve shared their ideas, then you can offer your suggestions. Remember, this should be a conversation, not a lecture.

Step 4: Create a Specific Plan

Now that you’ve identified the problem and brainstormed solutions, it’s time to make a specific plan. The more detailed your plan, the easier it will be to track progress and make adjustments as needed. Let’s dive into some examples:

  • Math Struggles: If algebra is the issue, your plan could include dedicated algebra tutoring twice a week and daily practice problems. You might say, ‘Every Monday and Wednesday right after school, let’s sit down for an hour of focused algebra tutoring. And each day, let’s tackle at least five practice problems together.’
  • Reading Issues: If understanding themes in English literature is the challenge, perhaps the plan is to read together for 30 minutes each evening and discuss the themes. You could specify, ‘Every evening after dinner, we’ll read a chapter and then talk about what themes we noticed and what they mean.’
  • Social Challenges: If your young person is struggling socially, maybe the plan is to join a club or participate in an after-school activity to make friends. You could say, ‘How about we look at different clubs at school together and pick one you’d like to join? We’ll go to the first meeting next week.’
  • Homework Woes: If the issue is rushing through history homework, the plan could be to break the assignment into smaller parts and tackle each one with a short break in between. You might suggest, ‘Let’s divide your history homework into three sections. After you complete each one, you can take a 10-minute break to relax.
  • Class Participation: If the problem is not participating in science class, maybe the plan is to prepare two questions or comments in advance that your young person can bring up during class. You could say, ‘Before you go to science class tomorrow, let’s come up with two questions you can ask. It’ll make it easier for you to participate.’

Remember, the key is to be as specific as possible. This way, you can easily track whether these steps are working or if they need to be adjusted. And don’t forget to celebrate the small wins along the way; it’ll keep the momentum going.

Step 5: Schedule Check-ins

Plans are fantastic starting points, but let’s be real, life happens and adjustments are often needed. That’s why it’s crucial to schedule regular check-ins with your young person to see how things are going. Mark it on your calendar as a non-negotiable appointment, whether it’s every Sunday evening or every other Wednesday after dinner.

During these check-ins, go over the specifics of the plan you’ve set in place. Ask questions like, ‘How did the algebra tutoring go this week?’ or ‘Were you able to ask those questions in science class?’ This isn’t just about accountability; it’s also an opportunity for your young person to voice any concerns or challenges they’re facing.

And don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. If you notice improvement, even if it’s small, celebrate it. Say things like, ‘I saw how hard you worked on that history assignment, and it paid off!’ or ‘You seemed more confident in class this week, and I’m so proud of you.’ Positive reinforcement not only boosts their self-esteem but also reinforces the behavior you want to see more of.

Remember, the goal isn’t just to improve grades or behavior; it’s also to build a stronger, more open relationship with your youn gperson. These check-ins serve as a touchpoint for both of you, a moment to recalibrate and refocus on the goals ahead.

How To Set Your Child or Teen Up For Success

Alright, so you’ve had that crucial conversation with your young person, and you’ve got a game plan in place. Fantastic! But before we move on, let’s take a brief moment to make sure we’re setting the stage for your young person’s success. You’d be surprised how some simple adjustments in their daily life can make a world of difference in their academics, behavior, and overall mental well-being. So, let’s do a quick check-in with these four important factors.

First, let’s touch on nutrition. We all know the saying, ‘You are what you eat,’ and it couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to your young person’s performance in school. A balanced diet rich in nutrients can do wonders for their concentration and energy levels. Are you ensuring that your young person is having regular meals that include a healthy balance of nutrients?

Second, let’s not overlook the social aspect of your young person’s life, because trust me, it’s more interconnected with their academics than you might think. If your young person is struggling socially, it can be a heavy weight that drags down their academic performance as well. I’ve seen it time and time again in my practice. Kids and teens who feel isolated or bullied often have a hard time focusing on their studies. They’re emotionally drained, and that takes a toll.

So, what can you do? Help them find their ‘tribe’ at school—a group of positive, supportive peers where they feel they belong. This isn’t just about making friends; it’s about finding a community that uplifts them. When your young person feels socially secure, you’ll often see a ripple effect. Their self-esteem goes up, their motivation increases, and yes, their grades often improve as well.

And if you’re thinking, ‘Well, my young person is shy or has difficulty making friends,’ don’t worry. This is where you can step in to help facilitate social opportunities. Maybe it’s joining a club, participating in a sport, or attending social events where they can meet like-minded peers. The key is to make this a collaborative effort with your young person, so they feel empowered in the process

Ok. The third important factor is sleep. Now, you might think naps are just for toddlers, but think again. Researchers have found that middle schoolers who take a 30-60 minute nap several times a week actually see an improvement in their academic performance. That’s right, better grades just from catching a few Z’s during the day! To me, this is a wake-up call (pun intended) that our Young People are not getting the sleep they need at home.

So, how much sleep is enough? Well, it varies. Some young people might need up to 10 or even 12 hours of sleep. But here’s the kicker: another study has shown that anything less than 6 hours of sleep per night can actually be detrimental to academic performance. So, if you’re struggling with sleep schedules at home, it’s time to take action. And don’t worry, I’ve got a sleep guide to help you navigate this. Click HERE to read my article about young people and sleep – and to download the free sleep guide that I created.

Lastly, let’s talk about the power of gratitude. You might be wondering, ‘How can something as simple as gratitude affect my young person’s academic life?’ Well, researchers from the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Japan set out to answer just that. They conducted a study with college students, asking them to keep a daily gratitude journal for just two weeks. The results were astonishing. Not only did the students’ academic motivation significantly increase, but this positive effect lasted for months.

What’s even more interesting is that the study found that this increase in motivation was largely due to a decrease in ‘amotivation scores.’ In simpler terms, practicing gratitude helped students feel that their actions had meaningful outcomes, combating feelings of helplessness and incompetence.

So, if you’re looking for an easy-to-implement strategy that has science-backed benefits, start a daily gratitude practice with your young person. It could be as simple as noting three things they’re grateful for at dinnertime every day. This small act could make a big difference in their academic motivation, and it’s a habit that can benefit them in many other areas of life as well.

Commit to YOUR Part In The Plan Too

So, you’ve had the talk, you’ve set up a plan, and you’ve even sprinkled in some gratitude. But wait, we’re not done yet. This next part is where I see a lot of well-intentioned parents drop the ball. You’ve laid the groundwork, but now it’s time for the follow-through, and let me tell you, this is just as important as the initial conversation and planning.”

Now, why is follow-through so critical? Well, it teaches your young person several invaluable life lessons. First, it shows them that you keep your word. When you say you’re going to check in on their progress, you actually do it. Second, it demonstrates that you genuinely care about their progress, not just about ‘fixing’ a problem. Third, it helps them realize that these conversations about challenges don’t have to be hard or uncomfortable. And fourth, it models to your young person that challenges are sometimes a long-term game, but the effort is well worth it in the end.

But don’t just stop at asking about their progress. Celebrate their successes, no matter how small. Be there for them when things get tough. And remember, life isn’t just about school. Balance out these conversations by also focusing on the good things in their life that have nothing to do with academics. Catch them doing awesome things when they think you’re not looking, and let them know you noticed.

Consistent follow-through not only helps in solving the immediate issue but also strengthens your bond with your young person, setting the stage for open communication and mutual respect in the years to come.

When To Bring In Outside Help

So, you’re following through, you’re checking in, and you’re celebrating the wins with your young person. That’s fantastic! But sometimes, despite our best efforts, we might find that we need a little extra help. And guess what? That’s perfectly okay. In fact, it’s more than okay—it’s smart.

First, don’t hesitate to talk to your young person’s teachers throughout this process. They’re on the front lines of your young person’s academic life and can provide valuable insights that you might not be aware of. Second,, if you find that the challenges persist, consider hiring a tutor. And let’s clear the air right now—there’s absolutely no shame in getting a tutor. It’s just another tool in your toolbox to help your young person meet their goals.

Now, when it comes to tutors, I have a little insider tip. The best tutors are often extended family members, like college-age cousins. Not only is this a more budget-friendly option, but many young people find it easier to relate to someone closer to their age.

And lastly, if you suspect that there might be a deeper issue at play, such as a learning disorder, don’t hesitate to consult the school psychologist. Early diagnosis and intervention can make all the difference.

Remember, it takes a village to raise a child, and there’s no harm in calling in the reinforcements when needed. It’s all part of the journey to help your young person succeed.

Balance School Concerns With Things They’re Good At

Now, here’s something crucial that I’ve observed: When well-intentioned parents zero in on solving a problem, sometimes they inadvertently overlook the other wonderful aspects of their young person’s life. So let’s dive into why it’s essential to maintain a balanced focus.

Now, a big caution here: While it’s important to address academic challenges, you don’t want to fall into the trap of making your interactions all about school. Part of your role as a parent is to teach your young person that life is a balance. Yes, academics are important, but they’re not the be-all and end-all. Everyone has unique strengths, weaknesses, passions, talents, and interests that make them who they are.

For example, let’s say your young person is struggling with math but excels in art. While you’re working on improving those math grades, also take the time to celebrate and encourage their artistic abilities. Maybe that means setting up an art station at home or even enrolling them in an art class. The point is to show them that they are multi-faceted individuals with various talents and interests that are worth nurturing.

Or perhaps your young person loves sports. While you’re figuring out how to tackle that history grade, why not also spend some time kicking a soccer ball around in the yard? It’s a great way to bond and it reminds them that they have skills and interests outside of the classroom that are equally valuable.

Remember, your role is not just to be their academic coach but also to be their life coach. You want to raise a well-rounded individual who knows that they are more than just their grades. And that starts with you showing them that you see and appreciate the full spectrum of who they are.

Increase The Feeling of School Belongingness

I have one last crucial piece of information that could be a game-changer in helping your young person succeed in school. This comes from a fascinating study conducted by Ohio State University. Now, you might be thinking, “If my young person isn’t motivated now, will they ever be?” Well, this study offers a glimmer of hope.

The researchers followed more than 1,600 students over two years and found that students’ academic motivation often did change—and usually for the better. One key factor that influenced this positive change was the students’ sense of ‘belongingness’ in school. Yes, you heard that right—feeling like they fit into their school community can significantly boost their academic motivation.

So, what does this mean for you and your young person? It means that helping them feel comfortable and integrated into their school environment can be a powerful tool. This could be through improving social skills, encouraging them to join an extracurricular activity, or even helping them build better relationships with their teachers.

In some cases, though, it might even be worth asking if the current school is meeting your young person’s needs. Sometimes a change in environment can make all the difference.

Remember, a sense of belonging CAN be cultivated, and it’s a two-way street. Schools can work on making students feel welcome, but you can also play a significant role in this by actively engaging with your young person about their school life.

So, as we wrap up today’s article, keep this in mind: motivation isn’t set in stone. It can change, and you have the tools to help guide that change in a positive direction.

Take Home Message

Alright, friend, as we wrap up today’s enlightening article, let’s circle back to the key takeaways that can truly make a difference in your young person’s academic journey. First off, we dove into the importance of having the right mindset—yours and your young person’s. This sets the stage for open, constructive conversations about academic struggles before they escalate into full-blown problems.

Next, we emphasized the crucial role of sleep, nutrition, and daily gratitude practices in boosting motivation and overall well-being. These aren’t just feel-good add-ons; they’re foundational elements that contribute to academic success.

We also talked about the significance of follow-through. Committing to your part in the plan not only shows your young person that you’re invested in their success but also models important life skills like accountability and perseverance.

And let’s not forget about bringing in outside help when appropriate. Whether it’s talking to teachers, hiring a tutor, or consulting a school psychologist, these resources can provide invaluable support in your young person’s academic journey.

And remember, it’s not just about improving grades; it’s about nurturing a well-rounded, motivated individual who’s ready to take on the challenges of our modern world. Keep these key points in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to helping your young person thrive, both academically and personally.

If you’re eager to put today’s insights into action, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of the Homework Helper called “The Parent-Child Academic Check-In Checklist: Your Guide to Meaningful Conversations and Academic Success.” This guide is designed to be your go-to resource for navigating the academic journey with your young person, offering actionable tips and strategies that complement everything we’ve discussed in this article. You can download it right now at Trust me, this is one resource you’ll find yourself turning to time and time again.

I also want to remind you to keep sending in your questions. I’ve been receiving some really insightful ones, and next week’s article is actually based on a recurring theme I’ve noticed in your questions—Young People and Lying. So I don’t think you’ll want to miss next week’s article.

But, until next time, friend. I believe in you. You’ve got this.


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The Parent-Child Academic Check-In Checklist: The Guide To Meaningful Conversations & Academic Success