By Shadra Bruce

When your child’s grades suddenly swing from passing to “How did this happen?!” there may be cause for concern.  However, jumping to the conclusion that he or she was goofing around instead of paying attention or not putting in enough effort isn’t fair without first considering that there are other reasons grades might drop.

With five children, we have seen our share of report cards. In our family, we try to avoid labeling grades as “good” or “bad,” and we don’t discipline our kids for getting low  grades. Discipline is what you do when your 3-year old is throwing food at the table. Discipline implies punishment to correct behavior. Most of the time, though, low grades have very little to do with behavior.

Grades are only one indicator about how a child is doing in school, so when grades suddenly drop, we try to discover the problem and address it appropriately. When our oldest son’s grades started slipping because of ADHD, we used medication, a 504 plan, and extra homework help. Our daughter’s falling math grade was due to rushing through the work to avoid having homework. We made her bring the math book home every night and spend time going over the work. She always found the mistakes she made rushing through and finally realized it took less time to do it right the first time. Our 11-year old son’s problems occurred out of boredom because he already knew how to do the work they were doing and needed more challenging work.

If your child has been consistently getting passing grades and things change suddenly, it’s important to examine what might have been happening in his or her life. Poor grades are a sign that more frequent communication is needed, both with the child and with the teacher.  The more the teacher and parent can be in touch and in agreement over the child’s needs; the better it will be for the child. Good kids can get bad grades—sometimes it is simply a bad teacher, a difficult class, too many extracurricular activities – or the stress the child is under because of the major changes occurring in his or her life.

A drop in grades could indicate a need for glasses or that your child is being bullied and can’t concentrate at school because of the experience. It’s important to talk to your child, your child’s teacher, and even the school counselor to determine how to help.