A child rarely gets poor marks on purpose. Like all of us, children enjoy the praise and satisfaction than come with success. Rather than mete out punishment for under-achievement, a wise parent will look for the cause of the disappointing marks and try to eliminate it.
If these marks are only the latest in an ongoing series of struggles your child has had in his educational career, it is probable he has a learning disability. Is he developmentally delayed or dyslexic? Ask school authorities to administer a thorough regimen of tests to pinpoint his area of weakness and suggest practical remedial strategies.
If the poor marks are a new phenomenon, then you know that the child has the ability to do better. Something has upset the equilibrium in his environment. What has recently changed in his life? When you can answer this question, you will have found the cause of the problem at school and may be able to correct it.
The first step is to schedule an appointment with a pediatrician or family physician for a thorough physical check-up for the child. An underlying ailment which is sapping his energy and motivation must be ruled out.
Is the child emotionally upset because of conditions in his personal life? When parents are undergoing a divorce or separation, it is extremely stressful for the child. A serious illness or death of a family member, loss of a parent’s job and subsequent financial worries, mental illness or addition problems within the family will all have a negative effect on a student’s ability to focus on his schoolwork.
Some of these problems cannot be resolved immediately. The child needs love, support and understanding while the family works together to overcome the present difficulties and is able to return to a calmer “status quo”. When family conditions stabilize, the school performance will soon return to normal.
Is he being bullied or harassed at school? If the student feels insecure or even endangered he cannot focus on academic matters. Having a heart-to-heart talk with your child will sometimes reveal the problem and the perpetrator. Together you can discuss possible solutions. Also, the school should be informed so that the bully’s unacceptable behavior can be stopped.
There may be conditions within the classroom which negatively affect your child’s performance. Ask the teacher’s permission to sit in class for half a day. Is there too much noise or too many distractions? Is your child’s view of the blackboard blocked? Is he seated too far back? Is the teacher a screamer? Is he sitting beside a friend who is too communicative in class? Be alert and discuss any negative observations with the teacher in a tactful manner.
If you’ve ruled out all of the above possibilities, you may arrive at the conclusion that your child is just slacking off. He may be very bright but bored with a curriculum that is not sufficiently challenging. He may be going through a period of rapid physical growth, and lacking energy to exert himself in educational pursuits. He may not be mature enough to realize the value of an education in later life, and prefer to involve himself in sports, computer games, socializing or other more immediately enjoyable pursuits.
Punishment is still not the answer. You, as the adult, must give him a compelling reason to bring home good marks once again. Am I suggesting bribery? Yes, I am. He must have a reason to exert himself and once again earn the good marks of which he is capable.
The rewards need not be exorbitant: a good test mark could mean a trip to McDonald’s or an extended bedtime. A good report card could be rewarded by a new computer game or a new pair of name-brand sneakers. Passing to the next grade in June with high marks might earn your student a new bike or a trip to his favorite theme park.
School years pass quickly and they are very important to a child’s success in adulthood. You, as a parent, realize this, while the child may lack the maturity to do so. Discuss his future with him often: the lifestyle he wants, his future home and family, the car wants to drive, the working conditions under which he hopes to earn a living. Try to make him see that all these amenities are more available to those who earned good marks all through school. In this electronic age, his school marks will follow him for life.
Punishment is a negative reaction. Taking positive steps, like those suggested above, to overcome difficulties is always wiser. Someday in the not-too-distant future, seeing your child achieve the future you envisioned for him during these school years will be your ultimate reward.