Sixth-Grader's Grades Are Dropping

Underlying emotional difficulties can contribute to a child's poor performance in school.
My son is almost through sixth grade and I'm concerned about his quality of work. His grades have progressively gotten worse, even though I've been monitoring him. I ask his teachers to send a sheet home that lists his daily and upcoming assignments. I told him that I wanted all his grades brought up to either an A or a B before his next report card. If he doesn't do it, I said he'd be attending summer school instead of vacationing with us this summer. He assured me that he could do it, but his grades haven't improved. I'm afraid we're losing him. What can I do?
Your son is confused and overwhelmed. Although he assured you that he wouldn't have a problem bringing up his faltering grades, he has been unable to deliver on that promise. You begged him to do better and even threatened him with summer school, but neither of those techniques worked.

You have engaged his teachers, asking them to send you information about his homework assignments and test scores. You need to determine if your son lacks fundamental skills and knowledge in his academic subjects. You must also discover what underlying emotional difficulties might be contributing to his poor performance in school. I would recommend that he see a therapist who is well versed in dealing with boys this age. He needs to be able to trust someone who will not shame him for failing to live up to your expectations (and perhaps his expectations, as well).

I don't believe that you're "losing him," but I know that you must change your approach to helping him with these problems. Right now, all he probably feels from you is your disappointment in him. He knows that you think nothing less than A's and B's are acceptable, so he may think that you believe that he is unacceptable to you.

His teachers should be able to provide you with explanations of why he is doing so poorly academically. If they can't, please have skilled tutors evaluate his knowledge in his academic areas. You owe it to your son to help him without blaming him. This good boy can't do it by himself and right now he's scared that things will always be this bad.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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