What NOT to Say When Your Child is Failing

What NOT to Say When Your Child is Failing

I was a tad… high strung in high school and college about academics. Bless her, my mother regularly received crying phone calls from me when I got overwhelmed. Much of the time, letting me talk it out usually sufficed. But there were times when I was in a bind, not sure how to move forward.

Has that happened with your child? It’s such a delicate moment. They need help, motivation, sometimes a kick in the pants. But they also need love and understanding. They may not actually want advice, but just a chance to vent. What do you say?

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Your child needs love, understanding, and possibly a swift kick in the pants!” quote=”Your child needs love, understanding, and possibly a swift kick in the pants!”]

There are some amazing ways to respond, some good ways to respond, and some simply awful ways. Let’s work through the responses to avoid at all costs first.

What NOT to Say When Your Child is Failing

child failing

I guess ________ just isn’t your thing.

Ugh. this is a fixed mindset at its worst. Yes, maybe math, or gym, or history isn’t your child’s thing right NOW, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be in the future.

You might mean well. But your kid hears,“You’ll never be good at this, so don’t really bother trying.” It’s hurtful in so many ways. And might very well cause them to completely shut down in the course.

If only you had a better teacher . . .

This might be a completely valid critique, but it won’t change that fact that your child has that teacher. Instead, this could just build resentment toward the teacher and also encourage your child to stop trying.

You just need to study more.

This is so not helpful. Your child is trying. But the methods he or she are using simply aren’t working. Telling her to simply do “more” isn’t a solution and she probably knows that. It may also seem to her that you’re not interested in her problem.

You should have followed my advice.

The “I told you so” response is SOOO tempting. (I’ve been in this situation with students before). However, it’s not productive. Believe me, the kid already knows that you were right. There’s no need to rub it in.

What to Say Instead

Photo by Albert Rafael from Pexels

You must be really frustrated by this.

Sometimes just acknowledging their feelings will get them on the right path. It often will get them talking more about their difficulties.

Walk me through what’s giving you trouble.

Ask for their input. Often, kids know what the issue is, but they don’t know how to fix it. Or they may not have thought about it, but verbalizing the problem helps them figure it out.

Let’s brainstorm some other study strategies you could use.

Create a list of different strategies your child can try. If your child doesn’t know any other strategies, ask what other students are doing. Read this post on study strategies. Scour the internet. Answers are out there – you just have to look for them.

Do you want me to reach out to your teacher?

The appropriateness of this question will differ by your child’s age. The older your child, the less likely you should (or they will want you to) email the teacher.

In elementary or middle school, you need to talk to the teacher right away. In high school, your child should approach the teacher first. If that doesn’t help, then parents should step in. By college, your child should handle this themselves. You can always give suggestions, though!

If you do reach out to the teacher, keep it positive and ask how you can work as a team to help your child. For tips on how to communicate with teachers, read my post here.

How can I help you?

Your child may shut you down, but there are ways you can help. If you are familiar with the content, you can go over notes or read the text to help explain an idea or concept. Even if you can’t help with content, you can help them organize a notebook, set up their planner, create flashcards, or listen to them talk it out.  

By the time I hit higher math and science, my mom couldn’t help me understand the textbook, but her offers to create a study plan or quiz me using my notes helped me through rough patches. Hopefully, you can become a lifeline for your child when they need you the most.

What is your go-to phrase when your child is struggling? Let me know in the comments below! 

Related Posts: 10 Powerful TED Talks for Parents of TeensHow to End Homework Battles for Good!, Why Your Test Score Just Isn’t That Important, The Truth About Improving a Low Grade

4 thoughts on “What NOT to Say When Your Child is Failing”

    • Yes! This phrase is so useful – sometimes kids just want to vent and others times they are looking for advice.

  • As a former teacher it’s hard not to take my child’s failing personally. I just spent over four hours (spaced over the course of five days) helping her study for a math exam only to see today that she failed it. If I, as a former teacher, cannot help her pass a math exam where she was allowed to have “cheat” notes what does that say about me as a teacher? Not a very effective one to be sure. Now that the pity party is over, I’ll try using these strategies, but should I just bite the bullet and sign up for a tutor? Her math teacher and I are in regular contact so communication with school isn’t an issue. Her teacher says she doesn’t use the cheat sheets that she’s given, so we spent alot of time working with them up to the exam, but it clearly did not help. UGH

    • I’m so sorry – that sounds super frustrating! I would try a tutor at this point. Sometimes, having someone who is neither a parent nor a teacher working with them really takes the pressure off the kids. They are more willing to take the tutor’s advice or try a different strategy than if it came from you.

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