Although grades aren’t everything in life, succeeding in school can boost your girl’s self-esteem and set her up for a bright future filled with accomplishments and fulfillment. For these reasons and others, it’s only natural to hope that your girl does well in school and to feel some disappointment when she's struggling.
But while many people think kids who get low grades are either not-so-smart or lazy, there are many reasons why your smart girl might be getting lower grades than you’d expect—and they have nothing to do with her intelligence or lack thereof! Here, Girl Scouts Developmental Psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald lists some of the many factors that can affect her performance in the classroom, and that you can help her push past!
- Stress at home
If you’ve recently moved houses, experienced a death in the family, or had some other kind of large shift in your day-to-day life at home, your daughter may be feeling upset or too distracted to focus properly in the classroom. Ask her how she's been feeling about any major home and family transitions and share your feelings as well. The more supported she feels, the more comfortable she might feel coming to you to discuss what’s going on. Working through a stressful time together, outside of school time, can free her mind up to really focus during school hours.
- Lack of sleep
Is your daughter’s schedule always so packed that she often has to stay up past bedtime to finish homework projects? Is she messaging friends or finishing that novel she’s been reading when she’s meant to be tucking into bed? A recent study out of McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal found a 14 percent gap in math performance between children who were sleeping sufficient amounts and those who were sleep deprived. Beauty sleep might not seem that important, but when you look at it as brainy sleep, its importance becomes clear!
- Skipped or skimpy breakfast
Numerous studies show that skipping breakfast has a negative impact on a child’s ability to remember new information, and that it’s not just if your girl eats something, but what she eats that matters. Students who eat fiber and protein-packed oatmeal for breakfast perform better at memory tests than students who eat sugary cereal with fewer of those hearty nutrients. Just shows that no matter how busy your morning is, it always pays to pause and nosh on something nutritious before hitting the road!
- Gendered stereotypes around certain academic subjects
Despite efforts to introduce girls to the exciting and rewarding worlds of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), the insulting and wildly untrue sentiment that girls simply aren’t “good” at math or science continues to permeate our culture. This could lead to your daughter showing a lack of interest and/or engagement in STEM subjects, especially if she doesn’t see a future for girls like herself in that world—or even to the teacher having a tendency to call on boys more often than girls in the classroom. Talk to your daughter about the subjects she’s struggling in, and ask her why she likes or doesn’t like them. Once you get to the root of the problem, you can start working on solutions together—like introducing her to amazing women in STEM fields who might inspire her or helping her teacher understand that your daughter would like to be more involved in class.
- Poor eyesight
The American Optometric Association reports that approximately one in four school children have undiagnosed vision problems, which can lead to poor performance in the classroom. And believe it or not, your girl might not even know she’s missing so much on the board or around the room! The lesson? Get your girl’s eyes checked! The teacher can write notes on the board until she’s blue in the face, but if it’s all a blur to your daughter, the chances of her doing as well as her peers are slim to none.
- A specific learning disability
Although your girl would have to be professionally evaluated to be diagnosed with a learning disability, signs that she might be living with one include (but are not limited to!) difficulty in reading or writing, problems grasping math concepts, not being able to memorize information, and trouble following directions. If you are concerned that your girl might have a learning disability, talk to her teacher about getting her evaluated. People with learning disabilities often have average or even above average intelligence, but they may need to be taught using slightly different methods or need more time on traditional tests.
A sudden drop in grades can be a sign that your girl is distracted by mean gossip or even threats from another student—and it’s understandable that she might have trouble focusing if she’s worried about what will happen on the playground during lunch. Ask her if there’s anything going on at school that’s bothering her, or if another child is being mean to her specifically.
- She’s embarrassed to ask for help
If all of her friends excel in the subject she’s struggling with, it might be difficult for her to admit that she needs more explanation or has questions about what she’s just learned. If that’s the case, help her understand that everyone has different things they’re great at, and that asking for help is actually a sign of strength, not of weakness! The business leaders of today didn’t get where they are by sitting silently when they needed help—instead, they asked all the right questions and made sure they knew what they were doing. Suggest that she speak with her teacher after class if she’s too shy to ask questions in front of other students, but also encourage her to speak up during class. Let her know that another student might have the same question and would benefit from the answer as well!
- Lack of persistence
It’s possible that she felt defeated by low marks on the first quiz of the year and has convinced herself that she’s simply “not good” at that particular subject and never will be. If that’s the case, sit down and chat with her about a time you had to work very hard over time to master a concept or to get good at a certain skill (we’ve all been there!). Knowing that some things don’t come easily, but that they can still come, will inspire her to work a little harder and give it another shot.
- Her teacher isn’t a match for her
While it’s rare for a teacher and student to be simply incompatible, personality mismatches do happen from time to time. Does your daughter complain that the teacher denies her requests for help or ignores her when she raises her hand in class? If yes, set up a time to have a conference with the teacher and your daughter where you can all discuss the issue. If that doesn’t help, consider talking to the administration about putting her in a different class. Again, it’s very rare that this would be necessary, and it may be impossible to switch teachers, but it’s worth discussing if you’ve tried everything else.