The Dreaded F

How can I support my child through a failed test?

MichaelBy Michael Greschler, M.Ed.,

Educational Therapist, ILD and Director of SMARTS, ResearchILD 

While there is no way to take away the sting of watching your child suffer from poor grades and dashed hopes, there are ways you can help you child cope with failure in a constructive and resilient way. This list provides tips on how to respond that will be productive and help your children develop resilience, rather than fear.

“I can see you’re feeling frustrated about your report card this term”

  1. Acknowledge negative emotions–It does not feel good to fail at something. Acknowledge that negative emotion in whatever form it takes (sorrow, anger, hopelessness). Maybe relate a time when you failed at something and how that made you feel.

“What can we learn from this?”

  1. Turn failure into an opportunity to learn life lessons— Failure is important. When we fail, we have the opportunity to learn what we can do differently to be more successful. This is key tenet of Carol Dweck’s Mindsets, and this philosophy has been reiterated by countless famous scientists, celebrities, politicians etc. While step one is acknowledging the hurt that was caused by the failure, step two is encouraging your child to see their poor grade as a learning opportunity. A poor grade is not a ‘good’ thing, but it is an ‘interesting’ thing. You can relate this to the story you told your child about failures you have faced, or you can think of an example pertinent to your child’s interests (sports, music, etc.)

“Let’s look at the items you got right and those you got wrong.”

  1. Try to understand what went wrong— Do a simple analysis. What did the student do well? Where did the student miss points? You can create a checklist and tally up repeated errors. This is much easier if your child has to do test corrections, hopefully for credit, but it is worthwhile regardless. FullSizeRenderAt ILD we call this strategy the Top-3-Hits. We make a list of the 3 most common errors a student makes. We then ask students to memorize this list using an acronym or a crazy phrase (e.g. if a student makes errors on fractions, absolute values and negative numbers, they could use the acronym F.A.N. or a crazy phrase like Fabulous, Awesome Neptune. (For more on the Top-3-Hits, check out Chapter 11 of Executive Function in Education or check out SMARTS Online, an Executive Function curriculum developed by ResearchILD).

“How would you change your approach next time?”

  1. Help your child understand how to use that knowledge to make changes for the future— Now that you’ve had a chance to look for common errors, it’s time to come up with a plan for how to address them proactively. What can your child do differently on the next test? On a math test, they might need to spend an extra minute double checking to ensure that when they multiplied two negatives they ended with a positive. On a science test, they might need to be extra careful when they see a problem with a diagram. If they can identify the challenging areas beforehand, they have a much better chance of succeeding next time. At ILD, we encourage them to take the mnemonic they created to help them remember their Top-3-Hits and to write it on the top of every test before they begin. This will help them stay aware of their common errors throughout the course of the test.

No one enjoys failing, and we need to acknowledge that, but failure is not fatal. It is a call to be courageous and to learn more about ourselves. Help your child face this challenge, and they will learn a lesson that will not only assist them on their next test, but in all the tests that life sends their way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *