For parents of school-age children, this time of year can be stressful for a number of reasons. In addition to preparing for a busy holiday season on top of already hectic daily schedules, report cards are headed to your mailbox and sometimes bring stress and worry with them. Children, even those who usually do well academically, may be anxiously anticipating their report cards as well as your reaction to them. The following tips are aimed to help you and your children have a healthy and productive conversation about report cards.
1. Keep it in perspective. Your child is in school for at least 12 years with three or four report cards each year. So this particular report card is just one out of 36 or 48 report cards they receive until they graduate from high school. Yes, there are years in which grades have more significant implications for the future. But remember also that the school year just started. There is a lot of time between now and the end of the school year for grades to improve.
2. Stay calm, especially in front of your children. Staying calm can be challenging, but tip # 1 was written with this goal in mind. Keep in mind that this one report card does NOT determine your child’s future happiness or success. Your children will be watching your reaction to help them figure out if their performance was acceptable to you.
3. Read the report card privately first. It is important that you have whatever reaction that is without an audience. You are allowed to have whatever reaction you are having. Proud? Great. Concerned? That’s okay too. Stressed? Also totally normal. Some parents may even feel angry. All of your reactions are completely acceptable, but you don’t necessarily want your children to watch those emotions play out on your face or in your tone of voice.
4. Manage your reaction. Do whatever you need to do to manage the emotions you’re having before you talk to your kids about their report card. Call your best friend, your husband or wife, your sister, your mother, or whoever is normally able to help you see things clearly.
5. There is always something to celebrate. Even if your child received below average grades, there is hopefully a comment or two that contains positive information. Find a comment that says, “good effort” or “participates in class” or those positive marks for behavior or social skills. Keep those in the forefront of your mind as you prepare to talk to your child. This is especially important for children with significant learning challenges like learning disabilities, ADHD, or autism.
6. Create time to talk to your child individually. Sit down privately with each of your school-age children and ask them to find at least one thing on their report card that they feel proud of and one thing that they want to improve. If they can’t find those positive comments, here’s your chance to point out the positive comments about hard work or class participation or a good grade in their favorite subject
7. Ask your child how he or she feels about his or her report card. Proud? Great! Disappointed? Okay, we can work with that. Sad? Angry? Just plain awful? Intense negative feelings about a report card are an opportunity for you to validate your child’s emotions as acceptable no matter what they are and for you to find out more about his or her thinking patterns. If you’re not sure about how to respond to your child, for now, it is good enough to just tell them that their feelings are totally normal and to offer some comfort. It is important to differentiate getting a bad grade from being a bad student, or even more serious, being “stupid”. You might want to consult with your child’s teacher or school psychologist or obtain a private consultation if it seems serious.
8. Praise effort, not the grades. It is important to focus your attention on the behaviors of your child that led to the grades they received. If your child sits down every day and diligently completes homework or studies for a test, then praise that behavior by saying something like, “You know, regardless of the grade, I am so proud that you work so hard to do well in school.” Similarly, if your child is not putting in the effort and doesn’t seem motivated and receives a grade that reflects that, you might ask him what he could do differently moving forward to perform up to his potential.
9. Don't punish poor grades. Punishment often makes children angry and sometimes even aggressive. Take a problem-solving approach. Identify barriers to good study skills. Are they attached to their mobile devices? Too busy playing video games to tackle their homework? Depending on the age of your child, you might consider including her in the problem solving process. Ask her to identify the obstacles to good study habits and talk about how to make those study habits easier to do. Write down the plan and post in a place visible to her when she does homework.
10. Trust your gut. Parents are the experts on their children and often know when a learning problem is more serious. If your child has been having academic difficulties for a year or more and you don’t know what the specific problem is, it might be time to seek out an evaluation to help determine the cause of the difficulty and what can be done about it. School districts are usually required to provide a free evaluation of your child’s academic difficulties. If you have already had your child evaluated by the school psychologist and still have questions or think that your child isn’t receiving appropriate support, it might be time to consider having your child evaluated by a private psychologist with experience and credentials in this area.