Reducing Report Card Over-Reaction

They're baaaack. No, not Halloween ghosts or Thanksgiving gobblefests, but something that strikes real fear into families during late fall: report cards.

Children and their parents both dread report cards. Kids are not only anxious about their grades, but their parents' reaction as well. Parents worry about the child's ability to succeed in school and get a good job in the future, but also about what other adults - teachers and neighbors - think of them as competent parents.

Whether your child gets satisfactory or unsatisfactory grades, keep the focus on learning. Having an automatic response to grades can put the emphasis on results, evaluation and competition, sometimes at the expense of learning. Begin by asking your child what she learned during the last marking period. What did she like best? What was easy? What was difficult? What does she think she will learn in the future? In what ways does she think she can improve?

When grades meet or exceed expectations, everyone breathes a sigh of relief. When grades are unsatisfactory or failing, parents can jump to conclusions and have strong, negative reactions that are unhelpful. What can parents do to avoid or reduce report card over-reaction?

Stay calm.
When parents are disappointed by children's school performance, they may become frustrated, even angry. Children, too, may have strong feelings of shame and defensiveness. If report cards arouse these strong feelings in your family, it's important to set aside a cooling off period. Allow time after the arrival of the report card for everyone to get a grip on strong emotions. School struggles require a problem-solving approach that depends on everyone remaining calm and rational.

Understand what the grades mean.
It's important for a parent to understand the teacher's grading system in order to determine her child's strengths and shortcomings and the most effective course of action. Most teachers take into account attendance, participation, school assignments, homework and test results when setting a grade. In some cases, grades may reflect conduct. On the whole, however, grades usually evaluate the child's ability to master subjects based on a number of criteria.

If the child's effort and performance is satisfactory during class, but he consistently fails tests, he may be experiencing test anxiety or have difficulty interpreting tests. While all school children need to conform to testing standards, there may be alternative ways to evaluate your child's performance.

Likewise, if your child's participation in class is inadequate, she may need encouragement and opportunity to be more involved. If his homework is unsatisfactory, he may need guidance in establishing effective after school routines or help in acquiring study skills.

Focus on solutions, not excuses.
It's easy for both parents and students to rationalize an unsatisfactory report card. Both may blame the teacher, the school system or tough new standards. There may, in fact, be legitimate reasons for a child's performance. Family situations like relocation, unemployment and divorce are significant stressors that can adversely affect a child's ability to concentrate and follow-through. However, parents need to look past these circumstances to potential solutions. Being single-minded about finding solutions is the best path to success.

Talk with your child.
When children struggle with school, resulting in a disappointing report card, it's time for a face-to-face, heart-to-heart talk. Don't lecture or preach, and avoid blaming, criticizing and excessive advice-giving. School performance is ultimately the child's responsibility and any problems are primarily his to solve. So what does a parent do? Ask the right questions and be a good listener.

Let your child explain his school performance. How does he feel about his grades? In what areas is he doing well? Where does he need to improve? Ask him how he can and will do better. Ask him how you can help him do better.

When parents remain non-critical and practice respectful listening, children may reveal feelings and ideas that point toward potential solutions. For example, a child may talk about how other children tease her so she's afraid to speak up in class. Another child may disclose that he doesn't have enough time to complete his tests. In either case, some solutions are suggested. The shy child can practice speaking up while another child can learn time management or test-taking skills.

Talk with your child's teacher.
When children fail or get poor grades, it's imperative that parents arrange parent-teacher conference. These conferences should be cooperative, not confrontational. Blaming the child, the teacher or the school system for your child's performance misses the main point, which is to help your child learn and succeed.

Your child's teacher can help you understand what the grades mean and what your child needs to do to improve. She may be able to offer some insight about your child's learning style, level of motivation or peer relationships that impact on achievement. Parents can contribute information about the home environment and family situation that may be influencing learning. Parents and teachers can often work together to develop a mutually satisfying strategy for helping a student.

Make an action plan.

  1. Discuss the teacher's ideas with the child. Remember, your child has already shared some of her own ideas for improvement. Using everyone's ideas, develop an action plan.
  2. Set realistic goals. It's realistic to expect students to maintain or improve acceptable grades and to improve poor grades by one letter during the next marking period. It's unrealistic to expect a student to suddenly get all A's.
  3. Establish a timetable. It's not unreasonable to expect students to show some improvement week by week or test by test. On the other hand, it is unreasonable to expect a complete about face in a short period of time. A realistic timetable helps the student evaluate whether or not he's on track.
  4. Develop study skills and habits. Help your child get organized and learn how to manage her time. Be consistent in enforcing after school routines.
  5. Provide incentives and consequences if necessary. Rewards do not help children develop intrinsic motivation or pride in their work. But some children may need some incentives to acquire skills and helpful habits. Other children may need to lose privileges to reinforce the importance of schoolwork. In any case, avoid punishing children about their school performance. This tends only to de-motivate them.

Stick to it. Give your child time to develop new attitudes and skills. Don't be easily discouraged. Solving problems and learning new skills takes time.

Get help if needed.
Some students require tutoring or other assistance. You may have to arrange for diagnostic testing or specialized services for your child. You may need support and cooperation from other family members as you and your child adapt to new routines and rules. Finally, you may need support as you deal with your own feelings in the situation. Practice good coping skills and seek out the empathetic ear of a good friend.

If your child gets good grades.

Even when children get good grades, parents can over-react. Too much praise or unnecessary rewards send the message that children are only important when they get good grades. Children may even think, "They only love me because I get good grades."

It's more important to focus on how the child feels about his achievements. In order for children to develop pride in their work, they must be able to reflect on and evaluate their own efforts. A thoughtful parent helps children arrive at their own conclusions about their success. When children say, "I'm proud of my grades. I like school. I want to do even better next time," parents do not have say anything. A smile and a hug can say it all.

Source: Tim Jahn, Human Development Specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. Parent Pages was developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. HD 97

Contact

Anna Steinkraus
F&CD Program Coordinator
ams69@cornell.edu
(607) 272-2292 ext. 145

Last updated August 8, 2015