Many of us have been there: our scholar, our baby, our future Nobel Laureate comes home with a report card that makes us wonder what percentage of his or her genetic material we share. But, as in all painful events, opportunity abounds. Let me begin by defining “poor report card.” I take this to be one in which your child’s grades are significantly below what they should be if he or she extended sufficient effort; of course, this bar varies based on each kid’s academic potential. If your child comes home with a report card that you believe is below this bar, here are five tips to consider.
Tip #1: Diagnose the problem. Just like a fever can have many causes, so to can a poor report card. Is your child investing enough effort each school night? Is the curriculum too challenging? Might she or he be suffering from a problem in learning? Might the stress in your child’s life be exceeding his or her capacity to manage it? Is he or she getting enough sleep? Might your child be suffering from a psychological disorder (about 90% of youth do, at one point or another, by age 21)? How is his or her vision? Is too much work being assigned? Getting help in figuring this out can also save a lot of time and consternation, especially if your plan to fix things doesn’t work right away. Even the evaluation choices can make one’s head spin. So, I’d consider not going at it alone and get some help.
Tip #2: Avoid bad mouthing the teacher. If your child gets the idea that singing to you about the teacher’s incompetence or unfairness will cause your expectations for him or her to be relaxed, expect for that song to soar to the top of the charts in your house. Even if you believe that the teacher is part of the problem, use the experience to teach your child how to interact effectively within such relationships (i.e., this is hardly going to be his or her last experience having to deal with someone with power over him or her exercising such in a manner that is less than ideal). You may also value reading my entry on having an effective parent-teacher conference.
Tip #3: If your child manifesting a compromised effort is a key factor, incentivize such. As behavioral psychologists have argued for years, we all do those things that we believe are in our best interest. Of course, many youth know not what is in their true best, long term interest (i.e., if we dropped their brains into a fully grown adult body we’d say that that adult has brain damage). So, we parent-lunatics, need to align what they believe is in their best interest what we know to be so. In my parenting book I’ve detailed a variety of decision trees for rewarding desired behavior based upon the severity and nature of the problem. As the issue of getting a kid to do something when he or she doesn’t feel like it is a common theme in parenting I have multiple blog entries on related topics and strategies. For example, click here, here, here, or here.
Tip #4: Make sure your kid is experiencing success with his or her competencies. Using one’s top strengths in important ways contributes to every human’s sense of personal efficacy. However, this is even more important for a child as self-esteem is in a formative period. And, double that for a child that is experiencing challenges in another major domain such as academics. Without this countervailing force one worries that a child’s self-esteem could go south, which is then associated with a number of unfortunate outcomes. (Chapter Two of my parenting book, Working Parents, Thriving Famiies, covers strategies for this in dept.)
Tip #5: Establish a communication system from school to home. You’ve had the experience of the report card being like Mystery Theatre and likely don’t want to experience that again. So, getting good information on a regular basis is important. This allows you to remediate problems sooner, when they are smaller, than later, when they are bigger. The information you want, at least, is: the day’s homework, when the next quiz/test is, what grades were returned that day and when any long-term projects are due. If your child is motivated and cooperative this communication could be managed by him or her directly to you. However, most of the time you will need the teacher to facilitate your getting the information in order to ensure that you have an up-to-date and complete picture. My preference is to start out on a daily bases and then cut back to a weekly basis once things are better (i.e., it’s easier to have too much structure and relax it than the inverse). Keep in mind that you may also want to know what behaviors your child displayed (e.g., raised his/her hand in class, respected adult authority, stayed on task, related well to other kids in the class). I’d lay out the mechanics of how to do this if I had space, but, once again, all the details can be found n WPTF