As parents, we all want to do what we can to reduce any type of school related anxiety for our children and minimize the possible stress it can bring into our households. As a parent coach, I have guided many parents to discover ways that will make school a positive experience for their child. ...As parents, we all want to do what we can to reduce any type of school related anxiety for our children and minimize the possible stress it can bring into our households. As a parent coach, I have guided many parents to discover ways that will make school a positive experience for their child. All academic institutions utilize some type of evaluative measurement that is intended to quantify the knowledge of their students. Although grading systems may vary from school to school, most are still using report cards as a means of informing parents about their child’s academic progress. Unfortunately, this event has the potential to trigger very emotional and anxiety provoking situations in many households. If your child attends a school that issues report cards, there are ways to help alleviate the stress when report cards are distributed.

Report card time is never experienced the same by everyone. Ask yourself - When was the last time I was evaluated for anything I did, and how did it feel? For some children and parents it can be a very satisfying and joyful occasion and for others a very anxious and stressful time. Depending on the spoken or unspoken academic expectations, your child may be worried that she has let you down and may be feeling embarrassed or very disappointed in herself. On the other hand, ‘you’ might feel as if you are not being a “good enough” parent and you may begin to harbor a sense of failure deep down inside. Here is how one can turn report card time into a constructive learning experience instead of a choice between a positive or negative encounter.

- When report card time does arrive it is important to keep your response in check. Whether your child brings home very good grades or poor ones, your reaction may have a greater impact on your child than you realize. How you react has the potential to determine continued school success or ongoing educational struggle for you and your child.

- Pay attention to the things that matter most when your child shares his or her report card with you. If you only focus on the letter or number grades they received it will only accentuate evaluation and competition. A better alternative is to concentrate on the learning process and ask questions such as - What did you learn this grading period (in science, math, art. etc.)? What was most enjoyable to you? What came easy to you this time? What do you think you could have changed or done differently? What will your strategy be for the next grading period? What assistance do you need to accomplish these goals? Fueling a conversation such as this will encourage your child to become more mindful about their learning experience and better able to identify what works in order to duplicate it for continued success.

Responding to a poor report card is always a difficult task for both parent and child. If you find yourself in such a situation try not to dwell on the negative and think of it as a wonderful opportunity for quality time that shows you trust in your child’s ability to do better. Prior to any response, remind yourself to take a deep breath and choose your words carefully before you speak.

- When first presented with such a document it may be too overwhelming and unreasonable for you to judge the entire report card at first glance. Take the time to deliberately review each grade individually and discuss it calmly to help both of you digest the information in small bites.

- Inquiring if your child truly understands why he got a particular grade can provide you with valuable insight. Once you recognize the level of comprehension he has about what led him to this point you can more easily determine the next step to take. Some students are very slow to process the cause and effect of their study habits on their grades. A plausible next step in this case might be to plan an opportunity to discuss study habits at a later date.

- Ask your child if she has any idea what she needs to do to improve upon the situation. Inviting her to become an engaged participant in managing her academics will encourage her to develop ownership in her learning process. Students who are given an opportunity to discuss their performance and become actively involved in making decisions are more likely to become internally motivated life long learners. If she displays confusion on how to proceed simply offer your guidance in developing a plan that has specific, realistic and achievable goals.

If your child has done well academically then responding to their good report card should be pretty straight forward, right? Some parents may think this is an easy task but there are many things one should consider in order to avoid the development of unrealistic expectations and unnecessary pressure.

- Begin by asking your child how he feels about his accomplishments. Stimulating an awareness of good feelings that are tied to specific behaviors is always a good way to reinforce similar behavior in the future.

- When responding to a job well done feel free to express your praise but remember that being too general or vague with your praise does little to guarantee a repeat performance. Show your pride by giving your child very specific praise that focuses more on effort than on intellect or achievement. When we praise children for their intelligence only, we are stressing the importance of being smart. This has the potential of putting undue pressure on them not to make mistakes and less apt to take the risks that are inherent in learning. Emphasizing effort helps children learn that they have control in their own success by making attempts and exerting their energies in certain ways. Providing a child with a clear picture of what it is they are doing to master a certain task will help boost their internal motivation and encourage perseverance – a key ingredient in not only school success but lifelong success.

- We all love to be recognized for doing our best but be cautious about using rewards. Compensating children for a good report card can build their self-esteem but it can also lead them to expect a reward every time. A child who grows up constantly acquiring external rewards will not develop persistence because they learn to abandon the task once the reward is withdrawn. Experts recommend limiting rewards such as candy and money. Try an alternative such as the gift of your time – arrange a special project or outing –and let them know they earned it.

- When you have more than one school age child it is important to be on the alert for sibling rivalry and make sure no one assumes a superior attitude or ends up feeling bad about themselves. Never compare your children’s report cards and try not to praise one in front of the other. Instead, use this opportunity to instill respect for differences and the uniqueness of individuals. This is a fitting time to reaffirm the appreciation of various strengths and weaknesses and discuss their value.

Keep in mind that a parent should always place the responsibility for academic performance on their child and do not accept or allow them to make excuses for not reaching their potential. At the same time, examine your responsibility for providing a home environment that encourages optimal learning and good study habits. This is an opportune time to analyze your family’s use of media. Too much stimulus from television, video and computer has an impact on your child’s brain development and you have the control to make that impact a positive one. If you aren’t already familiar with the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics on this topic, please take the time to inform yourself by going to their website.

In summary, try not to make a big deal about report cards – present it as just one other way to measure learning. And remember to always sustain a positive attitude toward your children regardless of their grades. Continue to set and maintain high expectations with plenty of support and encouragement for any academic endeavor. Be proactive and don’t wait for the distribution of report cards to take an interest in your child’s grades, classes and other school related activities. Most importantly, letting them know you value them for other things besides intellectual achievement will go a long way to guaranteeing their educational success as well as promoting their thirst for learning. Any parent can always find one thing that is positive and focus on it – then stand back and watch it grow! Now give yourself an A+ for effort!

©2008 The Progressive Parent, LLC and Connie Hammer, MSW and PCI Certified Parent Coach®
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Author's Bio: 

Hammer is the owner of The Progressive Parent, LLC. As a certified parent coach, Hammer specializes in helping parents of children with Autism adjust to the most important and most difficult job of their lives. A licensed social worker, she has more than twenty years of experience working with families. For additional information, visit