The dos and dont's of discussing a failing grade with your child
When my seven-year-old arrived home with her grade-two report card, she used every stall tactic she could think of to keep me from seeing it. After a quick look at her marks, I discovered why. Peeking out among the A’s and B’s were a couple of C’s in a subject she’d always done well in. “How the heck did that happen?” I yelped, frowning. Her face crumpled and she started to cry. Report card time can be stressful for everybody, but letting your disappointment or anger get the better of you only makes things worse, says Laura Mayne, co-author of Meet the Teacher: How to Help Your Child Navigate Elementary School. Here’s how to handle the A’s and the D’s (and everything in between).
DO stay positive. Find something to praise initially, even if it’s only to comment on the slight improvement in your child’s English mark or how well she gets along with her classmates. “If the marks aren’t stellar, but your child has worked hard and tried her very best, she deserves recognition for what she’s achieved,” says Mayne.
DON’T compare. Avoid the temptation to talk about his sister’s, cousin’s or friend’s exemplary reports. “It’s very easy to get caught up in the grade craze,” says Jennifer Sabatini, a professor of early childhood education at Seneca College in Toronto and mom of 12-year-old twins. “You need to focus on having reasonable expectations for each of your children, not on everyone else.”
DO listen to the key player. A lot of parents fail to realize that children are insightful about their own strengths and weaknesses, says Mayne. Ask your child what she thinks about her report card, what she’s most proud of, or disappointed in, and why she thinks she received the marks she did. Remember to keep calm, cool and collected — this is a conversation, not an interrogation.
DON’T lose sight of the big picture. A report card is just a snapshot of the work your child produced during a specific period of time, says Mayne. A lower mark doesn’t always mean she’s slacking off or slipping in a subject. Your child may bring home an A in math one term, and a B the next if the course content has changed and she finds algebra more challenging than geometry (as was my daughter’s case). Look carefully at the teacher’s comments as well, since they can give you a better idea of how your child is performing overall, adds Sabatini. “As parents, we should focus on the area of the report card that indicates learning skills, such as initiative, problem solving and conflict resolution, because they are the long-term indicators of future success.”
DO prepare a follow-up plan. “Take time on report card day to focus on and celebrate successes,” says Mayne. “Then begin fresh the next day with plans for improvement.” Ask your child what he thinks he has to do, both at home and at school, to get better marks. Report cards sometimes reflect a lack of effort more than a lack of skill, so maybe he needs to limit TV or cut back on extracurricular activities. Offer your own suggestions and then, together, set small, realistic goals. You may also want to talk to your child’s teacher about what your child can do to bring up his grades, especially if they’re not reflective of the time and effort he’s putting in.