Family life

Do your kids care about their report cards?

Tracy wonders if her perfectionist daughter will buckle under the stress of school success.

By Tracy Chappell
Do your kids care about their report cards?

Anna's "love note" to her teacher for Valentine's Day.

It might as well have been Christmas. Or her birthday. Or at least the days leading up to a visit from Grandma and Grandpa. “How many more sleeps?” my six-year-old, Anna, asked me last weekend. “I’m so excited!”
She wasn’t talking about an upcoming special occasion, though. She was eagerly awaiting… wait for it… report-card day.
I’m not sure what she was expecting, since this was her first report card. We weren’t even sure what to expect. She didn’t have any formal reports in kindergarten, and the progress report that was handed out late in the fall was so vague it was essentially meaningless. All I can really recall from it now was that Anna was very punctual and prepared for class, which essentially gave me a nice pat on the back.
Anna is doing very well in grade one. I know this already because I see her tests and the comments on her homework and know her reading level is jumping up and up. Her report card was very good, and in our lightening-fast parent-teacher interview, Anna’s progress was praised and the areas suggested for improvement were non-academic: making sure she gives others a chance in group work, watching her tone, etc. (Also, not a surprise to us and things we're working on, too.)
Anna is definitely bright, and I don’t say that as any pat on my back. She’s one of those kids who picks things up easily and she’s turned into the kind of student who wants to do well and takes a lot of pride her in work. I’ve seen a side of her since starting school this year that I hadn’t before — one that wants to impress. She rarely complains about doing homework, and if she does, all I have to say is, “You don’t have to do it, but you’ll have to write in your agenda that you chose not to do your homework.” That’s all it takes. The last thing in the world she wants is to disappoint her teacher.
I recognize this girl. Very well. She’s like me (except she’s much more naturally intelligent than I ever was). I understand that feeling of wanting to do your very best because you just can’t not; I relate to that desire for praise from your teacher and wanting to be held up as an example. There's a lot of good in that, but it's not all good.
Because I also know that it only gets tougher, and the pressure only gets more intense. And the worst part is it’s self-inflicted, because you’ve decided that anything less than excellent isn’t OK, even though it really is OK. I worry about that part. There have been times that workbooks went flying across the room because of a misspelled word or misunderstanding of directions. Of course, I want her to do well and I’m happy that she cares so much, but I don’t want her to put unnecessary pressure on herself. I don’t want her to tie her self-worth to letters on a report card or a pat on the head from a teacher. I know Anna and her temperament, and I worry it will all backfire — that if she finds something she doesn’t excel at, she’ll crumble and give up on everything.
And yes, this may be me projecting unnecessarily. Maybe she’s just a keen first-grader who has found another “thing” that makes her feel good and I should stop being so weird about it (I know it's weird to have these feelings about your kid doing well!) and just be happy that academics are something I don’t have to stress over right now. And I am truly happy. When Anna asked me what her report card said, I told her it said that she works very hard and is doing so well. I told that we’re very proud of that hard work and all we ever ask is that she tries her best. And I meant it.
Do your kids worry about their grades?

This article was originally published on Feb 12, 2013

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