The feeling of despair that accompanies a child’s poor report card is far from pleasant, evoking a tumult of emotions ranging from disappointment to profound concern. However, it’s important to be mindful of how we, as parents, respond, since our reactions can greatly impact the child. Our responses can either inspire improvement or further discourage the child. Instead of jumping to harsh criticism, there are many healthier methods you can use to encourage your child to improve their grades, while preserving a supportive relationship with them.
First, cool down
A poor grade on a report card in a particular subject can be due to a multitude of reasons, and does not necessarily translate to the student being lazy or incompetent in the subject. There may be several factors involved that might contribute to poor performance.
- The child has performed well on evaluations, but failed to submit assignments or underperformed on projects that impacted the final grade.
- Despite the child’s diligent study habits, their results in assessments were unsatisfactory due to a variety of factors such as test anxiety, the disparity in difficulty between the homework and the tests, studying the wrong materials not on the test, among other things.
- The child didn’t study sufficiently to be adequately prepared for the assessments.
- The course was challenging to all students.
- The child frequently demonstrated poor behavior during class and was often absent or late.
- The child had a good understanding and knowledge but struggled to articulate this understanding in assessments.
- The child experienced difficulty working collaboratively on class assignments with other students or struggled with tasks that required communication, such as presentations.
- The child faced challenges comprehending the lessons taught in class, or they lacked the prerequisite background knowledge necessary to excel in the course.
Therefore, poor report card grades can result from various factors. It is important to understand which areas your child excels in and which areas need improvement.
Then, recognize and reward strength and improvement
A report card should not be viewed as the final judgement of a child’s abilities; rather, it should function as a critical tool that accurately identifies their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, many parents tend to dwell on the poor grades, while barely acknowledging the higher ones. It’s a common assumption that lower grades are a result of the child not having put enough work, and the first thing many parents do is to tell their child how disappointed they are or that they have to work harder.
I believe it’s crucial to shift this conventional perspective – instead of focusing first on the lower grades and only afterwards considering the higher ones, we should first acknowledge the good grades before turning our attention to those that may need improvement. Parents should consciously recognize and appreciate any progress the child has made, no matter how small it might seem. Even within subjects where a child got a bad grade on, there can be aspects they have improved upon or excelled at. They might have done an excellent job in projects or presentations, or their teacher might have commented on their work ethic. Or, your child may have exhibited an increased interest and enthusiasm for the subject even though they have struggled in it.
By acknowledging these subtle yet substantial improvements, we indirectly foster a healthy environment that values growth and progress. This small shift in perspective can greatly increase your child’s overall motivation. When a child is aware that their efforts and improvements are being noticed, it makes it easier for you and your child to have a more open and honest conversation about their areas of struggle and potential methods for improvement.
Transform correction into collaboration
When your child brings home a disappointing report card, it’s important to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of becoming a critic. Parents often feel the need to “teach” their children about the mistakes they made and how to improve their grades. After all, having spent years in formal education ourselves, we feel equipped to give advice, right?
While instructing your child may seem like the correct approach, it may not be the most effective one. Here’s why:
- As previously mentioned, there are many factors contributing to a poor report card grade. Some issues may be personal to your child, such as test anxiety, which can be brought to light only through honest conversation with your child.
- Some children react negatively to criticism. They might pretend to listen to you, but in reality, they could be tuning out. Once they close off mentally, your “teaching” may come off as further criticism, making them less receptive to your input.
- Most importantly, the child needs to understand what measures they must take to improve their grades. They must identify their own strengths and weaknesses and devise a plan for improvement that make sense to them.
Therefore, instead of trying to directly correct or convince your child, imagine yourself as a supportive partner, helping your child in identifying strategies to improve their performance. In this capacity, your role as a parent becomes more of a guide, assisting your child in understanding what they did well and where they struggled, along with brainstorming new ways to approach these issues next time.
An effective technique could be asking open-ended, non-judgmental questions that prompt your child to reflect on their learning journey. Some examples include:
- “What were the tricky parts of the science course that you took?”
- “How did you prepare for your math tests? What kind of strategies did you use?”
- “What difficulties did you encounter during your history exams?”
- “What study techniques seemed to work that you would like to continue using? What study techniques didn’t quite work out? Is there anything new that you want to try out next semester? “
By asking these questions, you are giving your child to do self-reflection. By maintaining a non-judgmental demeanor, you help your child feel secure and supported, which lowers the emotional barriers that prevent them from sharing their true feelings. This approach encourages your child to take responsibility for their own academic growth. Being capable of independent reflection and decision-making is a crucial skill for children to develop as they get older. While parents may hold sway over their child’s academics during their elementary or middle school years, the child will have to make their own decisions as they transition into high school and university due to higher workloads and more complex academic demands.
Empowerment is the key
Perhaps the most essential aspect in dealing with a bad report card is to empower your child. Sitting down with them and collaboratively developing an improvement plan is a good start. During this process, make sure that they are in charge. That means letting your child figure out what went right and what went wrong in the preceding semester and helping your child brainstorm what they might want to try in the next semester.
At the same time, make sure that your child knows you are there to support them and that extra resources are available if they need them. This could involve help setting goals, finding extra study resources such as extra workbooks or extra academic help in school or through private tutoring. The objective here is to reassure them that they are not powerless victims of their poor grades, but have the ability and strength to positively influence their academic performance by taking meaningful actions.
Some empowerment tips include:
- Celebrate their hard work and effort, regardless of their grade
- Encourage a dialogue about their struggles or difficulties in a safe and judgement-free space
- Work together in coming up with solutions and strategies to tackle academic challenges
- Avoid imposing your strategies or success metrics; instead guide them to create their own customized solutions
Remember, they need to be given the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s a crucial part of all children’s learning process. Children need a safe space for them to confront and overcome their challenges, and when they overcome the challenges when they are in the drivers’ seat, they will be truly proud of their accomplishment.
In conclusion, the overall handling of a poor report card involves much more than just obsessing over the grades. The ultimate objective should converge in making your child understand that a bad report card is not necessarily a measure of their worth or capabilities, but a stepping stone towards future improvement. By shifting the focus towards progress, setting up a partnership-style approach, and fostering an environment ripe for self-reflection, we’ve the power to turn a disappointing report card into a constructive learning moment!
Richard Zhang, M.Ed., is an educator and a software developer with a Masters degree in education from University of Toronto and an immense passion for education and learning. Until the pandemic, Richard owned an award-winning learning centre in Toronto. For 15 years, he has taught and mentored hundreds of elementary, middle school, and high school students succeed in academics. He is also an app developer specializing in web and mobile application in educational and business sectors.