Is This Normal? Here Come the Report Cards

Written by: Ann O'Neill

Is this normal?

  • Is your child showing a sudden and pointed interest in homework?
  • Is your child complaining that her/his teachers are too strict (…demanding, unreasonable, mean…), give unfair grades, and in addition, have remarkably horrible personal qualities?
  • Is your school-aged child saying that you look 25 in your new jeans?
  • Does your child seem to have more homework than usual?

It must be report card time.

For the last two weeks of a marking period, kids may discover that their grades were lost and forgotten at the bottom of their lockers, in secret backpack compartments, or on dumped cafeteria trays.  During those two weeks, you might see an extra effort towards school work, more complaining about teachers, and transparent flattery.

Report cards are a great way to connect with your kids about academics and school.  If the marks are good, it’s time to celebrate.  A celebration for good grades tells your kids that you recognize their hard work, that you’re proud of their work, and that you value education.

However, it’s not time to bring out the parade floats, the jugglers on unicycles, or the fire-eaters.  It’s important that the celebration doesn’t eclipse the achievement.  Keep the celebration about the grades and not the grades about the celebration.  Going out to dinner at their favorite restaurant, buying a new baseball mitt, or heading to the cider mill for doughnuts are great ways to acknowledge their work.  If you want to give money for grades, follow the celebration rule.  Don’t let the amount of cash overshadow the grades.

While celebrating, ask your kids which teacher gives the hardest tests, what’s the best way to study, and if they’re going to try-out for drama next marking period.  It’s better to use less than ordinary questions to begin conversations rather than “What’s your favorite subject?” and “Who’s your favorite teacher?”  Save those questions for the aunts and uncles at Thanksgiving.

If the grades are lower than previous card markings, it’s time to intervene.  The intervention isn’t just the one-time lecture about the importance of good grades, their future, their past, and how hard you had it when you were their ages.  From a calm, observational tone, tell them you noticed their grades are lower than previous card markings.  Ask them how they are going to raise their grades.  Then, listen.

Kids like to give vague answers like “Study (… Try, Pay attention, Turn in assignments  …) more.”  Vague generalities don’t work.  Kindly press for details until workable goals are formed.  “Complete homework every night” and “Do my best work on all assignments,” are goals that cover miles of academic ground.

Ask when they are going to contact their teachers to see what they can to do to raise their grades.  Kids can email their teachers or talk with them. Follow up with these contacts.  Review their homework planners every night and look over their homework when it’s finished.  Propose that you have a two week review of grades to determine if the grades are rising and to determine next steps if the grades haven’t improved.

This is the work of parenting, and it isn’t easy.  Most kids will test their parents to see if a nightly homework check is going to happen with any consistency.  Count on being tested.  This is a tough parenting assignment, especially on those nights where you work late, everyone is hungry despite having eaten dinner, two kids need rides to two different soccer practices, and one kid is trying to fit himself into the dryer.

A dramatic drop in grades can indicate that your child is having a problem in a nonacademic area.  Investigate dramatic drops in grades by discussing it with teachers, counselors, and your child.  A dramatic drop is a highly sensitive subject to a child, and one that won’t benefit from “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  Listen to your child and be gentle.

Academic struggles are normal.  Being involved and participating in your kids’ education is good health.

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