How to respond to your child’s report card

Before you open your child’s report card, read this. 

4 December 2017
5 minute read

Little boy sitting at desk unhappy

It’s report card time again! As nerve-wracking as opening that envelope might be for moms and dads, you must remember that how you respond is crucial. Saying and doing the right thing now can help your child build on their successes and overcome their obstacles in the years to come.

We spoke to some experts about the best approaches to giving your child feedback in the most constructive way, and how to deal with any problems that have arisen.

Read the report card alone first You may be desperate to learn how your child has done this year, but show a little restraint. Do not whip the report card out of the envelope in front of your child the moment you collect it. Instead, wait until you are home. 

Go through the report slowly, taking note not just of the achievements of this term, but how they differ from the marks your child achieved throughout the year. Once you have a clear picture of your child’s successes or stumbling blocks, you’re ready to talk it through with them.

Reading it alone first gives you time to process your own emotions. “It’s never a good idea to show that you are alarmed by a report card,” says Melanie Hartgill, an educational psychologist who specialises in psycho-educational assessments.

Every child is unique, and some bloom later or differently to others.

Remember every child is different “I wish that parents would try to keep in mind that every child is unique, and some bloom later or differently to others,” says Katherine Kenyon, teacher and owner of a Cottage School.

This is not to say that any learning difficulties shouldn’t be addressed. Parents should, however, accept that not all children are straight A students. And many will have interests or talents that are outside of the strictly academic subjects. If they are within their “comfort zone” – achieving well enough to get by, and with certain subjects or interests that they excel in, a few Cs and Ds aren’t the end of the world.

Highlight the good stuff  There’s a feedback approach called “The sandwich approach”. The idea is to start with the positives, then highlight the negatives, and then return to the positives, so that the negative feedback is cushioned. Most children will have some positives worth mentioning, so be sure to highlight those. When you address the poorer marks or comments, do it in a constructive way. This is outlined in the next point.

Be interested in the process that got them here “The problem I have with report cards is that they compact an entire term’s work into one number,” says Melanie. “That number doesn’t tell you anything.”

For this reason, she recommends talking the term and its challenges through with your child. Find out why they think that they underperformed – especially if the mark is a surprise downturn. “It could be because of a panic in an exam, a poor study technique or a misunderstanding of a specific aspect of their school work that was the main focus that term,” says Melanie.

It is also extremely important to show an interest in the processes that delivered positive marks. Focusing only on the achievement and not how the child got there will reduce their sense of worth to that final mark. Praise them for hard work, problem solving and overcoming challenges as much as for the outcome.

Make a game plan for any specific obstacles that have come up If your child’s poor marks are low enough to warrant intervention, or if there is a sudden drop in a subject because of a lack of comprehension, you can work on a plan for the next year with your child. This could involve speaking to a teacher about giving your child some support or pointers, or it could involve finding an extra lesson teacher.

“There are also fantastic free online resources like the e-classroom website or all kinds of YouTube videos that explain concepts,” says Melanie. “If you can identify a particular problem area, you can do a lot at home and online to get your child up to speed.”

If your child’s poor performance is as a result of an ongoing difficulty that they have with focus, attention or comprehension, you should consult with their teachers about whether it’s time to seek professional help in identifying the cause of the problem.

Consult with the teacher “If you don’t understand the reasons for your child’s results, it becomes very important to have a conference with the teacher,” says Melanie. “Unfortunately, year-end reports are usually handed out at the very end of the year, which doesn’t leave much time for discussion.”

However, she points out that a poor report card seldom happens in isolation, and a parent should be aware of the challenges their child is facing from their performance and teacher feedback during the year.

“You should be involved with their school career every step of the way from day one,” says Melanie. “I don’t mean helicopter parenting, but you should be on top of their homework and projects and what they are learning at the time, and then obviously the marks that they are getting along the way.”

If you feel that you need to meet with a teacher who has given your child a bad mark, there’s no harm in doing it in the new year, even if your child won’t be in that teacher’s class anymore. You can find out what the stumbling blocks were and get a broader sense of your child’s abilities, which you can then discuss with their new teacher.

Give them direction This is a point that is more relevant in high school: some students do better if they have a sense of purpose, and know what they are working towards academically to support a future career. If your child is struggling because they seem to lack direction, Melanie recommends that they go through a high school student assessment, which identifies their aptitude and weaknesses to give them some direction.

Above all else…The experts agree that while poor academic progress is something to be concerned about, and excellent achievements should be celebrated, academic results are not a true or whole reflection of your child. Be interested and involved and supportive of their report card results, but remember to celebrate them for everything that they are.

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