By Amanda Morin
How you react to your child’s report card can impact his motivation, self-esteem and sense of control over his learning. So it’s important to look beyond the grades before you respond. Consider these common report card scenarios.
You might be tempted to say, “I was expecting to see more improvement than this.” But it’s important to remember that any improvement is progress, and even a little bit can take a lot of effort. Recognizing this provides an opportunity to talk about what’s working well.
Instead, try saying, “Well done! What do you think helped you to make those improvements? Would the same strategies be helpful for other subjects, too?”
When the news isn’t great, you might be tempted to blurt out, “You’re grounded until your attitude and grades improve!” But take a deep breath and try this approach instead: “I need to take some time to think about what I want to say. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
Then, think about what “improvement” looks like. Be realistic and define it for your child: “Here are the expectations for the next marking period. Let’s come up with a plan to make it happen.”
When the results are positive, you might be tempted to say, “I knew if you tried harder you could do better!” But “trying harder” isn’t how kids with learning and attention issues do better in school.
Instead, you can say something like, “Awesome! Looks like using new strategies for homework and studying really paid off.” Get more tips on how to give praise.
When you’re looking for improvement in grades you may overlook teacher comments about progress in other areas. You might be tempted to say, “Well, your attitude is better. If only your grades were better, too.” But if your child doesn’t enjoy school, greater effort and an improved attitude are progress.
Instead, try saying, “It’s good to hear you’re more comfortable in school, and to see that you’re doing well with your homework. Let’s work on test-taking for the next marking period.”
Since some subjects have improved, you might be tempted to say, “What happened with the rest of your classes?” But as your child gets older, the expectations for learning change and may be harder to meet in some subjects.
It’s more productive to say, “Your math and science grades look great! But I’m a little disappointed about the others. What’s different in those classes?” Talk about changes that might help, such as a quieter homework area or working with a tutor. If he’s old enough, you can also suggest that he speak with his teachers about strategies that could help him improve.
If you’re surprised, you might be tempted to say, “You’re failing everything?! I thought you were working hard!” Your child’s performance may have little to do with effort, though. Does he have the necessary supports? Maybe it’s time to consider an evaluation or revisit his IEP goals.
You can say this instead: “I’m really surprised by these grades—I know you worked hard. After we talk about what you think could help you, I’m going to ask for a meeting at school to come up with a better plan.”
When your child is suddenly failing everything, you might be tempted to say, “What on earth is going on with you?” But it’s important to think about any other signs that something’s wrong. Have you seen changes in his behavior or in his friendships recently?
If so, you could say, “I’m really not happy with this, and I’ve noticed other changes in you lately. Take a day to think about what your teachers and I can do to help. Tomorrow we’ll talk and come up with a plan for moving forward.”
You might be tempted to say, “I don’t understand why you’re upset. This report card looks pretty good.” If your child has been expecting a bigger “payoff” for his hard work, however, it might not look good enough.
Instead you can say, “I understand that you’re disappointed, but I’m happy with this. I see your hard work paying off.”
Out of frustration you might be tempted to say, “I knew this was going to happen! I’m taking your phone until you fix it!” But your child can’t prove it’s “fixed” until the next report card. And that’s too long for any form of punishment to be meaningful or effective.
A better approach might be to say, “You can’t change your report card, but you can—and will—change your approach to school. You aren’t going to use your phone until your homework is done and checked each day.”
Of course you want your child with dysgraphia to do his best. But sometimes even well-meant comments from parents can have a negative effect. Dr. Charles Sophy, medical director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, lists some common remarks that can hurt—and what you might say instead. (You may want to adjust these based on your child’s age.)
You want to help your child with learning and attention issues make the transition from summer to school. But it’s easy to send messages about going back to school that may hurt more than help. Here are some things you may find yourself saying—and what might work better.
Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.
Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.
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Experts Weigh In: “What Should I Do When My Child Says ‘I’m Dumb’?”
5 Things Not to Say to Your Child About Dyspraxia
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