Mid-year report card season can be stressful on families. Parents may finally have to face up to problems that have been brewing at school all semester. Some students may fear parents finding they’ve earned disappointing marks. Others may cringe to bring home even one grade that’s below an A. And all may be nervous about how to make changes so the second semester will be better.
Parents and the way they respond to the report card are essential to making this point in the school year constructive for the family, according to Debbie Goldstein, LCSW-C, a social worker and clinical director at JSSA (Jewish Social Service Agency). Goldstein has worked with young children, teens, couples and families for 15 years at JSSA.
“You are your child’s best advocate,” Goldstein says. “And you are the expert on your child. Together you and your child should be working toward achieving optimum results at school.”
Often parents approach report card season thinking they should abruptly turn strict about schoolwork, Goldstein says. But she warns this can lead to a power struggle.
Instead, to keep the response to a report card productive, she urges parents to:
- Cultivate calm: Talk calmly with your child about what’s happening at school, inside and outside the classroom. Equally important: Listen carefully to the responses. Show care and concern. Use neutral body language.
- Be on your child’s side: If your child is disappointed in her marks, empathize. Then say you’d like to talk to the teacher to see whether you can find out why a certain grade was given. “At the meeting, find out what the teacher expects and how the grade can be improved,” Goldstein says. Solutions such as better organization, a clear time and place to do homework, or some extra work with the teacher or a tutor may help.
- Get real: Set realistic goals based on an honest assessment of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The goals will only be effective, however, if the child accepts them. Recognize that some kinds of structure, like a workspace organized with supplies, need to come from parents when children are still in elementary school.
- Soothe perfectionists: Students accustomed to receiving straight A’s have their own worries – what if they get a B? Goldstein urges a child in this situation to let parents know he’s not sure he did well. Parents can help the child explore whether those fears are justified and remind that mistakes are essential to learning. It can be beneficial to discuss “what would’ve happened if there had been a B” to help the child build resilience for the future.
- Heed warning signs: Parents should pay close attention to changes in their child’s behavior and attitude such as loss of motivation, a change in eating and sleeping patterns, or blaming anyone but themselves for their grades. These may indicate anxiety or depression. Both are treatable if the child is evaluated by a physician or mental health professional such as a psychologist or social worker.
“If a child already tends to be anxious, you can expect that the end of the semester will be a more stressful time,” Goldstein says.
She urges parents to consult professionals if their child is showing frustration, is working hard but not achieving better grades, or is struggling with reading or other central learning skills.
“These can be indicators of learning or attention issues, many of which don’t go away on their own,” Goldstein says. Having children tested by professionals such as social workers, psychologists or other licensed, qualified mental health professionals is the only way to determine learning disabilities.