Twice a year ominous white envelopes arrive in the mail. Kids tremble in terror. And many parents do also. Who gets to open these report cards first? And, more importantly, what should our reaction be?
I'm always a little puzzled by the anxiety of children to see their grades. Don't they know how they've been doing all along? And I'm always a little outraged when teachers bring up a serious problem -- why did they wait this long? Why didn't they call to discuss it with me? But don't get me started...
In general, I try to keep my focus on the behavior part of the report card. Do they pay attention? Are they kind to the other children? Are they respectful to the teacher? Do they behave responsibly? It's my children's character I care about the most. If they get a C but the teacher says, "She's a real pleasure to have in class" of "He's really trying hard", what more could I ask for? I accept that each of my children has different abilities and interests, different strengths and weaknesses. (And that many of them live in abject terror of math tests!)
On the other hand, if they get all A's but their behavior is less than outstanding, if their attitude is not positive, I am not pleased. It means that we have work to do. We need to make a plan (and yes even offer bribes, to change the undesirable behavior).
And sometimes (actually all the time), the report cards carry the complaint that he or she (no sexism here) talks too much. I've seen so many report cards (all of them?) for so many years saying the same thing that I confess to giving up the battle (if any of my children that are still in school are reading this, "just kidding"). Boys will be boys, girls will be girls – and all that. As long as it doesn't veer into chutzpah. For that I have a zero tolerance policy. I think that it reflects an extreme character flaw that needs to be uprooted immediately before permanent damage is done.
Our attitude and our expectations will determine our children's reaction.
We need to appreciate all of our children. The A students need to be commended for their achievement, even the ones for whom it required minimal effort. The C students need to know that we appreciate their hard work, that we are on their side (even if, in some cases, the teacher isn't)
Most of all, we need to remove the fear from the experience. We need to communicate our support -- and our loving concern if necessary. Report cards shouldn't lead to anger or punishment, but discussions of future possibilities and changes. (Caveat here: the report cards of adolescents, like everything else about them, pose a unique challenge)
I don't believe we can force good grades or good behavior from a child (certainly not without serious psychological damage), but we can encourage it.
An often forgotten ally in this effort for change is our child's teacher. While there are some truly bad teachers, most are wonderful. Most are trying hard and want our children to succeed. They need appreciation and respect also. Blaming them is at the very least an ineffective strategy and at most wrong, and harmful to your child.
The arrival of report cards doesn't need to be a traumatic experience, if we don't make it one. It's our attitude and our expectations that will determine our children's reaction. I suggest a bowl of ice cream all round to celebrate the semester's hard work, or in anticipation of the hard work to come. If we believe in our children, their report cards will show it; the important part of their report cards anyway.