Well, the time has almost arrived for the very first report card of the year. I have always believed that report cards provide us with an important and yet incredibly difficult parenting moment. There is the opportunity for connecting and building your relationship with your child, or an opportunity to really hurt it. I think this is true whether the report card is “good” or “not so good.” You see, it’s all about focusing on what’s most important and about how you communicate your feelings with your child. And let me tell you, it is tricky! I still feel like I am figuring out my technique. Here are some of my ideas:
1) Focus on the effort WAY more than the exact grade:
Sometimes a B took a lot of effort and was a sign of improvement. Sometimes a B was a sign of a lack of interest and sloppy work. We have to be paying attention each week and communicating with the teachers to know which is the case for our children. If your child put a lot of effort into the work, celebrate that effort and show satisfaction with the progress they are making. If more progress still needs to be made, create a plan together to get there. Focusing on the next step without acknowledging the work and progress it took to get to where they are now is demoralizing. Now, if the grade you see is a reflection of lack of effort, try to get to the bottom of why your child is giving up and not trying. Is it about confidence, a lack of connection with the teacher, or too many “other” distractions in life? Knowing this will help you and your child make a plan for improvement.
2) Use the report cards for goal setting, TOGETHER:
As you sit down to go over the report card, try asking your child (nicely, even if you aren’t happy with what you see), “What did it take to get the grade that you see?” This is a great time to celebrate the effort, or to talk about the effort that was missing. Or maybe it wasn’t a lack of effort but inefficient study skills, a lack of understanding of the content, or other life stressors. You can also ask, “What do you think worked for you? What didn’t work? Should we keep doing the same thing, or come up with new ideas that will work better?” Let your child know you want to help them do their best and make improvements. It doesn’t hurt to remind yourself and your children (over and over) that mistakes are opportunities to learn. You want to create the sense that even if the results this time are disappointing that your children are still capable and that you believe in them. Making mistakes will actually help them learn and grow and are a constant part of life.
3) Rewards and punishments are not going to get you what you want in the long run:
Both rewards and punishments are external motivators when our ultimate goal should be building our children’s internal desire to do well and feel accomplished. They are our attempt to “make” our children get good grades, when ultimately we want them to “want” to do their best. That isn’t to say there are not consequences, but the approach is key. To tell your child, “You did not make the grade. I am taking away your phone, friends, etc. You are going to tutoring” puts the focus on you, makes you the bad guy, and actually distracts them from taking personal responsibility. Instead, when you discuss and problem-solve together you can identify the distractions and where help is needed. Then when it is decided that a reduction in phone and friend time and some extra tutoring help are the path to success, your children will be able to see where they have control and the responsibility to change things. At that point it is ok to say, “When you choose to allow your phone to distract you from school work, then you are choosing less time with your phone.” Same thing goes for rewards. I’m going to say it point blank; Please do not pay your kids for grades. There have been studies that show that those kind of external rewards may give a temporary increase in the desired behavior, but show a long-term decrease in motivation. Because, let’s face it, you want your child to have the internal motivation to do well and learn and try even when you aren’t there to make sure that it happens. Celebrate the success. Let them know you can see how hard they worked and how proud of themselves they are. That will provide infinitely more motivation and satisfaction than an external reward.
So, good luck next week! I will pray that this moment goes smoothly for you. I hope you will do the same for me!