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What to Do About a Poor Report Card

How to transform bad grades into a learning experience -- and into better results.

Stay calm!

When your child brings home disappointing grades, don't panic, and don't lose your cool. Studies have shown that either reaction may mean worse grades in the future. Punishing the youngster won't work either, nor will offering rewards for good grades, or just expressing nonchalance, as in "Well, you'll do better next time."

What has been found to help is a low-key, reasoned approach that includes getting to the root of the problem, working with the child's teachers to provide necessary support, and a constant emphasis on the positive.

Talk about it.

If this is the first time the child has come home with poor grades, then perhaps all that's necessary is to have a "heart to heart" with the child. During this conversation, talk about what each of you expect, make note of the youngster's known abilities, and offer to help overcome the problem.

A pattern of poor grades in tests or homework signals a need to talk to the child's teachers. Request a conference right away. Try to reach a consensus on the question: "Why is Jane (or John) not making grades any better than these?"

It could be that the child isn't capable of better grades, in which case you may have to adjust your expectations. The youngster may need remedial help or may need to be reassigned to classes that aren't as demanding.

Evaluate each situation.

The causes of bad grades also may change from one year to the next. When Eric, the oldest in his family, entered the second grade his grades took a sharp, sudden turn for the worse. By talking with his teacher, his parents learned that his first grade experience had been inadequate. The problem was solved by hiring a tutor to work with him after school two afternoons a week.

In the fifth grade, his grades went down again. This time, his teachers said that Eric was simply "paying too much attention to his social life and not enough to his studies."

In discussing the problem with Eric, his parents made sure he knew that his teachers had many more good things than bad to say about him. His folks got a lot more mileage out of making him feel like a success rather than trying to make him feel guilty for having let them down with his grades.

Then his parents made him responsible for his school work. He brought home a teacher's note each week updating them on the progress of his school work. No progress (or no note) meant that he would have to stay inside until the following Friday.

In effect, the parents handed responsibility for the problem over to Eric, its rightful owner, and said, "Take your choice -- freedom or no freedom, it's up to you."

The two episodes with Eric are examples of similar problems with dissimilar causes and solutions. Each time a problem arises, be sure you reevaluate the possible cause, rather than trying to implement the same solution that worked before. Showing respect for how your child has changed and grown is a better way to get his or her cooperation and than by tring to force an answer that no longer fits the problem.

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