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Parenting through poor report cards

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January is the start of a new semester at school for most kids and therefore a good time to consider a new way to approach school performance and grades with your child. Many kids come to school struggling with anxiety about their grades. And unfortunately, as The Associated Press recently reported, reports of abuse increase when children get their report cards.

At Denver’s Tennyson Center for Children, which helps abused and neglected children, we work with families in their homes and on campus to navigate these stressors and highlight a child’s positive progress in school so that they look forward to school and perform better. We see many children fall into a rejection cycle with grades that starts simply with a parent negatively responding to grades, which can lead to feelings of rejection and anxiety in the child. This anxiety can cause a child to lie, hide their grades, act overly silly or energetic, or even become aggressive. A child may then become distracted at school, worry about punishment from their parents, and perform poorly on tests in the future, forming a recurring negative cycle.  Below are several tips on how parents can work with their kids to end the rejection cycle and reduce your family’s anxiety about grades and report cards:

  • Ask questions. When you’re both calm and ready to talk, ask questions about your child’s grades and focus on what could be impacting their school performance. For example, ask about their friends, peer pressure, bullying, how difficult the work is, and what they like and dislike about school. You may find your child struggles with her work ethic, motivation, ability to manage stress, or even more interestingly, your expectations or how you manage stress. It’s amazing what kids will share when asked the right questions, at the right time, and in the right way. Then you can both develop a plan of action together to deal with school-related issues. 
  • Develop a daily routine. If a child knows what to expect when discussing grades, they can manage anxiety without resorting to unhealthy behaviors. Create a daily check-in time with your child after school that is structured the same way each day. During this time, ask three to five questions, such as: What was the best part of your day? What was the part you liked the least? How do you feel right now? What’s one thing you would like to change about today? What would you like to take responsibility for today, positive or negative? You will likely see your child communicate more with the routine. When report cards come out, follow through with the same structure check-in. This will give both of you predictability and more comfort with these discussions.
  • Come up with a plan for yourself on how to deal with grades that are below what you expect (e.g., plan a date night to get out of the house, call a friend or family member for support or go for a walk to let off steam). Try not to react in the moment, and give yourself some time to respond in a helpful way.
  • Manage your expectations. As parents, we often develop an image of what we want our children to become. Our expectations can cause us to react strongly when our children do not perform in ways we expect. One way we can counteract the anxiety around grades is to manage our expectations of our children based on who they want to become. Help your child see how doing well in school is connected to the image of a future self they have created.  

By Rebecca Durbahn and Dustan Dilorio, Clinicians at the Tennyson Center for Children


Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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