01/21/2014 11:49 am ET Updated Mar 23, 2014

How Should I React to My Child's Report Card?

As a parent, grandparent and retired teacher, I have either written or received every kind of evaluation that a person might read. I have never, in the past 46 years, seen a child who did not have some area upon which he or she could improve, even with all "A's" or all "1's." There was never a time that I anticipated receiving a report during which I felt no anxiety at all. As a teacher who wrote the reports over 40 years, there was never a time that I did not hope that a parent would understand exactly what I was trying to say about their child.

I remember when my children were in elementary school, number 14 on the report card was in "effort." I told them that number 14 was the most important, because if they tried their hardest, that was all that I ever expected. The real truth was that I hoped that when they tried their hardest that their grades would reflect their work. Sometimes they had one subject that proved challenging, and I did my best to be supportive and helpful. I usually asked for a parent-teacher conference even if one was not indicated, because I wanted to be sure that the teacher and I were on the same page. I wanted the teacher to know that I was monitoring the progress with her or him, and I always asked what I could do at home to help in their work with my child. Teachers seemed to appreciate my interest, and I felt calmer after the one-on-one interaction.

As a classroom teacher I discovered how difficult it is to say things to parents in a format that they would understand and embrace. Because I was expected to write complete paragraphs on social/emotional growth, on academic growth and on work habits, I had to make sure that I had examples of everything that I wrote to show the parents during the conference times to support my observations. Phrases like "is working on" and "is beginning to" and "is developing ways in which" became very important when I needed to explain areas that needed work. I was careful to write what my specific goals were so that the parents and I could monitor the progress that needed to take place. There were some experiences that I had that proved to be difficult, because I was so positive in my approach that the parents read the report the way that they wanted it to be, and they missed my points completely. There were others who panicked at the thought of something that their child needed to improve, and that also took an enormous amount of explanation.

When advising parents on this subject, I always encourage parents not to show their children their report cards, but rather to discuss areas in which they would like to help them function better in the classroom. This is a great place for opening communication. Ask your child how he or she feels about the year so far, and find out if there are any areas that they would like your help. If they cannot think of anything, then it is your opportunity to mention that their teacher would like to see them work on whatever area they have mentioned. Always reinforce the fact that you know how hard your child has tried to do well, and that it is your job as a parent to help them be as successful as possible in all areas. In this role you are acting as parent and role model as they understand what your goals are for them as well. Make this time be without judgment or conflict. It is just another time to connect and love the person he or she is becoming!