Anxious Kids Don’t Make the Grade

How to handle that first report card of the year

Along with bills and junk mail, your middle or high-school student’s first-quarter grades may be arriving soon at a dinner table near you.

And just as falling leaves signal autumn, you might notice the grades-are-imminent signs.

Perhaps your kid is unusually subdued, and watching you expectantly. Perhaps he or she has offered to do more household chores, or directs your attention to his or her prowess on the athletic field or in dance classes — and steers clear of academic conversations.

Make sure there are no other forces at play if the grades are surprisingly low.

Your kid may be anxious. Or downright scared.

But you can work through this stress-provoking experience and help your child get back on the path to good grades. Teachers, your allies in the learning experience, find first-quarter grades to be helpful tools.

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“My school system releases progress reports midway through the first quarter,” Diane Marotta, a recently retired Boston area teacher with 35 years of experience, told LifeZette. “Although teachers grumbled initially at the added work, we came to realize how helpful they are.”

When it comes to lagging grades, “it’s better to find out sooner than later,” she said.

Once you know there is a problem, make sure there are no other forces at play, if the grades are surprisingly low.

“Make sure there aren’t any other things going on that are affecting your child’s grades,” New York school psychologist Laurie Zelinger told LifeZette. “Learning issues may need to be addressed. A savvy parent asks, ‘Is there something here that is preventing learning?’”

When it comes to lagging grades, it’s better to find out sooner than later.

If you determine, perhaps with professional input, that your child does not have a learning impediment, it is important to keep the responsibility for the grades — good and bad — with your child.

“A good way to phrase it to your child might be, ‘You must be very disappointed in that grade,’” said Fred Zelinger, also a certified school psychologist. “Then, be available to plan with your child on how to address the failing grade if they ask, but primary responsibility stays with the child.”

You could also talk with your son or daughter about planning and organization.

“Sometimes, not doing homework or other tasks related to doing well in school is a choice by the student,” he said. “And the child must own that choice, as well as its consequences.”

Parents can gain critical insight into grades during the parent-teacher conference.

“We had conferences right after the mid-quarters went out,” Marotta said. “This worked very well. Students had an opportunity to correct their weaknesses, and parents had an important ‘heads up.’ Then, after-school sessions or tutoring could be implemented.”

“There’s a motto, ‘Catch your kids being good,’ and that’s a powerful thing.”

“The parent-teacher conference is so important, but studies have shown that while parents are very involved in meeting with teachers in elementary grades, by middle school and high school parental attendance trickles off tremendously,” Laurie Zelinger said.

Related: Best Parent-Teacher Relationships

Fred Zelinger said, “Most parents show up for teacher meetings when things are going bad with grades, but it’s important to go when things are going great with children’s grades. It’s a great motivator to your child to see you take the time to go, and then offer praise and encouragement. There’s a motto, ‘Catch your kids being good,’ and that’s a powerful thing.”

In the case of a terrific first-quarter report card that makes you beam with pride, resist the urge to reward your child with “things.”

“There has been a flurry of research in the last five years that says that rewards for grades actually reduce motivation,” Fred Zelinger said. “I don’t believe in the carrot-and-stick mentality. If you do celebrate the grades, a spontaneous activity that offers quality time together is the best, rather than a gift or money.”

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