Girl with good report cardChildren often are anxious over the arrival of their report cards; parents often are disappointed when they see them. While poor grades frequently trigger family conflict, they also help answer the following important questions: Is your child mastering the course objectives? Is he progressing as expected? Is he keeping pace with his classmates? Does he need extra help or a special program? Can he move on to the next grade?

The report card is also a motivational tool. Almost all children want to get good grades. Most feel better about themselves when they get more A’s and B’s than C’s and D’s. And they come to realize (though sometimes too late) that high school grades affect opportunities down the road. The benefits good grades bring are usually sufficient to spur students to work hard. Poor grades may even be a wake-up call for unmotivated students.

A+ in Communication

Talking with your child about his report card in a helpful manner without provoking a confrontation can be a challenge. While you don’t want to dwell excessively on his grades, you also don’t want to dismiss them as unimportant. We know grades can affect a child’s self-esteem and can shape his future educational and career opportunities. At the same time we know good grades aren’t the ultimate pursuit.

Find something positive to say about your child’s report card. It may be he brought up his grade in a particular subject, or that he was an active participant in class, or that he was diligent about turning in homework.

If the grades suggest he’s struggling in one or more subjects, ask questions to try to identify the source of the problem.

  • Is the work too difficult?

  • Is boredom making him lazy?
  • Is the teacher hard to follow?
• Is he handing in homework consistently?
  • Are tests his downfall?
  • Is he having trouble focusing in class?

Develop a Plan

But don’t stop there. Try to develop a plan with your child to make any needed changes. In determining what these may be, consider the following questions:

  • Is his homework routine in need of revision?
  • Should he alter his method of studying for tests?
  • Does he need assistance in keeping track of his work and organizing his materials?
  • Should his outside activities be curtailed?
  • Is tutoring called for?
  • Is he a candidate for evaluation by the school district’s Child Study Team to determine if he has a learning disability? Every public school in New Jersey has a Child Study Team responsible for evaluating children to assess the presence of a learning disability and determine whether special education is warranted.

Once you identify potential problems and implement appropriate solutions, it should be easier for both of you to review your child’s next report card together.

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a school and family psychologist and part-time instructor at Rutgers. He has written six books. Contact him at