Responding to report cards

Jul 2, 2008 at 11:00 p.m. ET

Here in the northeast, our schools close quite late into June. As such, we've only recently received our childrens' final report cards. And even though it's mid-summer vacation for many, I think it can't hurt to think carefully about our approaches to certain issues when they are not imminent.

Report Card
I've spent a fair bit of time thinking about report cards over the last few years, maybe too much. This stems from my own childhood. When I was growing up, the end result was what mattered, not the process. I could have given a class my all, worked my absolute hardest, but if I didn't come home with the top grade, it wasn't good enough. Scowls and glares and obvious disappointment. I know my dad loved me, but it certainly didn't feel like it in those moments. For me, this resulted in an extreme dislike of school, and report card dread. Over time, I figured out what I need to do to get the grades my father wanted (for the most part), but I was completely miserable in the process. Love of learning was completely lost.

Promoting the process

I know this is not what was intended, and the result may have been different for a different child with a different personality, but it had a big impact on me. I made it through college, but to this day, the idea of any kind of additional formal education or degree process makes me very, very uncomfortable.

As a parent, I've worked hard to bury this school anxiety when it comes to my kids. I want it to be different for them. I want them to love learning and enjoy the school experience as much as possible. I try to encourage and validate on a daily basis.

Above all, unconditional love

I am extremely fortunate that I really don't have much to worry about in terms of report cards. My kids are doing fine. I am involved enough that I've so far never been surprised by a mark on the report card. In fact, I play down the report card a fair bit. When it arrives, I don't open the envelope immediately. I wait for a quiet moment with alone my child (I've even put it aside for a day) and tell him one thing and ask him one question.

I say, first of all, "No matter what this says, I love you and I am proud of you."

Alfs rolls his eyes when I say that. Appropriate for 12. Woody grins a little. Appropriate for 8.

Then I ask, "Did you do you best?"

"Yes," he says, and I know this to be true. I've been watching them work and listening to what they say about school. Both boys like it so far. Mostly, anyway.

Only then do we look at the report card.

And that's it. No lingering. It is what it is. No rocking celebration, no reward schedule tied to the marks. No disappointed glares or sighs. No comparing it to a sibling. It's just another measurement, definitely not the absolute measurement that defines my kid's value.

Child-by-child adjustments

As I said, I'm lucky that my kids are doing fine and I really don't have anything to worry about academically. My approach might be radically different if the situation was different, or my kids were different. If Sunshine is different, I'll adjust, and hopefully in an appropriate way.

That said, I certainly hope that this kind of report card response (or non-response) continues to make sense for our family. I hope, unlike their mom, my kids will grow up loving the process of learning and continue to enjoy the educational experience.

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