Dear Dr. Shore,
My son just brought home his report card and I was very disappointed. Can you give me some pointers on how to convey my expectations without giving rise to an outburst?
First, take note of what you should not do. Angry outbursts or harsh criticism are likely to be ineffective and might even contribute to a worsening of his grades. A low-key, calm, but serious, approach, in which you express concern about his performance and then problem-solve with him about how to improve is likely to be more productive.
Try to find something positive in the report card. It might be that he did well in a particular subject, or that he participated in class, or that he was conscientious in returning homework. Then turn to the subjects he had difficulty with and ask questions to try to identify the source of the problem. Is the work too difficult? Is he so bored that he is not putting forth effort? Is the teacher hard to follow? Is he not handing in homework consistently? Are tests his downfall? Is he distracted by a family or peer problem?
Reviewing past report cards could suggest a trend with your child: He might do better as the year goes along or show consistent difficulty in a specific subject.
Once you understand the source of the difficulties, work with your child to develop a plan of action. Focus on what he needs to do differently and whether extra help is needed. Is tutoring called for? Should homework be monitored more carefully? Does he need help in studying for tests or in organizing himself? Should his outside activities be curtailed? If your child's poor grades coincide with low standardized test scores, it might be that hes a candidate for testing by the district's evaluation team to determine whether he has a learning disability. You might need to confer with the teacher to get answers to some of those questions.
For some children, poor grades stem from a casual and half-hearted approach to schoolwork. You might need to help your child reorder his priorities. If watching television is interfering with his studying, don't hesitate to set some limits. The same is true of outside activities. If his busy schedule is getting in the way of schoolwork, something will have to give. Make sure its not his schoolwork! The point here is to convey to your child in no uncertain terms that schoolwork is his primary job and it comes before other activities.