Your child hands you a report card you have a hard time feeling proud about. Desperate, you at once want to reprimand your child, take as much TV time out of the schedule, ban video games and enroll in the longest possible summer school program to undo the damage.
Don't panic. The damage is done, your child (barely) passed. Punishing your child for bad grades will not accomplish anything. Nor will spending the summer in a classroom trying to do over the last ten months. Instead, focus on making changes that will impact your child for a lifetime. If you want your child to be successful (and to feel successful) at school, make a plan with your child based on the following steps:
Step 1 - Take Responsibility
As a parent, the responsibility is on you to ensure that your child is successful in school. Blaming the teacher or the educational system only teaches your child that they are not in control and thus cannot improve, and reinforces the idea that the school is responsible for the child's success. In reality, the success of your child depends on you. You must guide your child, support them when they need it, be there at homework time and take the time to chat about school, and listen openly when the teacher comments on your child's progress. Ask specific questions: how can you help at home? What are the areas that your child is struggling with? What are some strategies the school could recommend for you and your child to work on at home?
Be there for your child as their biggest supporter, not as a judge. Help your child feel that their success depends entirely on their own efforts, and learn to ask for help when they need it, both at school and at home. The education of your child greatly depends on your interest and involvement in your child's school life. Make an effort to get to know the teacher, to attend school events, to schedule extra parent-teacher meetings if you feel they are necessary.
At home, make sure either you or your spouse shares homework time with your child, not to supervise or correct it, but to see if your child understood, and to clarify things when needed. If your child asks you for help and you are not sure how to help, don't be afraid to tell your child. "I am not sure how to help you with this. Have you done anything like this in class? Do you know how it is done? Could you show me, even in part, so we can figure it out together?" If you cannot help, encourage your child to ask the teacher the following day. Homework is given specifically if children have learned new concepts well enough to apply them on their own.
Teachers expect to have students come back with questions instead of answers sometimes. This helps them adjust their lesson plans and ensures everyone understands. Be there for your child, for as long as you can, not just in the first few years. They will take pleasure in sharing with you all the things they learned, and you can expand on that learning at home, and support your child in so many ways when you are connected each day through homework. This should be your first commitment as a parent, for the following year.
Step 2 - Empower Your Child to Succeed
As much as you are ultimately responsible for your child's academic success, the message you want to give your child is simple: you are responsible for how well you do, and how much you learn. The reason for this is simple: your child must feel in control of their education. Your child must choose to learn actively if they want to succeed.
If your child comes home with a poor report card, talk to them openly and honestly about the school year: what were the difficulties they faced? How can your child overcome them? What does your child think could help them do better at school? Does your child feel that a tutor could help or would they feel more comfortable working with you? What areas does your child feel they would need help on?
Encourage your child to view the poor report card as a problem to solve, an indication that they will need a different approach the following year, or that they might need to work hard in the summer to "catch up". This step is very important because you are giving your child the power to be part of the solution instead of sentencing your child, punishing them for "bad results" or worse, judging them as not smart, not dedicated, or a bad student.
Empower your child to recognize the problem and find a solution. You will be surprised to find that your child often knows exactly what the need, or where their difficulties are. If not, you can help by making suggestions, but it is important that the desire to learn and improve come from your child. If your child comes up with the solution, they will be committed to their own success.
Literacy is one of the most important skills you can teach your child. Take the time to foster this skill at home in a way that is fun and appealing and your child will learn to take pleasure in books, rather than viewing reading as a chore.