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How to handle a bad report card

Children would just as soon tuck it under the mattress or consign it to the bottom of the wastebasket. After all, nobody wants to deal with a poor report card. But there are ways to help kids handle all those minus signs. Try these tactics for smoother school terms:

• Reassure your children you love them no matter what. Although they may feel disappointed by a subpar report, tell them you aren’t—and never will be— disappointed as long as they try their best.

• Ask your children what they think the trouble is. Giving them the chance to identify problem areas acknowledges their responsibility and shows them you are there to listen and help.

• Create an action plan together. Decide on a block of time for play and another set of hours for homework. Designate a comfortable space where your children can work uninterrupted. Reward them for resisting distractions.

• Check it out. Look over homework when it is partially completed instead of waiting to check it afterward. This prevents your children from having to do the whole assignment over again if it was approached incorrectly.

• Put a spin on it. If mathematical word problems are a definite problem for your children, make them more interesting by replacing generic terms with personal ones. Example: If a sentence cites a name, substitute it with the name of your children’s best friends, a favorite celebrity or the family pet.

• Do your homework. Sometimes sincere efforts still don’t result in better grades. Ask your kids: Is the material clear? Are they comfortable with the pace? Are they able to concentrate on their work? The answers to these questions will help you prepare an action plan with their teachers.

• Call a conference. Schedule meetings with teachers to discuss your children’s viewpoint and brainstorm strategies. Regular parent-teacher communication—via notes, e-mail and person-to-person chats—will keep you on top of any setbacks—and victories.

If necessary, enlist the help of a psychologist or a learning specialist. In some cases, a special problem or learning disability prevents a child from reaching his or her full potential.