I used to hide my report cards as a child. I would get away with it for a few weeks because both of my parents were working long hours, but eventually they remembered and I had to cough up the results. My grades were never that great and my parents were never that happy.
Now I have a toddler and the tables have turned. Although I do assume that report cards will be replaced by a sophisticated app by the time she is at school, my husband and I still have to think of the best way to handle her results, especially if – like mine – they aren’t that great.
A new study has suggested that if we aren’t ecstatic about her marks, we probably should not lose our cool. In fact punishing our child might just ensure that she gets even worse marks throughout her future school years.
The authors of the study asked 500 parents how they would respond if their child brought home a disappointing report card. They then divided those responses into “punitive” and “proactive.” The researchers continued to monitor the children’s school results for five years. They found that parents who were on the punitive side tended to have children who had lower levels of literacy and math achievement by the end of high school.
“Punishing and lecturing … does not provide the child with concrete skills or strategies for improving their grades,” an author of the study said.
So why does punishment not work? Well for starters it doesn’t address the problem. If your child doesn’t understand a math principle then banning television is hardly going to drill that concept into their brains.
Limiting social events also won’t help, unless the reason that your child is doing badly in math is because spending time with their friends is taking time away from homework or other learning activities.
Furthermore, punishing pre-adolescents can isolate them when they are in the process of trying to become autonomous and encourages further negative feelings about school.
So how should parents react? Parents should find out if their child’s underwhelming performance is due to a learning or behavioral issue and directly address the underlying problem.
Children who tended to have good results through high school were the types whose homes had a stimulating learning environment. They also had parents who spent lots of time talking to them and had access to books, toys and other resources.
Back in 2010, a mother wrote to The New York Times asking how to handle her daughter’s bad report card (which the daughter hid). Parents wrote in with their answers in the comments section and I found one reader’s remark hit home.
How is it in any way a surprise that she is getting a 76? A progress report indicates 2 months of quizzes, tests, homework, etc. Were you not involved in any of it? Even at that age, my parents helped me study, asked me about homework, and were generally still involved in my education. What sort of parent are you that there has been no communication until November about grades? I’d say you should be grounded from texting, email, and whatever other hobbies you enjoy until you’re actually paying attention to your poor daughter.
The writer is harsh but fair. Ultimately poor results shouldn’t be disappointing, a parent who is involved will know exactly what to expect.
Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one. She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.