What Parents Can Do When an ADHD Report Card Isn’t So Hot

Neil McNerney

You know the look. It’s the look your kid gives when s/he comes home from school and you ask for the report card. Before you even look at the report card, you have a pretty good idea of the grades. Excuses might follow, or possibly blaming the teacher. As a kid who struggled through school due to undiagnosed ADHD, I remember those days very well… and not in a good way.

For many of us, dealing with report cards causes a lot of stress. If the news is not good, especially if there is a drop in the grades, it tends to be a pretty rough night.

As a family counselor, I view this as an opportunity…a leadership opportunity. Leading our kids during successful times is pretty easy. Leading them when things are rough takes much more thought. It helps for you to focus on yourself and your responses, rather than on your child.
Here are four things you can do to increase achievement and decrease frustration when you handle the report card situation.

  • 1. Avoid the “D” word. Telling our kids that we are disappointed is sometimes effective. But with grades, it tends to de-motivate. The problem is that it focuses the attention on our feelings. Do we really want our kids to do better in school so we won’t be disappointed? I think we would rather have them do well because it feels better. Instead, ask #2:
  • 2. “How do you feel about these grades?” Asking how s/he feels refocuses the issue on your child instead of you. Take your time with this question. The answer might be “I don’t know.” Stay silent for a while. Even if s/he isn’t answering, s/he is still thinking about it. In these situations, less talk is better. When given the space, you might be surprised at the answer. But be careful of #3:
  • 3. Don’t take the bait. Some kids will answer with things like: “I don’t care,” or “A ‘C’ is average. What’s the big deal?” or “You expect me to be perfect!” Ignore these statements. It’s a trap! Your kid is trying to get you to react and change the subject. He is trying to talk about his favorite subject: You. He would much rather argue about whether you are unreasonable than to talk about his grades. When he drops these little distractions, just answer with: “At any rate…” then ask your question again.
  • 4. Don’t punish right away. In fact, consider not punishing… Most punishments we give at the spur of the moment tend to be too severe and don’t work very well. Phrasing it in terms of a punishment often decreases motivation instead of increasing it.

Rewards work better than punishments, especially with school, and most especially with kids with ADHD. Parents tell me it doesn’t seem right to reward the minimum, and I agree.

It is all about how we phrase it. “No video games until homework is finished,” sounds like a punishment and will be de-motivating. Consider: “You can play video games after you have finished your homework.” This turns it into a reward. Think about those things that your kid already gets without any work.

It takes a lot of effort to parent effectively when our kids are not performing as well as we’d like. So, before the inevitable conversation takes place, take the time to pay attention to your responses, think about the messages you want to get across, and remember that your child needs your support and encouragement, especially during the tough times.

If you have any questions or comments, please ask me here and I’m delighted to respond. For more information about dealing with report cards, including much more detail on how to develop effective consequences, you might want to read my new book: Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!

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