Maybe you saw this coming, or maybe it was a bolt of lightning out of the clear blue sky. Either way, there’s no feeling like the sinking feeling you get when your child brings home a bad report card.

You might feel angry with your child, frustrated with your child’s teacher, or ashamed that you didn’t know or couldn’t help your child. Those feelings are all understandable, but there are some very specific ways you should NOT react when you first lay eyes on that sub-par report.

Here are five things NOT to do when your child shows you (or you discover) the poor grades:

1. Don’t yell. The situation is already intense. You feel frustrated and upset, and your child probably does, too. Yelling only ups the intensity for all involved, and it usually causes your child to shut down. Even if your child lied to you or blew off major assignments, yelling on your part does nothing except communicates to your child that you’re angry and out of control. If you can’t have a calm conversation right away, let your child know that you’ll discuss the report when you’re feeling calmer and have had time to think about how to react constructively.

2. Don’t lecture. When you’re ready to have that conversation, make sure it’s a two-way dialogue. If you go into “Charlie Brown’s teacher” mode (you know, WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH), you’re not going to learn anything about why this problem exists and what you and your child can do to fix it. Most kids, when asked in a non-threatening, respectful manner, will be able to tell you exactly what’s going wrong and what they think might help improve the situation. But if you start the conversation with an angry rant about how your child is “disappointing you” and “ruining her future,” your child will kick into a defensive, defiant mode of her own.

3. Don’t blame the teacher.  Even if you’re child’s teacher isn’t setting the world on fire, help your child see where he has some control over the situation and what he can do to improve his performance. If he says, “I don’t like how he teaches” or “He doesn’t like me,” re-focus the conversation on your child’s role and responsibilities as a learner. Allowing your child to blame the teacher sets your child up to believe that his success or failure in life is in someone else’s hands, and he doesn’t have control over his life or responsibility for his choices.

4. Don’t focus only on the negatives. Chances are, your child’s report card contains good information, too. Maybe she earned an A in art, or maybe a teacher noted how well she works with other students. Find something positive to talk about so your child doesn’t feel like all you see is what she can’t or didn’t do. If you really can’t find something positive about the report, contact her teachers and ask. Just say, “I’d like to talk to my child about how she can improve her performance in school, and I’d like that conversation to include a discussion of her strengths and weaknesses. Can you share some positive observations, as well as your specific suggestions for improvement?”

5. Don’t just talk about grades. Those grades matter. Of course they do. But they are only indicators of small areas in your child’s life — one subject here, one subject there, and most important, one moment in time. They are not permanent indicators of your child’s character or destiny, or for that matter, your parenting. So when you talk to your child, instead of focusing on grades as the final outcome, focus on work habits, school routines, and daily actions and choices that can get your child back on track. Talk to your child about self esteem and taking pride in one’s work and contributions. Research shows that focusing on grades, and not the growth and process by which those grades are earned, sets your child up to be completely unmotivated in school.

Finally, if you feel stuck, please call us. We absolutely have strategies that can help your child get back on track, and we’d love to talk to you about the resources available for your child.

What are your best tips for handling poor grades?