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December Brings Report Cards (for many!)

children family therapy listening parenting self-esteem Jan 11, 2022

Working in an elementary school for a bunch of years, I notice it is not only the student who feels that they are “getting graded” during report card season:

The student does, obviously. The teacher does, for sure. And the parents feel it also! 

When thinking about this, I have conflicting thoughts: 

On one hand, no one should take the feedback that seriously. 

But on the other hand, everyone needs to take the feedback seriously! 

Yes, I know that is confusing.  Parenting can be confusing. 

I was organizing my older files recently and came across report card comments about first graders who are now in their early 20’s. And I was SO excited to follow up with them today to see how they’re doing.

One thing we all know about effective report cards – “ Be positive, slip in some criticism (both to child and parents!), and then end with more positivity, excitement, and hope.” 

But, however generic the formula is, the effective report is honestly unique to each child. I can attest that teachers spend HOURS to perfect their comments (and, yes, that’s partially because they know they themselves are being graded). There is genuine meaning in the message. And I encourage you to look for it. (Remember, teachers are never sure if their students are also reading the comments. So, sometimes, you must look hard for the encrypted message.)   

Let’s take a look at some reports. 

“Shira is an absolute delight to have in school! She is a model student [read: kind of]. She is extremely bright and always diligent. She is a pleasure to teach as she never speaks during class [read: because she has no one to speak to]. She can use a bit of help joining our class activities both during class and at recess. Shira has a hard time opening up [read: Parent, hint hint]. She is also a bit fearful of fire drills, but with Hashem’s help [read: have you considered therapy for anxiety?] she will learn to deal with her fears. Shira is an all-around terrific yalda and I can’t wait to get to know her more!” 

Or, there’s this: 

“Shlomo is a great asset to our class! He is always first in line at school. He comes ready to learn and has never missed a day of homework. He is always available to help everyone in need. He has never taken his finger off the place since the first day! [read:  wow, that’s intense!] Shlomo is a true inspiration to the rest of the class. Rebbe wishes everyone in class was like Shlomo. He is even learning during recess! [yikes.] And you must see him daven. Whoa. What a special special boy Shlomo is!”

Or:

“It is a pleasure getting to know Chaviva! Chaviva has a tremendous amount of positive energy [read: red flag? Or is that a legitimate compliment?] and is well liked by her peers.  On occasion [read: almost always], Chaviva has difficulty with transitions. She is a little social butterfly during circle time, so she needs to be redirected from time to time [read: always]. Chaviva has a hard time controlling her impulses, but I’m sure [read: I pray!] as the year progresses, she will learn classroom routine. As she learns to do her homework more regularly [read: that’s for you, parents!], she will progress in her reading fluency. It has been a great pleasure getting to know Chaviva in first grade!”

I can go on and on. This is kinda fun for me actually! 

But let’s jump ahead to where these kids are in 2021.

After a few years of dating, Shira is having trouble opening up to the boy she just got engaged to. She still is always perfectly dressed and put together. You will not know how she’s feeling typically, because she doesn’t communicate well. Her parents are concerned about her upcoming marriage.  She has an amazing job, and keeps getting raises for her outstanding work.

And Shlomo. Shlomo is suffering with symptoms of anxiety and OCD, and struggling with perfectionism. He is still a sweet boy, sometimes timid actually, but has a lot of opportunities to date, because… he’s a guy. And that’s how it works. However, he truly doesn’t want to miss Yeshiva and so he rarely goes out. 

And Chaviva? Chaviva’s great personality and positive energy helped her find a spouse quite quickly. She has a family and is a great mother as she deeply understands growth. She has a really strong connection to her children. 

Obviously, these are over-simplifications. They are meant to convey the point that sometimes, we can be learn a lot from these reports. And sometimes, what you see is not what you get and you need to follow your own parent intuition and see if the picture feels healthy. The teacher is reporting what they see, but it’s up to the tuned-in parent to make sense of it. What looks to be a perfectly behaved child, may actually be a struggling child, and what looks to be a struggling child, may actually be a child who is just fine.

I can’t stop thinking about what mine probably said:

“Shifi is a bright girl and very eager to learn! She has great potential, and when she applies herself, she does well. Shifi would really benefit from slowing down while doing her work, to avoid careless mistakes. Additionally, she is easily distracted by her peers! Often, Shifi uses humor to deflect responsibility. She is very social and has an easy time connecting to her friends, but there is a time and place for socializing and I am hopeful that Shifi will figure that out. At times, I need to remind Shifi to stop calling out, but with constant reminders, she is making good progress in this area. I look forward to watching Shifi grow this year! 

I’m Laughing! 😂 I encourage everyone to write their own PTA comment! 

So, what should we do with feedback at PTA? 

We listen. We don’t get defensive. We don’t get reactive. We (try to!) resist the urge to blame our husband’s/wife’s genes. We use this as a time to check in to see how our child (and our parenting) is doing in an honest way.

Take note of some of the challenges that children face today (some clearly worse than others, but they all can impede learning and proper behavior) like sensory issues, reading and language disorders, social skills deficits, emotion regulation difficulties, behavioral issues, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, mild to severe emotional neglect, distracting family dynamics, tension or conflict between parents, all different personality traits, auditory processing issues, learning disabilities, traumas, bullying, hearing and vision problems, neurological and biological imbalances, peer pressures, unhealthy attachment styles, and a whole lot more. 

Sometimes, it takes a skilled professional to help figure out what is going on and how to help. 

As responsible parents, we need to constantly be educated about the treatment options and updated about how our child is doing. We make sure we are doing our best to meet their needs. And no matter what the child is going through, do not underestimate the power of your relationship with your child. A healthy and secure relationship is key to success.

If you want to learn more on this topic, check out my online, virtual course Social Skills and Emotion Management for Children of ALL Ages! 🎉

This is a course that will benefit every parent (and child). No matter what challenge (big or small) your child is struggling with -- a strong, healthy parent- child connection, will help get you through it. This course breaks down how to build a healthy parent-child relationship, and it will guide you how to help your child develop appropriate social skills and emotion management.

Bottom line, read your child’s PTA and report card comments carefully. And use it as a guide to figure out how to move forward. We don’t have a crystal ball, but doing your best can have a remarkable impact for the long term. 

Wishing you a lot of fun as you write your own PTA comments! 

Start with this: It is a pleasure to have (your name) in our class this year…  

❤️

Shifi



 

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