School is out for most of the nation, which means it is report card time. Are you eagerly anticipating your son’s great grades, or awaiting with trepidation what that dreaded envelope will bring? Before you open that envelope, take a deep breath and remember the following:

1. Your son’s grades, good or bad, do not define him. Good grades are an achievement of which a student can be proud but they are not an assessment of his worth in life, or a guarantee that he will be a successful in life. Bad grades can indicate that a student is not fully grasping the material or needs better time management skills, but they are not an assessment of his worth in life, or a guarantee that he will not be successful in life. It can be hard to remember this and to convey it to our children, especially if we haven’t always believed this ourselves. (I vividly remember getting a terrible grade in law school and calling my father crying hysterically. When he finally understood that I was not hurt or in serious trouble, but was just upset about a grade, he snapped at me and hung up pretty quickly. I got the message that I was being ridiculous.) Too much praise for good grades can lead your son to focus more on the grades than what he is learning and what his passions might be; shaming your son about bad grades can mess with his psyche and certainly doesn’t help him improve. Strive for calm and balance in your reaction whatever the grades may be.

2. Celebrate the E’s for Effort. Every student can’t always get an A in every class, but every student should be encouraged to work as hard as he can to do the best he can. If your son brings a D up to a B- by the end of the term, this is progress born of hard work, and he should be commended for this. If your son’s report card isn’t where you both would like it to be, determine whether there are any upward trajectories to point out and encourage him to continue the hard work. Focusing on the effort helps your son to understand that school is about learning and learning has value even if you don’t get the highest grades. Assure him that in the real world, knowing how to put forth great effort will take him a long way.

3. Reflect on your own experiences with honest and accuracy, and remember that they are your experiences, not your son’s. Just because you found math or science or essay writing easy, doesn’t mean that your son automatically will. Conversely, if you were a poor math student and your son is having trouble in math, don’t just chalk it up to genetics, get him a tutor. Were you really an A student all of the time? What did you do when you got a grade you didn’t like? If you have a story of dealing with a bad grade and turning it around, share it with your son. We tend to present ourselves as all-knowing parents who never had difficulties. Humanizing the situation could make it easier for you both.

4. Focus on a plan, which starts in the summer, to tackle any problem areas. Organizational issues? Spend some time together researching systems to find one which make sense to him, and take a leisurely trip to Staples or Office Depot (or any stationery store) to get the materials to implement a system that he participates in designing. Does he need to do math drills? Get workbooks and set up a realistic but firm summer schedule to work on them. Is he having trouble in English class? Check out his summer reading list, read one of the books on it yourself, and discuss it throughout the summer. Chat about the characters and the story. You’ll get a sense of his reading comprehension, and you’ll be able to compare perspectives on the book. (For parents of older students: get the Cliff or Spark Notes if you don’t have “War and Peace” reading time.) It is good to focus on these areas in the summertime when there is more time and less stress.

Speaking of stress, as tough as it may seem to do, try not to stress out with any of this. Remember that your son’s academic journey is a marathon, not a sprint. And be sure to take some time to enjoy the summer with your son!