Really Responding to Your Kids' Grades

This is about the time when millions of American students will get report cards that sum up their performance in half-a-dozen subjects with letter grades and, in the best circumstances, meaningful comments on their performance from dedicated teachers.

Usually, the discussions between parents and children that follow are centered on congratulations or urgings to try harder or expressions of support, along with inquiries, perhaps, about what how things could have gone better.

I think there are other questions we could be asking. I wonder if we should make them part of the way we always respond to kids’ grades. They would use traditional letter grades (which I happen to favor) as a point of departure, to go far beyond the, “How did you do?” and “How can you do better?” questions that are nearly every parent’s first (and too often last) questions.

Here are some of the questions that occur to me:
1. Which subject(s) do you like the most?
Interestingly enough, the subjects that move our children the most may or may not be the ones they got their best grades in. The way in which those subjects are taught and the way that learning is assessed might not reflect how interesting they found the material, or whether they want to explore the subject matter more deeply. Not every engineer started out with “As” in math and science. Not every author aced English literature. Inquiring about the passions for learning that our sons and daughters harbor can help manifest them.

2. What subject isn’t taught that you wish were a part of the curriculum?
So many of us are shy about sourcing learning for our children beyond the walls of the classrooms and curricula of the schools to which we entrust them. Yet, we know that the subject matter our sons and daughters will ultimately embrace (if they are lucky enough to embrace a field of learning) and that will partly define them intellectually may not be taught at their schools. Hearing from our kids that they would love to learn more about law or philosophy or religion or archaeology or astronomy or psychology can be the beginning of helping them search for that knowledge on their own—and possibly even share it with friends. And that can be the start of an adventure that never ends.

3. Which of your teachers do you most admire, and why?
The teachers who grade our kids aren’t mannequins or computers; they’re people. They inspire more or less confidence, more or less trust and more or less admiration. The one who is a kind of role model for your son or daughter may reveal important dimensions of your child’s evolving interests and character. Being part of that process of interpersonal discovery can only be a good thing.

These are by no means the only questions you may think to ask, beyond the standard ones that report cards prompt. But they can be a beginning. They can start to open a window on what is happening inside your child’s heart and mind. And these windows are precious few in our increasingly depersonalized, Web-based, text-crazy world.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A Team. He is a New York Times best-selling author, and co-author, with Glenn Beck, of the upcoming book "The 7: Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life." Dr. Ablow can be reached at