Your child’s report card did not meet your expectations. You know she is capable of more. It’s tempting to blow a gasket, withhold privileges, and demand more of your child.

But a softer, more strategic approach may yield better results. First, you need to understand why your child’s report card isn’t studded with A’s. Then you can work out a plan with your child to get back on track. To do this, you need to talk to your child and your child’s teacher. And you might need to take a look at yourself, making sure you are setting realistic expectations.

Talk With the Teacher

Parents should investigate any grade lower than a B, says Mona Melwani, author of Just the Right Words: 201 Report Card Comments. If the report card does not detail the reasons for the lower grade, ask the teacher. Does your child not understand the concepts? Or is he not turning in his homework? Did he barely miss the cutoff for a higher grade? Or did the grade represent a higher mark than what he earned? (Some teachers are generous.)

One of the hardest things to hear is that your child seems to be trying her best but is still just getting average grades. Parents should keep in mind that a stretch of average academic performance does not mean their child will always perform at that level or that she will be limited in life.

“A C in one quarter does not mean that they are always going to get C’s,” says Melwani, who has a broad background in international education. “Kids are going through the growing-up process...They have their ups and downs.”

A good teacher will help parents understand the reasons their child earned certain grades so parents can respond appropriately, Melwani says.

Talk With Your Child

When you talk with your child about his report card, see if he has a realistic view of the situation. For example, your child may think he occasionally fails to turn in a homework assignment. But his teacher’s grade book might reveal a consistent pattern of neglecting his work.

Your child may think she understands math because she has always been strong in that subject. But as math becomes increasingly abstract, some kids struggle. Your teacher can help you and your child face reality and get remediation if necessary.

Often, lower-than-expected grades reflect a more challenging curriculum. Science can get difficult for some kids when memorization and lab work are involved. Language arts becomes tougher when teachers start expecting students to infer from their text and delve deeper into topics in their writing. When the curriculum gets harder, your child will need to work harder just to maintain her grades. This can be a hard fact to face. The good news is that as some subjects get harder for your child, other subjects may get easier as his academic strengths emerge.

It’s also possible that your child has an especially hard teacher. If your child’s teacher is tough but fair, try to see it as a blessing even if it means a lower grade. Kids often learn more from tough teachers and tend to look back on them fondly.

Look Inward

Before stressing out over an inconsistent report card, consider whether the grades reflect your child’s strengths. If your child gets A’s and B’s in most subjects and a C in one subject, it might not be a big deal, as long as your child is making progress.

Many teachers express concern that their stressed-out students believe they must get an A in every subject to please their parents. For a small number of gifted students, a perfect report card is attainable. But for most students, the idea of being a lifelong straight-A student is unrealistic.

Kids who are obsessed with perfect grades may develop anxiety, neglect their friends and family, and develop unhealthy habits like staying up all night and depending on caffeine. They may be tempted to cheat in order to maintain their perfect record. Or they may melt down at the sight of a B-plus. Avoid this scenario by setting realistic expectations for your child, praising him when he does well, and offering to help when he doesn’t.

If you and your child are stressing out about grades, remember that they’re just letters and numbers. The most important thing is that your child is learning. If she’s progressing, that’s good. If she’s falling behind, assure her you’ll help her get back on track.

It’s possible that when you dig deep into the reasons behind your child’s mediocre or poor report card, you may find out she simply didn’t apply herself and do the work. If that’s the case, withdrawing privileges and letting her know you’re disappointed might be all that’s necessary to turn things around.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.