Shaping Our Parenting Behavior For Report Cards

Responding to Report Cards

Last week I wrote about report cards and invited you to really think about what they mean for you. Today, I’m going to focus on the impact that our chosen response might have on our children surrounding their report cards and how we can shape our behavior positively.

“Hey Mom, did you get my report card?” asked my son yesterday

“Yes I did, it came last Friday”

“How did I do?”

“Have you seen it yet?”


“Oh, sorry, I thought you’d seen it at school. Here it is, when you have read it you can tell me what you think of it?”

This is exactly how the conversation with my son played out last week. I had actually read the report a few days prior to him asking me but had totally overlooked it in the busyness of life… When we did discuss it, I made a huge effort to consciously shape my behavior and response to one of encouragement. The subsequent conversation we had was highly productive and positive.

I’d like you to take a look at the two perspectives below. They are both at the ‘extreme’ish’ end of each spectrum but I did so in order to hopefully help you see the impact more clearly.

The most commonly used PRAISE and (often unintentionally given) DEMOTIVATING responses:

  • Wow, you have done so well, good job!
  • You got all A’s, you did just what Dad and I wanted, we are so proud of you.
  • You are so clever and smart, I bet you did better than the other kids in the class?
  • Were you top of the class again? I am sure you were!
  • This is such a good report that Dad and I thought we would give you an extra $50 pocket money this week.
  • If you do well in your end of year report, then you can go to the bike camp that you really want to go to this summer.
  • What happened in your English this term, you usually get a B and now you have a C-?
  • You are playing way too many video games and it’s taking time away from your work – I keep telling you this and you don’t listen.
  • If you don’t try harder, you will never get into a decent university.

The less commonly used ENCOURAGING responses:

  • What do you think of your report?
  • I see that you have improved in your Math from last terms mark.
  • You seemed to have worked really hard this term. Dad and I had noticed that you put more effort into your work, particularly into the organization side of things.
  • You really persevered with some of the things you were struggling with.
  • What did you have to draw for your art test? Where is the drawing, I’d love to see it?
  • You must feel really proud of yourself.
  • Mum and I trust you to continue trying to improve and do your best.
  • You know that we are always here for support should you need any help.
  • Have you any goals for next term?
  • You are a highly capable kid, you could do anything you want to do.

The possible impact of each on the child:

  • Encouragement makes the child feel good about oneself.
  • Encouragement focuses on the child’s strengths, the effort and the improvement.
  • Encouragement focuses on the journey, the process.
  • Encouragement builds courage, self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Encouragement builds intrinsic motivation.
  • Praise is more about the end result – the grade, trophy, accolade, outcome.
  • Praise seems good but is simply positive judgment coming from outside.
  • Praise makes one feel good in the moment but it is temporary and dependent on one person’s opinion.
  • Praise does not build self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • The use of praise can increase dependence on others:
    • To look outside for praise for self-worth.
  • Praise motivates praise and can become addictive.
  • Praise can create pressure to perform.
  • Praise can rob a child of the chance to develop intrinsic motivation – the very thing we all strive to build in our children.

What’s the answer?

When we modify our responses to meet our child’s successes or failings appropriately, come from a mindful place, support what we want to develop in them, we can help our children develop the capacity to be more intrinsically motivated and self-driven.

Using encouraging language, meeting our children where they are at, accepting the ‘as is’ of the report card is an excellent place to start. When we put courage in to our children, they learn to be able to do what it takes to succeed, handle whatever might come their way, pick themselves up from any failings and feel good about themselves in the process.

Most parent’s desire that their kids do well but I truly believe that the only way I can support this is by shaping my behavior and consciously controlling my choice of response and the language I use with my children.

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