Top Strategies For Discussing Report Cards

Report cards can be the cause of much stress between parents and teenagers and I have spoken about this on the podcast many times.

It can be a stressful time for parents but also for children. Kids today are under so much pressure to achieve that I believe it is almost at breaking point. In this Episode 26: Exams, Tests, End Of The Year Pressure…Help! I discuss ways in which you can deal with this, specifically in helping you shift your focus from the grade or result to the process, to help your children develop courage and self-motivation.

It’s such an important thing to think about and I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to understand this early on in my life as a parent. As such I wanted to share some of the things that I have learned so that you can adopt some of my strategies around discussing report cards to help you build courage and self-esteem and motivation in your child.

I invite you to really think about what report cards and grades really mean for you.

Perhaps you can take some time to reflect on these questions:

  • How are report cards viewed in your family?
  • How does the conversation typically go with your child after you have read the report card?
  • Is it a relaxed or stressful conversation?
  • Are you triggered by something you see on the report card?
  • Is there something that you know you would rather see?
  • Do you focus on your children’s grades? If so, why?
  • Do you fear your child not doing well? What do you think is behind this fear?
  • Are your kid’s results driven by your agenda or their own?
  • Do you reward your children for good grades?
  • What do you resist?
  • What is it that you find hard to let go of?

Are you more focused on the grade than the process by which the grade was achieved?

In this post, 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 

“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 a conversation around report cards with my son played out. I had actually read the report a few days prior to him asking me but had totally over-looked it in the busyness of life… Over the years I have learned to focus on the process and not so much the outcome, hence I had over-looked it!

When we did discuss it, I made a huge effort to consciously shape my behavior and shift my chosen response to one of encouragement. The subsequent conversation we had was highly productive and positive.

If you are interested in finding out more about the negative and addicting effects of PRAISE and the benefits of ENCOURAGEMENT and see more examples of each, download the How To Facilitate Healthy Conversations With Your Child About Report Cards – Content Upgrade PDF Document that I have created for you. It will really help refine your language of encouragement and take it to another level.

As a result of my husband and I adjusting our focus from praise (the only one we knew) to encouragement, I believe that our kids have learned the relationship between effort and outcome. This is exactly what we want them to learn because we believe the grade will speak for itself if this pattern of cause and effect is understood by our kids.

In Episode 16: Preparing Ourselves For Report Cards I discussed how our behaviours and responses to what we see on our child’s report card can influence them developing courage and self-motivation… or not.

Going beneath the surface and understanding what it’s really about for YOU will ultimately help you shape your behavior and allow you to become the parent your child needs you to be.

I believe that much of it depends on what we, as parents, choose to focus on.

As Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of The Conscious Parent states, when we shift our focus from the grade to the process,

“… we embed in them a thirst for learning that surpasses the fleeting pleasure they derive from gaining our approval through grades.”

Many of the parents I work with have never considered viewing the impact of their behavior and focus through this lens.

What do you want?

I want my children to want the Grade they desire and believe themselves capable of. I don’t want them to feel that they have to get a specific Grade on account of me, nor be fearful of what might happen if they don’t get that Grade. And, I don’t want them to only get a specific Grade in the hope of a reward.

A child who has been threatened or bribed to perform to someone else’s standards is simply being taught to be externally motivated rather than internally driven.

Personally, I don’t believe that I can make my kids get A’s as much as I can make them eat Brussels Sprouts!

I can, however, have reasonable expectations of my children. I can also encourage them, commend their effort and any improvement, focus on the process and help them develop good work habits and organizational skills. This is what will contribute towards them becoming capable of any outcome they desire. I strongly believe that shaping our children’s learning habits comes from shifting our own focus from the grades, trophy’s, accolades and end results to the journey and the process.

Parenting consciously allows us to connect more deeply with our children so that we can love them for who they are, honour their unique spirit and way of being so that they can love themselves and be proud of who they are and any result they get.

What little thing could you do in advance of the end of the year report cards coming out, to shift your focus?

I’d like you to take a look at the two perspectives below.

One is all about PRAISE and the other, about ENCOURAGEMENT. There’s a HUGE difference. Like HUMONGOUS!

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 responses: PRAISE 

  • 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 responses: ENCOURAGING 

  • 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.

I believe there is a mistaken understanding among parents today that children need praise, that praise is good and it is what their child needs. As such, in today’s ‘praise’ biased world, I believe that it is vitally important, children receive encouragement.

The definition of encouragement (OED): To put courage in, to inspire, to give hope

The definition of praise (OED): To speak highly of, to commend, to glorify

Rudolph Dreikurs, a well-known child psychologist said:

“Children need encouragement like plants needs water” which highlights the importance of encouragement for a child.”

When we encourage our children, we give them the courage to handle whatever will come their way, to trust in themselves, to pick themselves up from failure, to be vulnerable, to take the next step, to accept imperfection.

As such, encouragement develops self-esteem, courage, and confidence in children while praise does not. Praise is external, a one-off validation. It is fleeting and builds dependence on others.

What’s the answer?

When we modify and craft 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.

It’s not always easy especially when you see something you’d rather not see on a report card, but before you say anything, put yourself in your child’s shoes, ask yourself these questions:

  • How do I think my child feels about this?
  • Might he/she be embarrassed or ashamed about his/her report card?
  • Might he/she be scared as to what you might say or do?
  • What response do you think he/she expects from you?
  • What could you say that will help him/her?
  • How would you like to be spoken to about this?
  • What is it that might make you say things you might regret?
  • What is it you are fearful of?

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.

I hope that this post helps you find ways to develop a language of encouragement so that you can encourage your child and avoid the insidious influence of praise. If you would like to listen to this blog post I recorded it on Episode 37 of the Parenting In The Thick Of It Podcast.

Partnering You



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PPS. Did you know I have a podcast with over 300 episodes on all things parenting? You can find it HERE – The Parenting In The Thick Of It Show.