Tips for talking about report cards

When kids bring home report cards, what you say about them (and how you say it) matters. Focusing more on effort than on the actual grades can help. Get more tips below.

When kids bring home report cards, they may worry about how you’re going to react. And you may not always know the right thing to say.

There isn’t just one right thing to say. But it’s important to look beyond grades. Here are five common report card situations and tips for talking about them.

1. Grades improved, but less than you expected.

You may want to say: “I was expecting to see better grades than this.”

Instead, try saying: “Great job! What do you think helped most with getting your grades up?”

Better grades mean your child is making progress. And even a little bit can take a lot of effort. Keeping that in mind lets you talk about what’s working well. That’s a way to start talking about what might help your child make even more progress.

2. Grades and behavior “need improvement.” 

You may want to say: “No screen time until your behavior and grades improve.”

Instead, try saying: “I need to take some time to think about this. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”

When the news isn’t great, you might be tempted to jump to some sort of punishment. But punishment usually doesn’t help kids do better next time.

Take some time to think what “improvement” would look like for your child. Be realistic and talk it over with your child. Then come up with a plan to help make it happen. 

3. Grades stayed the same, but behavior and effort improved.

You may want to say: “I’m glad you’re putting in more effort. If only your grades were better, too.”

Instead, try saying: “It’s good to hear you’re getting the hang of what you need to do to work hard and behave in class. Let’s figure out how to get better at classwork, too.”

When we look at a child’s report card, grades are usually the first thing we see. But be sure to look at teacher comments. That’s where you’ll learn about other progress your child is making. If school is hard for your child, putting in more effort is a big deal. 

4. Some grades got better, but some got worse. 

You may want to say: “What happened with the rest of your classes?” 

Instead, try saying: “Your math and science grades look great! Let’s take a look at how we can help you in your other classes.”

As kids get older, the expectations for learning change. It can be harder to meet them in some subjects.

Talk with your child about the classes that had lower grades this time around. Ask whether there’s anything about them that’s hard and what would help. Conversations like that teach kids to speak up for what they need in order to improve.

5. Poor grades in most classes, even though your child is working hard.

You may want to say: “You’re failing everything?! But you’re working so hard!”

Instead, try saying: “I know these aren’t the grades we hoped for. I’ve seen how hard you’re working. We’re going to figure this out together.”

If kids are working hard and still struggling, there’s a good chance they already feel bad. Kids in this situation may be scared that nothing they do helps.

Kindly saying that you know they’re working hard can be a relief for kids. It tells them you notice how hard they’re working. But you also know they may need different strategies to manage their challenges.

Showing that you’re committed to figuring out what’s happening can be a confidence boost. It tells them you’re in it together.

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