• My teen came home with a poor report cart. How do I talk to her about it?

  • I want to praise my son for his recent grades but I don’t want to go overboard. How should I handle it?

  • What do you say to a child who has a decent report card but you know they could do so much better?

These are just a few of the questions we have received in recent weeks via email, at workshops, or from clients. These parents, who place a high emphasis on grades, want to know what to say and how to talk to children about the grades and the comments teachers place on their report cards. To that end, we offer the following ten rules for talking to your children about grades.

  1. Begin early. Talk with your children about grades before report cards come out. Clearly define what you think about grades and what expectations you have for your children regarding grades from the beginning of their school experience. Don’t wait until you hold a report card in your hands before you begin this important communication.

  2. Remember, your children are not their grades. Grades are only a partial reflection of who and what they really are, know, and are capable of becoming. Grades measure only what your child’s particular school defines as smart. That narrow definition of intelligence does not measure emotional intelligence, spontaneity, integrity, trustworthiness, fortitude, sensitivity, creativity and a host of other important characteristics.

  3. Rewards are ineffective if a love of learning is your goal. Paying kids ten dollars for each A, treating them to ice cream if they bring home a good report card, or buying a new video game if they get on the honor role promotes only short-term results at best. What getting rewards for grades really teaches children is that you don’t study so you can learn and grow, you study so you can get a treat or special concert tickets. You are teaching your children that learning is not the goal; grades are.

  4. Move up in consciousness before you move in with action. Take three deep breaths or count to ten before you say anything in response to a report card. Talk to yourself before you talk to the child. Remind yourself that he or she is not his or her grades. He is love and light, a child of God. Remember that what is, is. You cannot change these grades. They are what they are. It is where the child goes from here, what she does with the information that is on the report card, that is important. The next step is the only one that can be taken now. When you have all that in mind and you are emotionally under control, move to action using the following rules for discussing grades.

  5. Listen more than talk. When discussing a report card, ask lots of questions. Ask your child: How do you feel about these grades? What do you attribute them to? Were there any surprises on this report card for you? What are you most proud of? Are there any disappointments here for you? What is one goal you have for next time?

  6. Be descriptive rather than evaluative. Evaluative words like “good job,” “excellent,” “superb,” “lousy,” “pitiful,” and “poor” are not helpful. Evaluation does not teach or give the child useful information. Describe what you see and leave the evaluation for the child. “Looks like you’re a bit down from last time.” “Two teachers mentioned missing assignments.” Children who receive a positive report card need affirmation, not evaluation. Affirm what they have accomplished with descriptive comments. “I notice you went up in two classes.” “Every one of your teachers said they enjoyed having you in class.”

  7. Separate the deed from the doer. “I love you and I don’t like this report card” helps the child see that it is the results you don’t enjoy, not the person. Help your children see that they are not their report card. Likewise, stay away from comments such as, “I love you so much when you bring home a report card like this.” This style of communication obviously tells the child that your love is linked to high grades, so if the grades go down so will your love.

  8. Focus on solution seeking. Dwelling on what you have defined as a problem brings negative energy to the situation and keeps you stuck in what is. Attention to solution seeking infuses the discussion with positive energy and helps you concentrate on moving things forward to a different ending. Fix the problem rather than fixing blame by searching for solutions.

  9. Punishments don’t work. Consequences and natural outcome do. What are natural consequences of poor grades? Having a tutor work with you on Saturday mornings. Going to a learning specialist three days a week after school. Investing part of your summer retaking a class. Explain to your child that “opportunity equals responsibility.” When the responsibility stays up (a satisfactory report card), so does the opportunity to choose your own activities on Saturday mornings. When the responsibility drops, so does the opportunity.

  10. Communicate positive expectations. One of the best things you can do for your children is to expect their success and communicate that to them. Use surprise talk when presented with a negative report card. “Wow. This is surprising,” and “I never expected this” are ways to communicate that you hold higher expectations of them than the report card reflects. When they bring home a positive report card, use surprise talk in a different way. “Knowing you the way I do, this type of report doesn’t surprise me.” “This doesn’t surprise me. Not after the way I have seen you study and prepare for tests. Congratulations.”

Report cards come home several times a year. You will have more than one opportunity to use these rules with your children. When you do use them, keep in mind that your relationship with your child is more important than anything written on their report card.

About the Author:

Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman are the authors of Teaching the Attraction Principle to Children: Practical Strategies for Parents and Teachers to Help Children Manifest a Better World. They are two of the world’s foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for parents. To sign up for it or to obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs visit their website today: www.personalpowerpress.com