March 26, 2017

It’s about that time for a report card to come home again.  Learn the secrets that a play therapist uses to review reports cards and set goals for the remainder of the school year. These practical tips work just as well for gifted children with Straight A’s as they do for struggling children with Straight F’s.

Report Card Review 101:

1. Don’t Look At It!

At least not right away. You can assess your child’s report without even looking it by paying attention to their body language and tone of voice when presenting a report card.

There is a big difference between a child that smiles and waves the paper, “We got our report cards today!” and those that hang their heads and mumble, “Yeah, I got my report card.”

So, start by assessing how your child FEELS about you seeing the report card.  Then REFLECT on that feeling.  “You’re so excited about your report card.”   Or, “looks like you are not so happy with your report card.” 

PARENT MISTAKE #1:   Assuming They Don’t Care

Many parent assume that children with bad grades don’t CARE about their report card. I have not found that to be true.  Most children do CARE about their grades.

Those with bad ones are often just ashamed or embarrassed about their struggle.

TIP #1: Reflect their feelings

Connect with your child’s true emotions and you are ahead of the game before you even look at the report card.

2.  Find Something Positive

Always find something positive about the report card.  For children with Straight A’s it might be a class with a 100 as the final grade.  For children with Straight F’s, it might be a good conduct score in a class or just the highest F.

PARENT MISTAKE #2:  Starting with the Negative

It is natural for your eyes to go straight to the only C on a nearly A/B Honor Roll report card. I guarantee you that your child’s eyes did the same.  But dismissing 5 good grades by focusing on the lowest one is a sure fire way to kill your child’s esteem.

TIP #2: Start with the best thing

Even if your child goes straight to the negative, you can say something like, “I see that, but let’s start with this B in Science. Tell me more about that.”   Let your child talk about what they like about that class or teacher and what strategies they have used to be successful in that area. Continue reviewing the entire report card this way from the best grade to the lowest grade.

3. Let Them Solve The Problem

Your children will never learn to solve problems if you are there with the solution every time.  Too often, parents are rushing to schedule parent teacher conferences to talk about the report card.   You want to show your concern, but do it in a way that lets your child learn to advocate for himself.

PARENT MISTAKE #3: Rushing in with a solution

If your child has some bad grades on their report card  (and for some that may be a C and for others that might be some D’s and F’s), parents are usually too quick to rush in with a solution.  Good intentioned parents will come up with plans for a child to have tutoring or to start studying for 30 extra minutes per day before asking the child what they need to be most helpful.

TIP #3: Ask your child what they need to do

Before jumping in with a solution, ask your child, “What do you need to help you bring this report card grade up?”  Kids usually know what caused the problem with the grade and will do better long term if they come up with a plan to fix it.

The solution might be a system to organize homework, a change in after school routines, or help with test taking strategies.  Don’t assume that your child learns or studies the same way that you do.  Ask them what they need to do better and help them put that plan into place.

This includes having THE CHILD talk to the teacher directly (without you) about what they can do to improve their grades on their report cards.

4. Establish a growth mindset

There are two ways of thinking about problems.  One is a fixed mindset: this is the way that things are and there is not much that I can do about it.  The other is a growth mindset. Here, you look at setbacks or failures as learning opportunities and see the potential to grow from them.

PARENT MISTAKE #4: Praising the product

If you child has excellent report cards, it is easy to riddle off praise like,  “Good Job! You’re so smart!” But focusing on the outcome of the report card takes away the chid’s ability to feel proud of their work.   Even worse, it sets gifted kids up for frustration when work gets harder and then they question if they really are smart after all.

TIP #4:  Focus on the effort

Instead, focus your praise on the effort involved.  “You have really been working hard this report card cycle. All of that studying in Science is really paying off.”

This teaches children that hard work is necessary to achieve results.  And it shows them that they have the ability to improve even when things start out hard.  You can read more about the dangers of overusing praise here.

This is also your chance to challenge your gifted children that made Straight A’s without much effort. You can ask them what they would like to learn (in or out of class) that would be more challenging.

5.  Have Realistic Consequences

Of course, children that have bad grades on their report card need some level of consequences.  It is important to show your child that you care about their academic achievement.  This is especially true if your child has not been putting in much effort and that is the reason for their negative report card.

PARENT MISTAKE #5:  Going overboard on punishment

However, going overboard on punishment takes away all of your leverage. If you take away your child’s electronics for the next nine weeks (until the next report card), your child’s ability to handle that level of punishment might be overwhelmed.   Why try if the reward seems so far out of reach?

TIP #5: Try Daily Consequences

You can still show consistency and concern by imposing consequences on a smaller scale.  Instead of having a punishment for an entire report card cycle, test out daily consequences. 

Daily consequences allow your child to practice the habits that will lead to better report card grades. For example, “if you have not written your assignments down in your planner, you can not watch television TODAY.”  

These types of contingencies allow your child to feel successful through the grading cycle and reinforce the daily habits of good study skills throughout the year.

Video Tutorial on Reviewing Report Cards

If you are a visual learner and want more guidance on reviewing your child’s report card, you might find this video example helpful.


Final Thoughts

If you are still unsure about what to say when your child’s next report card comes in, snap a photo of the grades only and send it to me at and I will be happy to give you some feedback.

About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

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