How to talk about: School reports

In the future, school reports will be digitally downloaded by some sort of contact lens device allowing you to process all your child’s academic data and there will an A.I. Assistant to help you have a positive conversation with your child. Having said that, in the future, everyone will be half-robot anyway and your child will probably have an app that you can use to upload all of the information in the universe which might make school obsolete. Until then, you will still need to talk to them about their school report.

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There are really only four types of school reports that your child can get. This includes all the classics like, “Jonny has so much potential but doesn’t apply himself” or, “Jonny is bright but distracted easily” or, “Jonny has so much potential but doesn’t apply himself” (teachers use that one quite a lot, especially for kids named Jonny). We have made a slightly complex quadrant to help guide you through the basic types of report. If you find this quadrant too complex, chances are you have already been on the receiving end of a bad report and will, therefore, be well equipped for the conversation.

As you will see, these quadrants overlap in an unexpected yet delightful symmetry. So, here’s how to have this conversation. The specific quadrant that you find yourself in will almost always correspond to the quadrant that your child’s report falls into.

There are really only four types of reactions that you may experience as a parent. We have organised these as such –

Conversation type one

You are feeling proud of their report and calm because they are doing their best.
So, how do you have this type of conversation?

Things that don’t work

  • Yelling in an angry voice that you are proud of them and their many successes (this doesn’t work because of the mixed messages).
  • Ignore all the good grades they got in most classes and focus on how they only got a “merit” in Food Technology.
  • Put it on the table with a note that says, we need to talk about this.

Things that do work

  • Ask them which piece of the report they are most proud of, and why.
  • Ask them which piece of the report they were most surprised about.
  • Telling them that you are proud of them.
  • Tell them that you know that it takes a lot of effort over a long period of time to get a report like this.
  • Attempt to staple it to the fridge. This defiant act will prove to your child that you are willing to attempt the impossible so the report will stay on the fridge forever.
  • Tell them that you love them regardless of what the report says and it is not a reflection of how valuable they are to you.

Remember, just because your child is doing well doesn’t mean that you should take it for granted. Every child wants to know that you see how hard they are trying and you are proud of the effort that they are putting in.

Conversation type two

You are feeling proud because they have a good report but you are also feeling angry because the report says that they aren’t really trying. Or as many reports say “Jonny is incredibly gifted if only he would apply himself”. So, how do you have this type of conversation?

Things that don’t work

  • Only focusing on good grades.
  • Only focus on the lack of applied potential.
  • Yelling at them (this very rarely helps in any situation unless you are having a yelling contest).

Things that do work

  • Ask them why they did so well in Mr Mead’s class, and not in Mr Jackson’s class.
  • Ask them when do they find it easy to use their potential.
  • Tell them that you see their potential and your hope as a parent is that you can help them to realise it.
  • Encourage them to continue to do the things that they love at the same time developing the important life skill of perseverance especially when things are hard or boring.
  • Tell them that you love them regardless of what the report says and it is not a reflection of how valuable they are to you.

Remember, students like this often get told that they could be doing better and that they are talented. It can be quite confusing to be this type of student. These kids seem to thrive when you can support them to develop a genuine passion and excitement for a specific subject. So do what you can to support their curiosity at the same time as encouraging them to persevere with things they don’t enjoy as much.

Conversation type three

You are feeling disappointed because their report wasn’t very good but you also feel calm because you know that they are trying their best. So, how do you have this type of conversation?

Things that don’t work

  • Compare them to their far more successful and also younger sibling.
  • Tell them that they should have done better at maths because you gave them a flash calculator wristwatch so they could cheat.
  • Teach them better ways to cheat for next term.

Things that do work

  • Include more omega 3 in their diet.
  • Ask them if there is anything that you can do to support them in their learning journey.
  • Ask them what class they like the best and why.
  • Tell them that you are incredibly proud of how much effort you are putting in at school.
  • Tell them that you love them regardless of what the report says and it is not a reflection of how valuable they are to you.

Remember, school reports are helpful indicators for how your child is performing at school but it’s only part of the whole picture. There are hundreds of reasons why your child might not be doing very well in some areas that have nothing to do with their academic ability. If they are trying their best then that is always worth encouraging and celebrating.

Conversation type four

You are feeling angry because they didn’t get a good report and disappointed because you know they haven’t been trying their best. This isn’t a fun conversation or as the kids call it, the dreaded “my mum is gonna kill me” report.

Things that don’t work

  • Blaming their father.
  • Tell them that they can’t get a real job as an artist.
  • Write an equally scathing report about their performance at home.
  • Don’t yell at them.
  • Don’t start a conversation with them if you are feeling particularly angry or frustrated.
  • Don’t come to the conclusion that this report is a verdict on how successful your child will be in life.

Things that do work

  • Picking the right time to chat to them; maybe make them a cup of Milo. Milo makes everyone calm.
  • Ask them what is going on for them at school and why they are finding it so difficult to apply themselves?
  • Ask them about their friendships and their teacher (I’m not saying it’s the teacher’s fault) and try to find out what might be causing them to struggle at school.
  • Make a plan together on how you can support them in the future. (not financially and not in the distant future. More of a “do you need tutoring” sort of plan)
  • Tell them that the education system doesn’t suit everyone, however, most of us need to work our how to do well within systems that don’t really support flourishing.
  • Tell them that you love them regardless of what the report says and it is not a reflection of how valuable they are to you.

Remember, there are only a few valid moments as a parent when you get to use the “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. But it will never change how much I love you.” line. This is one of them. Use it wisely.

Lastly, remember that who they are becoming is far more important than what they are achieving. Make sure you take the time to notice specific things about your child that you can give them compliments about. Every human has something beautiful and significant to offer to our world. Sometimes the only thing that is required is for someone to notice that thing about them and then to encourage them to do it more. Keep that in mind as you are talking to your child about their report.


About Author

Christian Gallen

Christian is a Senior Presenter and National Trainer for Attitude. He has spoken to over 100,000 young people nationwide during his long presenting career. Christian manages all the social media and online content for Attitude and is passionate about seeing young people make great choices online and offline.

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