Behaviour & Emotions

How to talk about: School reports

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.

Technology may be changing the way school reports are delivered, but some of the themes remain pretty timeless:

  1. "Jonny is smart but seems reluctant to contribute in class."
  2. “Jonny has so much potential but doesn’t apply himself.”
  3. “Jonny is bright but distracted easily.”
  4. "We're not sure who Jonny is, we haven't seen him at school all term."

Technology may be changing the way school reports are delivered, but some of the themes remain pretty timeless.

Whatever it says in your child's school report, it's a good idea to have a chat with them about it. And however you feel about what you've read, this is a moment for encouragement and connection. Which can be tricky, especially if you're facing scenario four and you're now wondering where Jonny has been heading off to after breakfast each morning.

Here are four possible 'parent reads school report' responses, and some ideas for having an 'A for effort' conversation with your child about their progress.

Jonny's doing their best

You are feeling proud of your child's report and calm because they are doing their best. So, what should you talk about?

Things that DON'T work:

• Yelling in an angry voice that you are proud of them and their many successes (very mixed messages here)

• Ignoring all the good grades and focusing on why they only got a 'merit' in Food Technology

• Leaving the report 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

• Telling them that you know that it takes a lot of effort over a long period of time to get a report like this

• Attempting 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

• Telling 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.

Jonny's not really trying

You are feeling proud because your child has a good report, but you are also feeling frustrated because the report says that they aren’t really trying. The infamous “Jonny is incredibly gifted, if only he would apply himself” scenario. So, how do you have this type of conversation?

Things that DON'T work:

• Only focusing on the good grades

• Only focusing 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:

• Asking them why they did so well in Mr Mead’s class, and not in Mr Jackson’s class

• Asking them when it is that they find it easy to use their potential

• Telling them that you see their potential, and your hope as a parent is that you can help them to realise it

• Encouraging them to continue to do the things that they love, while at the same time developing the important life-skill of perseverance – especially when things are hard or boring

• Telling 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.

Jonny's report isn't great, but they're doing their best

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:

• Comparing them to their far more successful, and also younger, sibling

• Telling them that they should have done better at maths because you gave them a flash calculator wristwatch so they could cheat

• Teaching them better ways to cheat for next term

Things that DO work:

• Including more omega 3 in their diet

• Asking them if there is anything that you can do to support them in their learning journey

• Asking them what class they like the best and why

• Telling them that you are incredibly proud of how much effort they are putting in at school

• Telling 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 they're only part of the whole picture. There are hundreds of reasons why your child might not be doing very well in some areas – reasons that have nothing to do with their academic ability. If they are trying their best, then that is always worth encouraging and celebrating.

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.

Jonny's report isn't great, but they also haven't been trying very hard

You might be feeling a bit upset because they didn’t get a good report, while also disappointed because you know they haven’t been trying their best. This is what the kids refer to as the "Mum's gonna kill me report" and talking about it isn't a fun conversation. It is an important one though.

Things that DON'T work:

• Blaming their father

• Writing an equally scathing report about their performance at home

• Starting a conversation with them if you are feeling particularly angry or frustrated

• Jumping 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 Milo – Milo makes everyone feel better, especially with SuperWines for dunking

• Asking them what is going on for them at school and why they are finding it so difficult to apply themselves

• Asking 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

• Making 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)

• Telling them that the education system doesn’t suit everyone, however, most of the time we need to work out how to do our best within whatever system we find ourselves

• Telling 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 your child is 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 and then to offer heaps of encouragement to do it more. Keep that in mind as you are talking to your child about their report.

Christian Gallen

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.