Report cards: What not to say


I should have read the room better. If I had, I would have known to keep my mouth shut. My daughter pulled out her elementary school report card. She had been working hard over the past two months after a tough start to the year and sat with me on the sofa excited to see my reaction. 

The report card was full of A’s and lots of positive comments from her teacher. I looked over the report card and felt happy for her. She deserved the prized report card. Instinctively, though, I noticed the one B on the page and said, “Hmm, a B in math.” 

That’s all I said, but that was the absolute worst thing I could have done. Let me repeat that: “Hmm, a B in math.”

I watched her bubble burst instantly in front of me. I quickly tried to recover, telling her how proud I was of her great report card, but her smile, enthusiasm, and composure had left the building.

Of course, my daughter got hurt. She had been working hard, putting in extra hours, and in one quick move, I had discounted her weeks of effort and accomplishment. I had found the one weak spot and focused on that, instead of praising her for her hard work. It took months to regain her trust.

Mistake #2

A few years later, our middle child, a boy, came along. I thought I had learned my lesson. I thought I was smarter. When report cards came home, I came in with a plan. I wouldn’t say anything until my son said something. I wouldn’t get too high or get too low. I would be a positive force, a voice of reason.

Unlike his sister, he was never too excited to show us his grades. He didn’t like school quite as much. When my wife asked, he pulled out his report card and started telling me about each class and what he liked and didn’t like about the teacher. 

I nodded and smiled at the appropriate moments and held my own until he said that he got an 87 in a particular subject. I simply asked, “Good job, but what do you need to raise that grade to an A in the class?”

“What? An 87 is not A?” he asked. When I told him it was a solid B, he went running from the room in tears.

Yes sir, count ’em, Brian strikes again, two for two.

One more time?

I thought of those two stories when our youngest son texted my wife and me his report card two weeks ago. Now we’ve played this game for a few years. You could say we’ve been around the block a time or two. He’s an upperclassman in high school, so he knows what to expect and we know what to expect from him. 

Thanks to the text message, I could look at the report card without him watching over me. Fortunately, for us, we don’t have much to complain. Like his brother and sister before him, our son pushes himself to do well in school and gets good grades. Of course, he came home this semester with straight A’s.

When I looked at the report card, I swore under my breath. Straight freaking A’s. I worked hard in high school and got my share of good grades too, but I never seemed to reach the same heights as him.

Later that evening, during dinner, I brought up his report card. “Straight A’s, great job,” I said, thinking that would make him happy. Of course, the moment skipped by too quickly.

A minute later, I mentioned that math would get tougher in the second half of the year and asked what he was going to do to prepare for the tough grind. My son looked at me stone-faced and said: “Great dad, thanks, can’t even let me enjoy my moment.”

Yup, three for three! Good grief.

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