Report Cards – To Praise or Not to Praise?

Posted by: Hailing Huang on July 9, 2013 4:05 pm

The end of June has arrived, and with it is the end of another school year; kids bring home their report cards with joy or with sorrow. Chinese parents, whether they are in China or in Canada, always seem attentive to their children’s report card.

A few days ago, I spoke with a friend in Fuzhou China, she said: “This is the last year of my son’s elementary school, even though he performed well during the whole school year, the last exam will determine which school he will go to for junior high.” The last exam means a lot for students and their parents in China. Yesterday, a local Chinese parent, asked me: “Do you mind if your daughter get Bs?”  It seems Chinese parents are always on the alert when it comes to their children’s grades.

This phenomenon reminds me of Amy Chua, the author of ‘Tiger Mom’, when she said, that she demands excellence from her daughters; she assumes the strength rather than fragility. We may not agree with Amy Chua’s harsh discipline, but the reason behind her action may ring a bell for most Chinese mothers: the common desire of having high academic expectations for their children.

However, these high expectations may backfire!   Some time ago, a Chinese immigrant student told me: “Our teachers always encourage us, or praise us, it does not matter what kind of mark we get.  B is good mark, A means great mark, C means you passed- it is not bad.”

When children adopt mainstream Canadian language, culture and value system much faster than their parents, it often results in a values clash between the two generations. Children may have disagreements with their parent’s expectations over academic performance or discipline styles.  The parents have had worked hard to provide a good education for their children, and the teenagers begin to resent the rules imposed on them.

There are many reasons for Chinese parent‘s being vigilant of the marks their children get.  First, the Chinese education system is different from Canadian system.  In China, students have to take a provincial exam to graduate from elementary to middle school and have to take another national exam for entering university. This mark decides which school a student can enter, the best, the second best or the rest. While in  Canada,   instead of being defined by the mark, no matter what mark a student gets , he/she can still move on to a middle school that is close to their  home. This exam system has made Chinese parents very leery when it comes to their children‘s mark. Even after they immigrant to Canada, they still carry on this kind of mentality.

The second reason could be that Chinese parents tend to focus on the last exam- the national university entrance exam. Currently, even in Canada the average of entering cut off mark for most of universities is 80, which is A- and for some majors it requires an even higher score. So without an A- , a student cannot get into university. This reality in Canada also makes Chinese parents be attentive to the final mark.  

The third reason, Chinese parents tend to express their concerns through criticism rather than their praise.  The traditional Chinese mottos are: “谦虚使人进步,骄傲使人落后’, or “忠言逆耳“which means “modest progress, pride make people behind” and “good advice does not always appear to one’s ear”.  The most comment compliment from Chinese parents is ‘不错’, which means ‘not bad’.  

If the practices of the traditional approach backfire, then what kind of approach that Chinese parents, or immigrant parents or parents who are in the similar situation could be applied? Is there other approach that the children will accept and   at the same time still bring out the best in them?

I think Michael Popkin’s advice on‘encouragement’ can provide some guidance. He suggested, parents should acknowledge what our children can do well! Once parent know where the children would like to end up, such as having a better mark, improving on their drawing, or cooking skills, then get an idea where the child is on the A to Z level in reaching that goal. Then encourage children to take the next step.  Children get a sense of self-esteem from learning, whether it is a sport, a school subject, or a skill. Learning requires many steps and much improvement. So it is necessary for parents to encourage their kids to take the next step.

It boils down to three steps, first is acknowledging what children are doing well, second is  confirming and third step is  encouraging them to go on the next step.  The key for parent is to acknowledge and bring out the goal, and be aware of their children’s current level. Encouraging along the way, we want the children to be able to experience numerous successes, confirm their efforts, and all other skills. While, parents should be cautious that praise should be concentrated on improvement, not perfection. The mistake most Chinese parent make in the encouragement process is to wait until the child attains the desired result before offering praise or encouragement.

As long as we are aware of these skills, steps, parents no matter from the East or the West can benefit and form effective communication and positive relationships with their children.

Hailing Huang, MA

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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