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Is it worth worrying about your child's grades?

We begin evaluating children in school very early on. Even before the first grades are given teachers often use stickers, stamps and other signs of approval or disapproval. How does this early assessment shape children’s self-esteem, self-motivation and how does it affect parents’ perceptions of their little ones? More importantly, how should a parent respond to these early evaluations and later to their children’s grades to cultivate motivation towards learning rather than fear of rejection?

Psychological research shows that taking a test is one of the most common and strongest fears in children. This fear is often formed by parental expectations and responses to children’s grades. When parents judge their child’s character based on their grades, it is particularly detrimental to children’s motivation and to the parent-child relationship overall. The truth is, grades do not make the child better or worse than others, they just evaluate a very specific skillset or concept comprehension at one point in time.

What can you do to avoid disappointment and fear of grades in your child?

Stay calm and carry learning on. The most important task of a parent is to respond with calm to their child’s grades and consistently model this response. Be sure to discuss the grade with the child by asking open ended questions: Why do you think you did so well/not so well? How can you improve next time you take the test or complete this homework? Can I help you? It is equally important to have this discussion about good grades, as well as worse ones. Your child needs to see equal measured and calm response so they can internalize that the process of learning is more important than the result. It is helpful to remember that you can cultivate children’s interest in learning by forming their attitudes towards assessment: it is a helpful tool to guide their future learning.

Avoid criticizing. When parents get angry or scold their children for getting a bad grade, children become anxious and learn to perceive low grades as signs of flaw and weakness. Consequently, their desire to learn disappears, they become more anxious, and most importantly, their relationships with parents deteriorate. Thus, it is especially important to avoid labeling the child as “lazy”, “slow”, or “worse than everyone”. Usually, parents say these things in the hope of fostering their child’s motivation. Unfortunately, this only leads to lesser enthusiasm towards learning and cultivates feelings of inferiority. Incidentally, labeling the student as “gifted” is no less harmful because these children start to perceive mistakes or lower grades as failures and then either avoid challenging themselves, which interferes with learning or develop perfectionism, which is quite an anxiety provoking trait.

Create a positive learning environment. Show and tell your children that they are loved and valuable, regardless of their academic performance. When lower grades do happen treat them as expected and inevitable milestones in the process of learning. Explain to your children that mistakes allow us to examine what went wrong, assimilate the material better, indicate our weakness and help us to adjust future learning so we can perform better next time. In other words, oftentimes we learn much more from our mistakes than our successes. Additionally, remind them that not everyone will be successful in everything; some subjects may be very challenging despite one’s best efforts. It is important not to stress over this but instead to find ways to support your child’s style of learning, while capitalizing on their stronger areas. Every child has something they are better at, and this can become their source of strength that will nurture their self-esteem and keep them trying to complete even the most challenging tasks. Finally, instill in your children the understanding that steady, consistent effort pays off; even if challenges occur, any failure is temporary, because if they continue working hard, sooner or later their efforts will pay off.

When children grow and learn in such an emotionally supportive environment, they learn to respond calmly to mistakes, correct them faster, and generally learn to overcome difficulties with a more positive attitude.

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