Why Parents Should Stop Stressing About ‘Bad’ Grades

Bringing home a bad grade is dreaded by every student. How will their parents react? What will they say? Will there be a punishment?

Parents also dread bad grades for different reasons. They worry about how the grade will impact their child’s future, and they wonder if it’s a reflection of a failing in their own parenting. They struggle with the right response and how to motivate their children to do better in school. Should they offer a reward for good grades? Should they take away something their child enjoys so that they can focus more on their academics? Should they lecture teens about their future, …blame the teacher, …punish them, …hire a tutor, …help them more?

Experts actually don’t think parents should do any of that.

Research has shown that many common parenting responses to bad grades backfire, and in fact, teens would perform better academically if their parents would just stop stressing about their grades. For example, consider a 2016 study from Arizona State University that asked middle school students to rank the top 3 things they believed their parents wanted from a list of 6 options. Three of the values had to do with personal success, such as getting good grades, while the other three values had to do with kindness towards others. The children who believed their parents valued kindness over achievement consistently performed better in school. In fact, the children who saw their parents put more emphasis on success were more likely to be depressed, anxious, act out, and, ironically, earn lower grades.

Facts that Parents Should Keep In Mind

  • Bad grades are not always a fair indication of how hard your child is trying or how much they’re learning.
  • Bad grades are not a reflection of your parenting.
  • “Bad” is subjective. To some families, a “C” is considered good, while in others only an “A” is acceptable.
  • A failing grade does NOT mean your child is a failure. In most cases, it indicates that your child needs more help to understand a certain subject or concept.
  • Good grades are NOT a guarantee of future success. There are many paths to success in life. In fact, some students with top grades reach only average levels of success in the workforce. Research has shown that the most successful people in the workforce are those with exceptional resilience, social skills, and creativity – none of which are related to the grades students receive in school.
  • Your child does not have to get in the “best” college to be successful in life. Numerous studies demonstrate that attending an elite university does not inherently lead to more success, wellbeing, or better opportunities. Nowadays, whether you go to college definitely impacts your employment options, but where you go to college is not as important as the soft skills you can show employers.

What to Do When a Student Comes Home with a Bad Grade

So what do experts suggest parents do when a dreaded bad grade comes home with your student?

  • DO NOT:
    • Take away an extracurricular activity that is important to your child. Sports and clubs are vitally important for developing confidence and social skills, which will ultimately help your child be more successful in life.
    • Focus on all the things your child did wrong.
    • Point our your child’s flaws, weaknesses, or shortcomings.
    • Push them to get an A on the next report card.
    • Emphasize “winning” in any of your child’s efforts, including sports. Given how much pressure today’s children already face to succeed, it’s more important than ever for parents to focus on good values and provide a safe space where kids feel supported.
  • DO:
    • Treat bad grades as a temporary challenge with potential underlying causes instead of a personal shortcoming of character or intelligence.
    • Listen before you speak. Ask your teen how they feel about their grades and where they think they need help. This question helps you know more about their strengths and weaknesses in school. Your teen may be dealing with stress at school or even at home that you’re not aware of that could be impacting their ability to thrive in the classroom. They may be struggling with an undiagnosed learning disability that is causing them to have a harder time than expected. Find out more information.
    • Validate your teen’s feelings. Make sure your teen can tell that you understand their point of view and you believe their feelings are normal.
    • Stay positive instead of going negative and harping on the problems. Point out the skills, traits or strengths your child has that you think will help them be more successful.
    • Facilitate problem-solving together. Help them consider different options to address their struggle – perhaps they need ideas to manage their time better, tools to stay better organized, extra help after school or an outside tutor, a meeting with the teacher, or a doctor appointment to screen for learning disabilities or other issues. Show your teen that you’re on their side and that you’re willing to help them overcome this challenge.
    • Support your kids when they hit a problem and let them know that they should be proud of themselves whenever they put forth their best efforts.

Studies show that parents who show empathy, seek to understand their child’s perspective, and focus on their child’s own ability to manage the problem result in raising children with higher internal motivation, a more positive attitude toward school, greater competence, and increased engagement and effort.

Final Thoughts…

Be careful of how you act and talk around your teen when it comes to their academics. If you tell your child that you’ll be happy as long as they try their best, but then criticize them when they don’t win or become angry when they don’t earn an A in every class, your actions will speak much louder than your words. You need to be consistent in what you say and how you act. And always remember that your child’s grade is the teacher’s assessment of their mastery of one subject matter. It is not an assessment of your child’s value, your teen’s overall intelligence, or your abilities as a parent.

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