Whether your children’s grades tend to be A’s, B’s, C’s, or F’s, kids often define “who they are” based on the grades they receive. As a result, children’s grades and self-esteem are often strongly linked.
“I’m an A-student.”
“I’m not very smart.”
“I’m an average student.”
Unfortunately, when children label themselves based on grades, it can have a negative impact on their self-esteem – even for “A-students”. If they bring home an A, they feel great about themselves. If they bring home a C, they get down on themselves.
The key is to talk about grades as feedback
Feedback is just a result that occurs based on an action that was taken – it is a measure of how well they learned the material. Grades don’t mean that they are “smart” or “dumb,” “good” or “bad” — it just means they either learned what they needed to know, or they didn’t.
When kids learn to interpret grades as feedback and not “who they are,” it enables them to deal with both good grades and bad grades without impacting their self-esteem.
Reframe the conversation around children’s grades and self-esteem
How might this work? Say your child brings home an A…
Instead of saying something like, “You’re so smart. You’re an ‘A-student’!” You could say, “Wow — you made some great grades. Looks like you really learned the material!”
Do you see how the first comment “labels the child,” whereas the second comment provides objective feedback on the child’s work?
What if your child brings home a C?
This is a great time to say something like, “Doesn’t look like you learned the material that you needed to know for this test. Let’s put together a plan to make sure you learn what you need to know to move forward… Otherwise you may fall behind and future tests will be even more difficult.”
Do you see how this approach tackles the low grade as a problem to be solved? This enables the child to focus on improving the grade versus feeling bad about himself for making a poor grade.
This approach works great for homework, too
Decide with your child what homework grade represents solid knowledge of the material — is it 80%, 85%, 90%, 95%? After coming to an agreement, let the child know that any paper that receives a grade below the goal will need to be reworked to ensure that they understands the material well enough to move forward in class. When you take this approach, redoing the work isn’t punishment; it’s striving for learning and excellence.
The most important takeaway is to see children’s grades as feedback — work with your kids to help them understand that grades are not a reflection of who they are or “how smart” they are. When kids learn to see grades as feedback of their effort, instead of as a “label,” they are able to separate how they feel about themselves (their self-esteem) from the grade.
This is just the tip of the iceberg!
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