Whether your kids tend to earn A’s, B’s, C’s, or F’s, kids often define “who they are” based on the grades they receive.
“I’m an A-student”
“I’m not very smart”
“I’m an average student”
Unfortunately, when kids 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.
So how can you talk with your kids about grades so that their self-esteem doesn’t rise and fall based on their grade point average?
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.
So 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 is objective feedback on the child’s work?
What if you 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. When you talk with your kids about grades, it’s important to remember to take an objective stance.
This approach works great for homework as well. Decide with your child what grade represents solid knowledge of the material – is it 80%, 85%, 90%, 95%? Once you come to an agreement, let the child know that any paper that receives a grade below the threshold will need to be reworked to ensure that he 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 talk with your kids about grades as if they are feedback – not as a reflection of who they are or of 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.
Have a great school year!
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