Parenting Basics

Is Your Child Smart, Average or Not Good Enough?

March 09 , 2017

My daughter came home today with a poor grade. How can I talk to her about it? My son had a good report card but I know he is capable of more. what can I do? My son’s self-esteem rises and falls according to the grades he receives. How can I help him? My daughter constantly compares her grades to her best friend. What can I tell her? The above are some examples of the questions we receive from parents concerning grades.

Let’s face it…Education is very important for our children’s future, and this is what we want them to know and understand. However, how we react to our child’s report card can impact his motivation, self-esteem, and sense of control over his learning.

So, it is very important to look beyond the grades before we respond. Why? Because our response often defines how children see and label themselves based on their grades. For example, a child might define himself as “smart”, “average”,” or even “dump” depending on what grade he received. Unfortunately, when children label themselves based on grades, it can have a negative impact on their self-worth and self-esteem, even for students with high grades as this also creates a fluctuating self-esteem.   

How can we talk to our children about grades so that their self-esteem is not affected? The key is to consider grades as ONLY a feedback to their performance. i.e. a measure of how well they learned the material and how much effort they put in.  It does not mean that they are “smart” or “dumb” …” good” or “bad” …” better” or “worse”. When children learn to interpret grades as a feedback and not “who they are”, it enables them to deal with all grades without impacting their self-esteem. Let us go back to our questions to see how this might work and how we may respond:

  • My child came home today with a poor grade. How can I talk to her about it? This is a great time to say something like, “It looks like either you did not study well for the test or your knowledge of the material is not solid. What can you do next time to get a better grade? How can I help?   My child has a good report but I know he is capable of more. what can I do? Instead of saying something like, “You’re so smart.  You’re an ‘A-student’!”  You could say, “Wow, you got some great grades.  Looks like you really learned the material. What can you do to perform even better next time?”
  • My child’s self-esteem rises and falls with the grades he receives. How can I help him? Help your child separate himself from his grades. Let him know that it is OK to feel down; however, there is a difference between feeling down about a bad grade and feeling down about himself because of a bad grade.
  • My daughter constantly compares her grades to her best friend. What can I tell her? Teach your child about the dangers of comparison. When children see themselves as “better than” or “less than” another kid, they will start looking externally to determine how to feel about themselves. This compromises their self-esteem because they will feel good about themselves only when they get better grades than their peers. It also creates jealousy, resentment, and a belief system of “not good enough”. Teach your child to only compare her performance to her previous performances and not to others’. You can use this approach to homework as well!  Decide with your child what grade represents solid knowledge of the material - is it A, B, or C?  This way, your child can self-evaluate his knowledge of the material by his grade and whether he needs to rework for better understanding. When you take this approach, redoing the work is not a punishment; it is striving for learning and excellence.

 The most important takeaway is to work with your children to see grades as a feedback and not as a reflection of who they are or how smart they are.  When kids learn to see grades as feedback of their effort instead of a “label”, they will be able to separate how they feel about themselves from the grade. Remember, education is only one aspect of your child’s growing up experience, and that your child is unique and grades do not define them. Focus more on learning and less on grades.