For your kids’ sake, stress less about their grades this school year

Don’t make a big deal over grades. Instead, encourage out-of-classroom activities and remember, learning is supposed to be fun.

Summer will soon be coming to an end (sigh…). School will be starting in just a couple of weeks. Everyone is excited, parents are relieved, and kids worry.

How will I do? Will this year be better than (or as good as) last year? Will I make new friends? Will my old friends still like me? Will I make the team? There can be a long list of concerns for kids of all ages. As a parent, I was always concerned with whether the stress of driving my kids to all their activities would bury me. With the new school year, would I have time to take a breath from time to time?

The first few weeks are busy and hectic. It’s a transition time for everyone. The pace of daily life quickens. The late nights of summer are transitioning to more reasonable school-year bed times. For teens and tweens, getting up early is a struggle. They long for those lazy days of summer when they could sleep in.

With all of these changes afoot, it can be difficult to consider: What’s important for my child this school year? What are the main points that I want to keep central to their lives. This kind of reflection helps parents keep their eyes on the prize — the big picture that’s so easy to lose in the mad rush of everyday life. It helps moms and dads be mindful parents.

What is really important to you about your children’s education? For me, I was never that concerned about their grades. To a large degree, grades are a way of motivating students to study harder (a carrot) and a way of discouraging kids from not doing their homework (the stick).

While this does work for some youngsters, it doesn’t work for everyone. Grades reward conformity to what the teacher is looking for. I was far more interested in what my children were learning in school. I wanted them to be creative and to look at what they were learning critically. I wanted them to learn how to think, not just to regurgitate facts. Sadly, our educational system is not focused on those goals. I know, it’s hard to be everything to everybody.

Do good grades predict success outside of the classroom? As most adults know, potential employers are not terribly interested in the grades potential applicants received in college or graduate school. Even going to a well reputed college may not be enough. How well can you work with others? Can you think outside of the box? How motivated are you to succeed? Are you able to work hard? These attributes are probably more important than getting an “A” on a spelling test in high school.

I went to graduate school in the 1970s, and my institution had only pass-fail grades. It was an experiment, and a good one. There was little competition between students, no “grade inflation” and no studying to the test. It was all about learning and growing. Everyone worked hard to learn because we were highly motivated to become successful psychologists.

So, if you decide not to focus on grades, what should you emphasize?

Express interest in what your child is learning. When my kids were little, I had them read to me aloud. I asked them what the story was about, which characters they liked and why. When they were older and reading on their own, I read their books, too. We discussed them together at the dinner table. When they had essays or reports to write, I asked them to share their point of view. I was an active participant in their education.

Encourage out-of-classroom activities. Sports, the arts, dance, swimming, community involvements or religious activities provide rich learning experiences for children. Think about what experiences your kids will benefit from.

Don’t make a big deal over grades. My kids were “A” students despite my lack of enthusiasm for their grades. I made a point not to give “atta girls” out for their grades. Instead, I rewarded intellectual curiosity, honesty and creativity.

Remember, learning is supposed to be fun.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.

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