School is a full-time job for kids; toss in academic pressure and the expectation of perfect grades, and it’s a hard-knock life. But you may want to toss that mentality aside, especially during the formative upper elementary and middle school years.
By sixth grade, a new Arizona State University study found, students who believed their parents valued their kindness and compassion over academic performance pulled off the highest GPAs and best in-class behavior. Besides lower grades, their counterparts also were more likely to experience depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and act out.
Your best bet, it seems, is to go ahead and say that grades aren’t everything.
Asking your kids about their homework or test scores may seem innocent enough, but Chuck Hatt, principal of Burns Park Elementary School in Ann Arbor, says a better question is whether or not what they’re learning excites them.
“I think focusing on the grades themselves without focusing on what’s going on at school or what they’re learning is detrimental,” he says. “In the end, these are the things that make up the grades.”
Hatt says he’s seen parents set up reward systems around grades, but people are unable to coax higher-order skills like problem-solving, critical thinking and synthesis with that sort of material gratification. Those skills come with genuine engagement.
“When you look at the people that are successful in life and they talk about what put them at an advantage, they’ll say, ‘At a young age, I learned how to work hard and enjoy it,'” Hatt says.
If parents are concerned about their kid’s performance, instead of simply expressing displeasure, Hatt says a conversation needs to happen in partnership with educators.
What’s important for parents is making sure they understand the school’s curriculum – and their student has an appropriate amount of challenge and connection.
“Authentic learning is a joyful experience, and while grades are a barometer or indicator for the learning that’s taking place, the goal should be the learning.”
This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.