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Making the Grade

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Making the Grade

Three weeks into the new school year, and things are moving along rather smoothly. I’ve managed to get Gabby to school on time every day (and yes, I consider this an accomplishment); she and I both LOVE her fourth grade teacher (I’d like to convince her to move up to fifth next year); and Gabby has cut her long, luxurious bubble baths down from one hour to 45 minutes. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

How do I ensure that my daughter’s value isn’t tied to her grades?

Then, earlier this week, I got a phone call from my mom. She said the school had tried to reach me first, but that she was on her way to pick Gabby up early from extended day. When I asked my mom what was wrong, she simply said, “She’s not feeling well.” Then I realized that my mom had me on speaker in the car, and I could hear my daughter whimpering in the background. So, I asked Gabby to explain. No response. Finally, my mom began to fill in the gaps. As it turns out, the source of all the drama wasn’t an upset stomach, but a bad test grade. Two bad grades to be exact.

I came home from work to find Gabby taking a nap on the couch. And when I went to wake her up, it looked like her little eyes had been the victims of some vicious attack by killer bees. I immediately began reassuring her that a couple of bad grades weren’t the end of the world and that it was early enough in the school year for her to bounce back. But as she began to explain what happened, she uttered the phrase, “But I was afraid you would be mad at me.”

bad grades


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Uh-oh.

My first response was to tell her that as long as she had done her best, I would not be mad at her. But then two other questions popped into my head: “What messages have I been sending my daughter that she would be so worried about telling me about a bad grade?” and “How do I ensure that my daughter’s value isn’t tied to her grades?”

Full disclosure: I was pretty much a straight A student (until college when I eked out a C in Calculus and celebrated like I’d just one the Super Bowl). So I admit that Gabby may have inherited some of my over-achiever tendencies. (I’ve relaxed over the years. A little.) As a parent, and also a higher education professional, I know that good grades are often held as the barometer for both entrance and success in college… and in life. But here’s what else my personal and professional experience have taught me: those things are not necessarily directly correlated. Still, the pressure to make good grades starts early.

Keep Calm

Do I want my daughter to make good grades? Absolutely. But I definitely don’t want her to think that her grades dictate my love for her, nor do I want grades – good or bad – to determine her self-worth.

So, here a few suggestions for my fellow parents who find themselves in similar situations:

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Focus on the positive and look ahead.

Have an honest discussion about the grades and ask your child where he or she may have gotten off track, then talk about how to improve or better prepare next time. But don’t forget to take note of the good grades, too. Often when kids bring home a report card, we spend way more time talking about one bad grade versus acknowledging the other four or five good ones. And if it’s a bad test grade, remind your child about a time when they did well on a test and that there will be more times like that. Most importantly, don’t dwell on the bad grade or bring it up again in reference to some other situation.


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Get to the root.

After talking things over with Gabby, I discovered that her two bad grades were really the result of two different issues. She simply didn’t read the questions carefully enough for one test, and the other – a timed math test – created a little anxiety for her. In her quest to get every answer right, she was being quite meticulous and ran out of time. I saw the inklings of a little test anxiety last year, and now I know that we need to address it head on. So, I reached out to both her teacher and her school counselor for strategies to help her in the future. (And it’s up to this momma teach her that she doesn’t have to be perfect. A good lesson for both of us.)

Relieve some of the pressure.

Find ways to praise your child for their “smarts” that aren’t tied to grades. If you see them take an ingenious approach to solving a problem around the house, give ‘em kudos. But try not to make being smart so important that they’re afraid to get things “wrong” or challenge themselves. Instead, try asking them what really excites them about a subject and provide them with opportunities to express that interest. And by all means, don’t compare your kid’s grades with someone else’s.

This advice is just as much for me as it for anyone else. I am, after all, a Parent In Progress.

So, tell me how do you deal with “bad grades”? And how important are good grades in your household?


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View Comments (4)
  • Wow! This is going to be me in a couple of years. My 4 year old was stressing that he wasn’t perfect at the “Days of the Week” song during calendar time at MMO! He didn’t want to go back to school until we had practiced and learned it. And this was just 3 days into the year – and the teacher said no one else knew it either. Raising a perfectionist, sigh.

    • God bless us both, Susan! I think it’s easier for us as adults, in retrospect, to try to reassure our children that it’s not the end of the world, when, in fact, grades/getting things right are a huge part of their world in learning environments. I guess we just do the best we can and hope they won’t need too much therapy. :-0

  • This is a great reminder to make sure our children know their intrinsic worth. Thank you!

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