I’d like to make an emotional appeal to you, parent to parent. Pretty please stop punishing your kid for bad grades. You’re not doing the kid any favors in the long run, and in fact you could be doing more harm than good. Read on to learn why!
Please Stop Punishing Your Kid for Bad Grades
What do you do when your child brings home a bad grade? If your first response is to take away their phone, their toys, their after-school activities, you may want to rethink your strategy. Let’s talk about why it’s so unreasonable to expect perfect grades from your kids in the first place, then we’ll discuss a bit about how these punishments do more harm than good.
You’re not perfect, so why do you expect your kids to be?
Tell me something, have you mastered every single subject that you learned in school? Are you a math whiz, a best-selling writer, a historian, a scientist, a gymnast, a linguist, a woodworker, a welder, a baker/chef/seamstress? No, really, are you? If so, wow, way to go! That’s a major accomplishment!
If you did answer no, don’t feel bad. Very few people hold half a dozen degrees after all! However, I want you to ask yourself if you’ve yet to master every subject even though you’re an adult, why is it okay to expect your children to do so before they’re even old enough to drive? It’s simply unreasonable to expect perfection from kids when we’re not perfect ourselves.
What message are you sending your kids when you punish them for bad grades?
I want you to imagine another scenario. Pretend that someone very close to you (your mom, dad, spouse, best friend) asked you to throw a party for them and bake the cake yourself. You tell them that you’re not entirely confident in your baking skills, but they say, “just do your best!”
So, you spend hours upon hours researching the perfect cake and pouring over tips on how to make it. Then you really concentrate on creating something fantastic. The end result isn’t exactly what you had in mind. In fact, it’s kind of “below average” as far as cakes go. Still, you know you did your best! Besides, you’re definitely getting an A+ for the delicious buffet spread, the decorations, the music, and the gifts! Plus, for “extra credit” to make up for the not-so-perfect cake, you bought some great cupcakes from a local bakery.
On the day of the party, your guest of honor arrives and takes a look around. She gushes over the decorations, cries tears of joy over the gifts, gives you a great big high five over your music choices. Then, she gets to the cake. “This is no good,” she says. “It’s awful! How could you fail at making the cake?”
You tell her, “I really tried! I did my best! I even did extra credit!” She replies, “Your best isn’t good enough,” then she takes away your phone and boots you out of the party. To make things worse, for the next month she demands that you go straight home after work and spend every waking hour learning how to make cakes. Tell me, how do you feel about that? Not so good, right? After all, you really did do your best! To hear it wasn’t good enough hurts deep down to your core, especially when every other aspect of the party was grade A.
That is how your kids feel when you punish them for bad grades.
What if I know they didn’t really try their best?
Right about now, at least one of you is thinking, “Well, that’s all fine and dandy for kids who really try. Of course, those children shouldn’t be punished! What about my kid, though? I know he’s not trying!”
First, ask yourself, do you really 100% know that he’s not actually trying his best? See, “trying his best” isn’t just about hitting the books and studying for hours before each test. For some kids, it means struggling to pay attention to a subject that they don’t really understand and/or can’t quite get into.
Before you say, “Well, too bad if he doesn’t find math interesting, he needs to focus more, learn it and do well,” try another exercise for me. Grab the most boring book you can find (GoodReads has a list of contenders), then go sit perfectly upright in the most uncomfortable chair you can find and spend 45 minutes focused solely on the novel. For good measure, go ahead and either turn the heat up just a little too high or down a little too low. Now tell me how easy it is to focus on something you have zero interest in or understanding of.
“No, really, he’s not trying his best. In fact, he’s skipping his homework and just guessing on his tests because he doesn’t care if he does well,” you say? Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Yes, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. However, taking away his after-school activities and locking him in his room every day with nothing other than his schoolbooks is not the solution.
First, those after-school sports come with a wealth of their own benefits that are just as important as learning math and writing skills, so you’re actually taking away from your child’s overall educational experience when you “ground” them from their sports. Second, these punishments don’t really fit the “crime,” nor do they actually help your child overcome the issues preventing them from getting good grades in the first place.
So, what can you do to help them bring those grades up? It’s so simple, really. Ask them. Seriously, simply ask your child, “What do you feel you need to better connect with the material and bring your grade up?” Then follow through with their response. If they can’t quite figure out what would help them, then you can step in with some other ideas.
- Hiring a really great and engaging tutor. Engaging is key, as a dry and boring tutor isn’t going to help them.
- Present the material in a different way. Some kids are visual learners, some are hands-on, some learn by doing. Your child’s teachers are each just one person. They can’t teach to every style, so supplement at home with educational YouTube channels or hands-on experiments.
- Set boundaries, don’t dole out punishments. Rather than take away your child’s favorite things for a bad grade, set up a study schedule. They have to do schoolwork for X amount of time, then the rest of the night is their. After other obligations, like sports or family dinner, of course.
Well, my child is gifted, so I know he’s capable of so much more!
There are two things wrong with that sentence. Let’s address the first half. We’ll get to the second in a moment. From the moment our kids leave the womb, we parents spend an insane amount of time and energy trying to convince the world (and ourselves) that our kids are gifted. Don’t believe me? Listen to a group of moms at a Mommy & Me group. I’m betting you’ll hear something like:
Mom 1: Did I tell you Susie said her first word today? Only three months old and she’s talking! She’s so gifted!
Mom 2: Oh yeah, well, Tommy rolled over and say up this morning! Only one month old. He’s a genius!
Mom 3, not to be outdone by anyone: That’s nothing! Sally wrote an opera while she was still in the womb! Call Mensa!
I really believe the majority of moms want their kids in gifted because they want to feel great about their parenting skills and get major bragging rights, not because they want the best for the child. When my son was in kindergarten there were a couple of moms in his class getting private tutors so the kids could take the test and be labeled gifted. What the heck?
My son is in 3rd grade and gets really good grades but I am not the crazy type pushing for gifted. Sure, it would be great, but I don’t think he’s ready yet. Besides, a recent study proved that kids who just make the gifted cutoff do no better on tests than those who just missed it. In other words, if you’re child is only a few points over the cutoff, putting him into gifted classes isn’t going to improve his learning experience. In fact, it may add more stress.
He’s capable of more…
As for the second part, “I know he’s capable of more,” guess what? We’re all capable of more. Capable means, “having the ability, fitness, or quality necessary to do or achieve a specified thing.” By that definition, if you’re legs are in good working order, you’re capable of walking from Florida to California and back. If you can read, then you’re capable of working your way through every novel ever written. You get the idea? Of course, if you spent your life walking from FL to CA or reading every book in the Library of Congress, you wouldn’t have time for your family, friends, and, well, to have an actual life.
Learning isn’t just about memorization
Learning is about so much more than just how well you do on a test or in a single class. Our kids learn just as much (if not more) through the things they actually enjoy and through life experiences as they do through memorizing multiplication tables.
Very long story short, punishing your kids for bad grades and trying to push them into gifted classes because they’re “capable of more” is just completely illogical. Try to work with them instead of against them. If they still don’t pull up those grades, go back to the beginning and remind yourself that you’re not perfect at everything, so you shouldn’t expect your kids to be, either. Not every child is bound for the Ivy Leagues, and that’s okay. It’s perfectly fine if your child gets into one of the other 3,000 colleges in the US. It’s even fine if he decides to be one of the 16 million who choose trade school over a four-year college.
Let go of the idea that every child needs to be in gifted classes and bring home straight As to succeed. Trust me, you’ll both be a lot happier!.