What is the best way to approach grades? Do you reward or punish academic performance? I’m sure I’m not the only parent to delve into these questions, and it’s tricky territory, am I right? We have the power as parents to help kids gain confidence as they learn, and every child is so different! Which brings me to the question of the day… should parents reward kids for good grades?
A blog reader sent in this question a while back:
I’ve been thinking about Tiger Mother and how even though I don’t agree with HOW she
approached things, I think there is something to be said for holding our kids to a higher standard. I know my kids probably ARE capable of getting all A’s — so how do I make sure they hold themselves to that standard, too? Or is that the wrong place to focus? My oldest just started first grade, and they have a different grading scale, but basically she got her first report card and it was equivalent to all A’s – I want to reward that, but not sure how, other than to tell her I’m proud. Which maybe is enough… she was really happy when I told her that.
I love these types of questions because they are so real. And I think about this a lot especially as the end of the year approaches. Here are my thoughts.
The Importance of Good Grades
I know that in the real world, there are, of course, many other things much more important than than grades. I prize being kind and well-balanced and trying to understand where other people are coming from at the top of my list. But I do want my kids to do their best in school.
I want to hold them up to a higher standard. I’m so ok with kids getting B’s if that really is their best. But in some cases, as a mother, you know very well that a “B” was not their best work. I’m so not ok with kids slacking off just because they think that what they are doing is simply “good enough” or “that’s what all my friends are getting.” In our family growing up we had a saying that “good is the enemy of BEST.” My Dad sometimes related that to grades. Just doing good isn’t enough sometimes. We should always strive to do our best.
Elle came home from school the other day and told me she was worried about one of her classes at school. Then came this, “Mom, really, a ‘B’ is a decent grade. Why do you care that we get ‘A’s’ so much?” And my response was, “Wait, Seriously?” Because it is like fingernails scraping against a chalkboard when kids tell me that doing “ok” is good enough. Now, she knows very well that I’m ok if she gets a “B” if that’s her best. But she also knew very well that she was not doing her best in that particular class.
So she went ahead and put in the extra effort and got an A.
What does getting an a really mean?
To me, there is so much more to getting an A than just seeing that little triangular letter on your report card. It’s not just internalizing some information and regurgitating it for a test and then being “done” with that information.
Call me crazy, but I think part of getting an A is learning how to study. How to talk to the teacher if part of the grade isn’t making sense, or if they miss something and need it explained. Learning how to talk to adults is SO important. It teaches responsibility in getting assignments turned in on time. It teaches that doing your best is important.
How much pressure should parents put on good grades?
Of course, there are those stories of kids turning off because their parents put so much pressure on them and they just cannot live up to the expectations. But there is a balance between expecting too much and having high standards.
The key, of course, is getting kids to take ownership of their grades. If the parents are always the ones pushing and the kids are doing it for them rather than them doing it for themselves, that’s not doing anyone any good.
The trick is figuring out what will make the relationship to good grades and lots of learning click in a child or teen’s mind to equal a happy, educated life with so many more options opened up to them. And every child is completely different in what will help them come to that realization. Parents have to be the judge on how long to keep the “training wheels” on.
Parenting and Grades
In our pondering and striving to be deliberate about this, Dave and I have done a lot of digging as to how other parents do this grade thing. We have found that everyone has a different tactic, and that those tactics don’t necessarily translate to the same cause/effect response. Some parents pay their kids for grades. Others ignore them all together. Some opt to “reward” with quality time together: a special dinner out, or extra privileges. Another idea is to put money in a fund for college in conjunction with good grades.
We found that it really boils down to these 3 options.
- Do you dangle a carrot in front of your kids and give them all sorts of rewards for getting good grades with a hope that translates into them wanting to do it with no reward in the future?
- Do you punish them for bad grades? For the record, I definitely don’t think that’s the answer.
- Or do you pat them on the back and say “Wow, you should feel so proud of yourself! So many doors will be opened to you in the future because you are working your brain so well and applying yourself to your studies.”
The last one is the prize-winner in my book. That’s what happened in my family growing up…the good grade and the feeling of accomplishment was the reward, not money. I think it worked great.
The interesting thing is that there are amazing results and not-so-great results any way you go about it. Every family will have different things that work. And that’s ok. What matters is that the kids are learning as much as they possibly can.
The rest is just icing on the cake.