Grades Don’t Define Your Child’s Worth

young boy crying and overwhelmed by school work

by Karen Gibson

Do you recognize this conversation? “Great job for getting straight A’s!” Unfortunately, this type of praise can lead children to believe that earning high grades guarantees success as an adult. This outdated success formula has been ingrained in our culture for decades: get good grades, attend a top university, secure a lucrative job, and live a happy life with a loving marriage, beautiful home, and high-achieving children. However, the pandemic in 2020 taught us that even if the success formula is followed, life can throw unexpected curveballs like job loss, health issues, and divorce, among others.

As an educator and owner of Brain Builders, a private tutoring business since 1999, my philosophy on grades has shifted. I’ve witnessed honor roll students experience mental breakdowns and lose interest in their planned careers. I have had students cry as if they lost their loved ones if they earned a “B.” My concern as an educator and parent coach is that students will be deeply disappointed when they discover their perfect grades do not guarantee life success.

mom providing encouragement to daughter doing homework
Every child is unique and learns in their own way; we must remember to be patient and understanding to help them reach their full potential.

My advice to parents and students is to shift the focus from earning high grades to valuing effort and attitude instead. Grades may reflect discipline and hard work, but they don’t define intelligence or worth. Students who define themselves by their grades may experience unnecessary stress that could persist into adulthood, leading to the pursuit of careers that define their worth by societal standards.

To prepare children for success and define their worth, here are some tips for parents:

  1. Model empathy and teach kids the importance of understanding how their actions impact others. Encourage healthy emotional connections, and help them increase peace while decreasing stress.
  2. Praise effort and attitude instead of the outcome. When we acknowledge the process, not the achievement, children learn their worth doesn’t come from their performance. For instance, instead of saying “Wow, you made honor roll!” say “You worked hard for that, and you deserve it!”
  3. Remind children that grades don’t determine love and acceptance. Avoid lecturing or expressing disappointment or anger when a child brings home a low grade. Children who feel their grades define their worth may feel unworthy of love and acceptance.
  4. Remember that grades can hinder the learning process. Students may become obsessed with earning good grades rather than learning, turning the classroom into a battleground. Accepting an average grade isn’t losing the battle but acknowledging the learning process.
  5. Demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance. Spend quality time listening to your child and allowing them to share their feelings without judgment. Avoid trying to fix their problems or giving unsolicited advice. Trust your child’s journey and support them through their struggles.

Parents may feel proud of their child’s achievements, but they shouldn’t equate their child’s grades, behavior, or choices with their worth. Happier and healthier children know they’re worthy, regardless of their grades, and can count on their parents’ support and love. Parents who focus on building their child’s self-confidence reduce stress and improve interactions with their children.

upset young girl studying
Organizational and time management skills are essential for academic success.

Children build resilience and personal growth trusting their parents will support and love them regardless of their grades. Avoid lecturing or damaging relationships with children, and instead, nurture them with love and acceptance. By shifting our focus away from defining our worth solely based on our grades, careers, or achievements, we can live happier, more fulfilling lives as adults.

Karen Gibson is an experienced educator with over 25 years of experience working with students and parents. As a mother of two adult daughters, she understands the importance of healing one’s inner child, practicing compassion, and trusting in their children’s journey. Karen is the author of several books, including “Mama’s Gotta Let Go: How to Let Go Without Losing Your Sanity,” “100 Parenting Tips Inspired by the Pandemic,” and she is one of thirty authors in “The Power to Rise Above” (published in Australia).

In 1999, Karen founded Brain Builders, a private tutoring business with a mission to prepare students for success in and out of the classroom. As a certified neuro-linguistic practitioner, Karen helps her clients rewire their brains to improve communication, problem-solving skills, and overcome limiting beliefs.

In 2019, Karen founded Letting Go with Aloha, where she mentors stressed parents and those in parenting roles to navigate their journey with peace instead of pain. Karen’s online course, “Breaking the Cycle of Anxious Parenting: Simple Strategies for Raising Teens,” is available on her website: Karen is dedicated to helping parents let go of their fears and anxieties and find joy and fulfillment in their parenting journey.

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