10 minute read.
Preparing your child for adulthood is pretty serious when you consider all the responsibility they will eventually take on as an adult. The world is highly competitive, and as a good parent, you want your child to have every advantage, don’t you?
You expect your child to do well in school. You want them to show respect for their teachers, parents, siblings, and friends, and you want them to make good decisions in life.
You already know that how they do on math tests are much more about getting a good math grade. You want them to actually learn something useful. Studies are even showing that students with more of a liberal arts education are especially more relevant.
The skills and activities they learn early on helps with all kinds of things in the future like job interviews, careers, and how they interact with their spouse, children, co-workers, and boss. Skills such as writing, designing, giving presentations, and public speaking are more useful today than they have even been before.
The Pursuit of Excellence
You want them to do well and pursue excellence. That’s why it’s so important for you to help them build a solid academic foundation.
But you can justify a lot under that positive umbrella. Sometimes maybe too much. It’s easy to lose perspective of the larger goal and deviate from showing them how to be excellent to pressuring them to be perfect.
When you cross that line, you can judge your child with some pretty harsh standards. At report card time, you may question why your little Johnny got a B when you know he could have gotten an A. Was he purposely slacking?
Why didn’t your nearly straight A student get that grade just a little bit higher? Maybe you snap at your teenager if he shows the slightest sign of irresponsibility.
My parents used to do the same thing to me. I knew it was wrong. Whatever they said about it didn’t make a difference, and certainly didn’t make it right. Why? They didn’t find out HOW to help me learn better. They just assumed I was being lazy.
Your child’s ability to do well in almost any area of life will get worse if your expectations are too high. Impossible standards lead to fear, feelings of resentment, and discouragement.
This can lead to all kinds of negative behavior like cheating, acting up in class, and avoiding asking for help when they get stuck. It can also result in extreme anxiety and depression.
So how do you raise your child to strive for excellence while accepting them for who they are?
Let’s dive into why high standards can only be one side of the coin. Yes, there is nothing wrong with having high academic standards for your kids. But it should be balanced with an abundance of encouragement, patience, and guidance as well.
Excellence is attainable. You just need to define what that is for your child. It’s different for everyone. Perfection is never attainable. You wouldn’t expect yourself to be perfect, so then why would you expect your child to be perfect?
That means you have to give your child plenty of room to make mistakes along the way. This also means to not shame or blame your child for making mistakes. Nobody wants to feel at fault for not achieving a standard set by some external governing body.
First of all, standards have to be realistic.
If you help your child figure out what that standard actually is early on, and then work towards that standard little by little, there is no excuse why they can’t achieve it. That’s what teachers and parents are for.
Somewhere along the line, the American education system thought it was a great idea to test children according to governed standards. What’s that supposed to do? Help them learn something valuable they can use in life, or give them anxiety about taking tests?
Teaching means to help a child learn, not test them to try and see if you can trip them up on a mistake, and then scoring them on a scale along with all the other kids to see who ranks higher or lower. What ridiculous purpose does that serve?
Why You Should Stop Pressuring Kids Over Grades
If you want your kids to become successful in life, it is not productive to pressure them over grades.
Parents don’t need to obsess over grades, especially if these ambitions come at the expense of social skills and kindness. This can have a disastrous effect and actually works against helping kids become well-adjusted.
Suniya Luthar, Professor at Arizona State University says “When parents emphasize children’s achievement much more than their compassion and decency during the formative years, they are sowing the seeds of stress and poorer well-being, seen as early as sixth grade.”
“In order to foster well-being and academic success during the critical years surrounding early adolescence, our findings suggest that parents should accentuate kindness and respect for others at least as much as or more than stellar academic performance and extracurricular accolades.” adds Luthar.
The Study on Student Achievement and Pressure
According to a study done by Professor Luthar, perceptions of parents’ values were documented among 506 sixth grade students from an affluent community. Kids were asked to rank the top three of six things their parents valued for them.
Three values were about personal successes such as good grades and a successful later career, and the other three were about kindness and decency towards others.
The researchers examined underlying patterns on scores based on children’s perceptions of their parents’ achievement emphasis relative to children’s kindness to others.
These patterns on perceived achievement emphasis were compared against the children’s school performance and actions as measured by grade point average and in-class behavior.
The Results: Is It About Achievement or Kindness?
Results showed that mothers and fathers perceived emphasis on achievement versus interpersonal kindness played a key role in the child’s personal adjustment and academic performance, as did perceptions of parents’ criticism.
The best outcomes were among children who perceived their mothers and fathers as valuing kindness toward others as much as or more than achievements. Much poorer outcomes were seen among children who perceived either mothers or fathers valuing their achievements more highly than they valued being kind to others.
The implication here is that parents who pressure their kids to get good grades will have a higher tendency to encourage them to do it at the EXPENSE of others, rather than being kind and helpful towards others, as well as being more social and having fun.
It’s About Social Connection
The bottom line is that it’s more productive for parents to encourage good values in their children rather just focusing on grades. What’s important to understand is that good grades are often a positive consequence of focusing on good values.
The happier and more fulfilled your child feels about learning and helping others in the process, the better they will do in school. Social connection wins out over pressure any day.
Findings published online in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence demonstrate the value of being socially oriented: “It is beneficial for kids to be strongly connected with their social networks, whereas focusing too much on external validations, such as grades and extra-curricular honors, for their sense of self-worth can lead to greater insecurity, anxiety and overall distress.”
What’s The Pressure Really About?
How do you remember feeling when you were in school? If you are pressuring your child to perform better in school, is it because you think your child needs to live up to the standards that you once set for yourself when you were in school? Were you a good student or a bad student?
Do you ever catch yourself saying “Well, if I had to go through it, so do you!” If you were a one of the top students in your class or maybe Valedictorian of your class, was it because you enjoyed learning or were you just trying to get the best grades for college?
When You’ve Really Gone Too Far
There are many cases where parents were extreme overachievers in high school, or even far younger (even as young as second grade) and drove themselves so hard that it cost them a massive amount of internal pain and suffering.
What is so painful about that you ask?
Because instead of spending time with friends and doing fun activities, you spend years of your young life studying for exams and working on projects to such an extreme that you don’t dare miss getting an A on anything! That’s some serious shit right there.
Why Does This Happen?
You either suffered extreme tyranny from your parents to excel at any cost, or you placed a staggering amount of internal pressure on yourself, hoping that straight A’s would secure you a free ride for college.
Was it about getting the most scholarships because you thought by doing that, it was the only way out of poverty or an abusive life? That right there is a perfect breeding ground for highly neurotic behavior and emotional baggage that can last the rest of your life.
This kind of pressure is both insane and sad, and it only shows how insecure and shallow a parent can be if they think this kind of pressure will motivate their children to get good grades.
It is completely delusional to think that only perfect grades, top honors, and a full academic scholarship will somehow secure you a happy and fulfilled life.
No child should ever be compared to a parent who pushed themselves too hard.
Do you really expect that just because you pushed yourself too hard in school and pushing your child just as hard magically leads them to a reasonably well-adjusted adult life?
Always remember that your child is a human being with multiple talents, interests, and creative pursuits. Offering material incentives, applying pressure, and threatening consequences only goes so far, and serves to demotivate your child in the long run.
Children learn from positive experiences and they build resilience when they feel challenged appropriately. Your child will thrive when you strike a good balance between support, structure and guidance. And don’t forget free time and play! It’s a delicate balance.
You child knows when they need encouragement to reach their potential, and when they need help with a goal that is beyond their grasp. If you want them to ask for help with problems, show them that you can be trusted and that you are there to support them in whatever they need.
The best thing you can do is give them the appropriate tools for learning.
If you want to build an independent, resilient, and confidence child, be acutely aware of your child’s needs and determine how much to push when it’s needed, but also know when to back off and let them be a kid.
There are many great tools and apps out there right now that give your child incredible advantages in writing, developing ideas, and designing for presentations, public speaking, and several other people skills.
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