Deconstructing Good Grades

Let’s deconstruct Good Grades. There are two words here: Good, and Grade.

What is a Grade? It is an indication of comparative performance. A grade indicates that on a given day, amongst a specific bunch of people, somebody thought that your child deserved a particular grade.

Change any of the italicized words above, and your child’s grade will be different.

If the individuals in the group change, your child’s grade will change. If there is a different evaluator, your child’s grade will change. And the same child will perform differently on different days at different times.

Your brilliant child may have a headache, and get third rank in the class, as opposed to being at the top. The opposite may also happen!

Some years ago, I’d been trying to force my daughter to learn how to play chess. With her usual grace (our children are almost always graceful, till they decide they’ve had enough, and if they don’t put their foot down, we’ll end up trampling all over them! And I agree with them. 🙂 ), she agreed to take chess classes.

After a month or so, her chess coach suggested she participate in chess competitions and tournaments so she’d play against others and hone her skills. She agreed. At this point, she was making a lot of unforced errors, so both the coach and I expected that a competition would merely expose her to playing matches with real people, rather than solving chess puzzles from books, which is what she’d been doing till then. (No, I didn’t play chess with her – I was busy doing my own thing! 🙂 )

There were brilliant players participating in her age group; they’d already been winning inter-city tournaments for a few years, and were representing their schools in national competitions.

My daughter registers, and needs to play against – I think it was 5 people. One didn’t show up, so she got a walkover. And she drew 1 and defeated the other 3!

She was delighted, and I was in shock (happy too, but that was a very faraway second reaction). As for the coach, he took me aside and said, “What have you been giving her for the past few days?” (!)

Like I said, any child, on a given day, amongst a particular bunch of kids, can achieve (or fail to achieve) anything.

But you choose to ignore this. You like to think you can control results by managing actions. You reason this way: if you can ‘make’ your child study hard enough, she will be well prepared. She will get all the answers right. She will score the maximum grade possible.

And when she doesn’t get the grade you’d like her to get, you lose it.   

Let’s move on to the second word: Good. What is a ‘good’ grade? The grade you’d like your child to get! 🙂

Suppose he does get a ‘good’ grade! 🙂  What then?

Here is the sad truth: you are happy, but only for a bit. Dissatisfaction rears its ugly head soon enough, sometimes as early as a minute after learning about your child’s wonderful grade.

My daughter’s classmate topped the math exam, with 6 marks less than the maximum marks. This is a very competitive child, under constant pressure to top the class, which doesn’t usually happen, so I was very pleased to learn that she’d topped the exam. The next person was as far as another 6 marks below the topper.

When my daughter told me this child had topped, I exclaimed, “How lovely!”

My daughter replied, “Yes, and guess what? She got scolded for getting 6 marks less than the maximum! I tell you, her parents are dictators!”

I didn’t know whether to be shocked or to laugh.

Here’s your child achieving something you’ve been pushing her to do, and when she does it, you chew her out? How long do you think she’s going to try and give it her best before she just gets tired of a goalpost that is constantly shifting farther away?

I’ve had 5-year olds tell me in all seriousness, “You know, if I make a mistake in a test, Mummy hits me with her slipper.”

Parents of primary school kids boast of sending their children for after-school coaching for Math, Science, and languages.  

No wonder your child is burnt out by the time he reaches middle school. When is he going to live his life? When is he going to do it his way?

He’s toed the line (your line!) so long, he’s tired. In addition, adolescence is a hard-to-deny siren that’s pulling him away from your ‘guidance’, and he’s sick of ‘being serious’ about his studies and his sports and his co-curricular activities.

Isn’t there anything you can do? (This is the all-powerful parent ego at work.)

Sure you can! You can be quiet.

Your best strategy is silence. Not a sullen, angry, disappointed, I’ve-done-so-much-for-you-and-I’m-still-killing-myself-to-give-you-a-good-future-but-you-don’t-care-you-can’t-even-do-a-simple-thing-like-study-well-and-get-good-grades silence, but a calm, aloof, it’s-your-choice-my-dear silence.

Bite your tongue. It really will be okay.

Back off. Give him some breathing room. If he doesn’t study, let him be. No action on your part will make him change his ways. Some day he will look around. He will find his peers working towards a career. That itself will spur him on to find his focus.

Instead of getting after him, be available to him so he feels comfortable talking to you about any doubts, confusion or indecision he faces.

Being grade oriented is a foolproof way to hand over your emotions to factors completely outside your control. (You are an intelligent adult, and can see this is not smart.) It is also one of the surefire ways to negatively affect your relationship with your child.

If you have to speak, tell him to do his best, and accept it as his best effort – at that time. Don’t draw conclusions about his career, life, success and happiness because of a grade he got – or didn’t get.  

Try acceptance. You might just be surprised at the result you’ll get.

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂

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