Do your parents love you more when you bring home an A? That’s the question educator Jessica Lahey regularly asks students.
And their answer?
Roughly 80 percent of middle schoolers and 90 percent of high schoolers at the schools she visits say their parents do indeed love them more when they get good grades.
That’s not good, says Lahey.
“Grades often don’t offer much information on what a student knows,” says Lahey. "If parents are constantly focused on [that kind of] extrinsic motivation, we’re undermining learning."
Instead, Lahey encourages parents to focus on the process of learning. Whether your child brings home an A or an F, ask them how they achieved that grade.
“Don’t approach a bad grade with silence. That feels like judgment and shows them we don’t mean it when we say we care about learning,” she says, noting that kids often already feel about a low test score. We don’t need to add to that shame.
If kids can’t talk about what they did wrong, they’ll move forward blindly.
“For kids, home really needs to be a safe haven: the one place they can talk about learning and what’s bothering them,” Lahey continues.
So when a child brings home an F, talk about process: “How did you study? What didn’t work that you’re not going to do next time? Have you talked to the teacher yet?”
Focus the conversation on learning from mistakes and developing strategies that your child can put in place before the next big grading opportunity.
Ask for your child’s suggestions and offer your own ideas, Lahey says. For example, does your kid know that an extra hour of sleep can be better for memory than a late-night cram session?
Focusing on the process of learning also helps those students more prone to anxiety.
“For the kids who want 100 percent when they receive 97 percent, process-based conversations are more helpful,” says Lahey.
Every time your child tries a new strategy after they’ve received a bad grade, they’re learning how to learn.
“If kids can’t talk about what they did wrong, they’ll move forward blindly,” says Lahey. “Making your home a place where you can discuss what went wrong means your child learns how to view mistake with clear eyes. Parents can help kids learn how to ask themselves why they screwed up and how they’ll do better next time.”