Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Report Card-How & When Do You Encourage Kids To Get Better Grades?

My son just received his second kindergarten report card and I was happy to see that he's made some progress.  I sat down with him and tried to explain the things his teacher thought he was doing really well with, and those he needed to still show some improvement.  I'm not quite sure if he fully grasped what I was saying and what the grades meant, but I felt it was important to at least have the conversation. 

It started me thinking - at what point do you actually start "encouraging" them to get better grades?  I mean I do encourage him to try harder now, but I really mean when do I start setting expectations regarding grades?  I was always a straight A student but it was really my own drive that put me there and not pressure from my parents.  Although I think part of the drive came from wanting to please them and make them proud.  But it was a decision I made and an expectation I put on myself... what if my children don't do the same?

Getting good grades is more important today than ever - getting into schools has never been tougher and you of course want your child to have every advantage, which includes getting the best education.  You've all heard about the Tiger Mom by now, right?  I can't imagine being that type of mom and putting that type of pressure on my children - don't they also have the right to just be children?  They'll hit the real world soon enough!  On the other hand, we also seem to try harder today at encouraging self-esteem and providing tons of positive feedback.  Unfortunately, that doesn't paint a realistic picture for our children of who they really are... which can't be good either.  Not every scribbled picture they make is a masterpiece, but we sure tell them it is.  So where does that leave us?  In this video, they examine the different parenting styles (including the Tiger Mom's style) and I found it quite interesting:

For me, the question that first comes to mind is isn't there somewhere in between?  Do we have to be either super strict or totally laisser faire?  Can't we do a bit of both?  Isn't there a happy medium?

I feel children crave boundaries and limits because it makes them feel safe.  I also feel that each child is an individual and that a certain parenting technique can work for some but not others.  I watched several videos on the topic and many of those videos interviewed children who had been raised by a tiger mom, but also others who had moms who were more lax, as well as some who had helicopter moms (the moms who hover over everything the child does).  In one video all three parenting styles resulted in children who were straight A students.  In others, children of tiger moms said that they would never choose to raise their own children that way and that it was a horrible way to grow up.

I don't think it's possible to choose one style and say it's the right one.  I think the bigger part of the equation is knowing what motivates and what hurts your own child.  I already see that the reactions I get from my parenting style is different with my son vs. my daughter.  If I raise my voice with my son, he withdraws into himself and actually beats himself up (i.e. last night at dinner, he kept getting up from the table so I eventually raised my voice and he reacted by pouting and moving to a chair at the other end of the table).  My daughter on the other hand, reacts to a raised voice by bursting into tears and hiding behind the couch - she's a total drama queen.  All she wants me to do is come back over to her and pick her up and hug her... as if she's been the wronged party.  So how would it be possible to have the same style for each of them?

But back to the good grades question.  I don't want my kids to be raised to think that school and grades are the end all and be all, despite their overriding importance.  For me there is more to life and I also want them to experience joy and fun.  I guess that's my motivation for making them happy, well-rounded individuals.  Which means I have to find a balance between pushing them to excel and letting them live.  I'm definitley keeping my fingers crossed that they will love school and learning as I did because that would certainly make my job easier, but if not, I am prepared to push them if that's what it takes.  My original question still remains... at what point do you start pushing?  I actually couldn't find anything helpful here on the internet (shocker!) so I'm going with... when it feels right.  I'll just have to trust myself on this one.  And when/if that time comes, I found some very helpful tips on essortment.  I leave you with those: 

1. Talk about it. Don't expect your child to know what is expected or how you feel about the good or bad grades that come home at report time. Be clear in setting a reasonable standard. While you want to emphasize that careless neglect of studies will lead to loss of privileges (such as telephone, computer, or television), you should highlight the positives of earning good grades and what rewards may be expected.

2. Write it down. Post a chart on the refrigerator for young children, or make a contract with high school kids that rewards high marks with driving or social privileges. Whatever your system is, make a written copy so students can check it anytime, especially if the guidelines are detailed or complex, such as awarding $5 per A, $4 per B, and nothing per C or lower. Ignoring children's school grades means they will likely not care either.

3. Offer a reward. As indicated above, rewards may be tangible, such as dollar amounts, or they may be intangible, like privileges. Be reasonable in assessing the value of your student's academic performance, keeping in mind that some kids are natural scholars while others are clearly the opposite.

4. Gear studies to your child's aptitude. If your son loves sports, order a software program that uses professional game clips or players' names to endorse a learning method. For kids who love the outdoors, suggest they ask for extra credit assignments connected to nature study. Look for ways to link personal interests to school progress.

5. Get involved. Volunteer at school. Studies show that parents who help out at their child's school tend to see improved grades in their children's report cards. You also may want to suggest that the teacher adopt a rewards program (using books, ice cream, fast food, etc.) as an incentive to prompt high achievement levels.

6. Give hugs. Recent research indicates that kids still like Mom and Dad to hug or embrace them, but not in front of their friends. Parents remain the most influential people in their kids' lives, so be a good role model in valuing education, reading for leisure, and praising academic success.

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