Forcing children to chase grades?

Forcing children to chase grades?

MINDLESS EFFORTS

Forcing children to chase grades?

Shouldn’t parenting be all about teaching children to take on life not with a focus on how much praise or how many accolades they can receive, but to enable them to realise their potential and enjoy the learning process rather than obsessing about the outcome? Despite best intentions to raise them well, parents often end up handing down their unresolved needs, unmet expectations and frustrated dreams to their children, with disastrous consequences in the long run.

When we enrol our children in a class or see their report card, we have to remember that it’s through how we respond in our body language, voice and signs of pleasure or displeasure that we communicate what we expect from them. Is our purpose to communicate that only high grades evoke a positive response from us, whereas poor grades don’t? Do we communicate that getting an A or coming first in something is the measure of their worth?

When I was twelve years old, I earned A’s in every subject. Excited by my report card, I flew into the house straight into my mother’s arms. With her typical exuberance, my mother danced with me, matching my happiness with hers. I imagined my father would dance, shout and jump up and down with glee. Instead he smiled and said, “The A’s are fine, but what’s more important is that you feel you learned the best way you could.” My jaw dropped, my shoulders drooped and my mother grumbled at him, “Why can’t you just say you are excited and show her how happy you are?” I couldn’t understand why my father had to be such a spirit-dampener.

Epiphanies
It was only when I was in my late teens that I realised what my father was saying. You see, this was always his response, regardless of my grade. Even when I got a C he would say, “The C is fine, but what is more important is that you feel you learned the best way you could.” Of course, when my grade was a C, his even-tempered response came as a relief! In the most subtle of manners, he was teaching me not to attach myself to the A or the C, but to focus instead on the process of learning.

Simultaneously, I was learning from him to determine my own internal hallmark for success rather than relying on an external standard. I was discovering that embracing the task of learning is what really matters. Since it was abundantly clear that my father’s approval of me was unaffected by the grades I brought home, I never felt any fear when my report card came out.

This approach is bound to generate anxiety in parents. We are afraid that by not having clear expectations, we will produce unmotivated, lazy children. However, rigid standards only serve to make our children anxious. When we focus on the process, not the outcome, our children develop their innate curiosity, which causes them to show interest on their own initiative. In this way, we embed in them a thirst for learning that surpasses the fleeting pleasure they derive from gaining our approval through grades. They reach for their own calling, kindling their own desire to live not just a successful life but a meaningful one.

We need to teach our children to approach life not with their focus on how much praise or how many accolades they can receive, but with their focus on what they are putting into it. Life reflects the internal state with which we enter it. Our children need to know that the quality of their inner life will manifest in their external circumstances.

Right praise
When things don’t work out in the manner our children expect, instead of wasting energy on disappointment and resentment, to parent consciously means we focus on the qualities that were allowed to emerge as a result of the process. “Look how much you learned about yourself,” we might say. “Did you see how brave you were to put yourself out there? Did you notice how you were able to persevere when you felt defeated at times?” Next we might ask, “How does it feel now that you have overcome your fear?” Such an approach shapes an adult who is unafraid of life’s outcomes. They celebrate every experience because it’s rich in self-learning and increased awareness.

When we teach our children to disregard grades and instead focus on their courage to sit still and try, we strengthen their inner life. We encourage them to take a risk, as well as to persevere in the struggle. We teach them it’s okay that they have limitations, explaining that their desire to exert effort is far more important than their ability to master something. We show them that learning to live with their limitations with ease is a far more important lesson than being attached to perfection.

If we teach our children such values, they grow up to be adults who are unafraid to venture into new territory and live with the unknown. Because they are comfortable with the possibility of failure, they find the gumption to scale their own personally chosen heights.

A friend described growing up with a mother who was always eager to be the “best” housewife and hostess. Whenever guests came, she went to extreme lengths to tidy the house, decorating it throughout with flowers, fixing her hair to perfection, and preparing elaborate meals. However, when no guests were expected, she did none of these things. So great was the contrast between the two states that my friend came to believe others were far more important than ourselves. Perhaps only six or seven years old at the time, she remembers the exact moment she realised that “if mommy bends over backwards to please others so much, they must be more important than she is, since she nearly kills herself each time to take care of them.”

You need to teach your children to be unafraid of owning their voice, their space, and their needs. They thrive when they feel free to stand up for themselves and set boundaries, without any hesitation to defend their rights. Released from the snare of your fantasies, expectations, and need to control, they are free to live out their own destiny. Instead of shaping them in your image, you become a witness to their uniqueness as it unfolds.

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