I had an interesting conversation with one of my children this morning.
They opened with this:
‘Why don’t you give me something to celebrate my report card?’
They paused briefly before elaborating: ‘It’s just that my friends who also got good marks are all talking about the presents their parents gave them for it, and they ask me what I got and I have to tell them I just got a pat on the back and a “well done”.’
Where to begin? Maybe with a little context:
For their entire school careers (so far) I have placed no pressure on my children to achieve academically and almost no importance on the marks they get. Providing they are not falling so far behind that they need additional support, and they are doing their best – I am not invested in the outcome. The only two report parameters I care about are their effort and their behaviour.
So far neither of my children have needed additional learning support. This is something I am grateful for, don’t take for granted, and I definitely don’t take any credit for.
I do my best to make sure they get enough sleep and have a decent breakfast before school. I pay for their uniforms, books, excursions, and other school related expenses. I try to give them an emotionally healthy home to return to after each day at school. And while their academic achievements may be built on this foundation, they are very much their own.
The child who began this conversation with me this morning happens to consistently get very high marks across their report card. None of these marks, or the awards received because of them, have ever been incentivised by my husband or I.
Of course, we are proud of our children when they do well, and we tell them, but we are not about to start rewarding high marks with extravagant material possessions. Here are some of the questions I asked my child to help explain why:
‘Do you feel good about getting a fantastic report card, just for the sake of it?’
‘Do you think the most important thing about you is the marks you get?’
‘For the kids getting the fancy presents for getting good marks – do you think they might feel pressure from their parents to get those marks? ’
‘And what happens if one of those kids has a really ordinary year – for example they get sick, or they have a rough time with their friendships and feel sad, and their marks slip below excellent? How will it make those kids feel if they don’t get the good marks and the presents, because of things that are out of their control?’
‘When those kids grow up and do something really well at work and don’t get presents for it, – because that is not the way the grown up world works – will they feel let down?’
‘And say for example I did give you a fancy big present for getting great marks, would you go to school and tell everyone about it?
I got different answers for each question, but the answer to the last one was (thankfully) a resounding ‘No.’
Whether you choose to reward your kids materially for academic achievement is your decision.
I don’t, because it feels like a slippery slope. It adds pressure. I don’t believe getting top grades at school is a marker for future happiness or success in life. I place more importance on developing my children’s emotional intelligence and mental health than their academic achievements.
I want my children to know that their worth as a person has nothing to do with the marks they get at school.
Living vicariously through your children by either shoving them into the same life path as you followed or wanting them to do better than you did, or (even worse) validating your parenting through your children’s achievements, can all present as pushing them to achieve academically. The problem is these motivations revolve completely around the parents’ needs. They have nothing to do with the child.
But if you want to give your kid a Nintendo switch for their straight A report, please give it with a side of humility and sensitivity. Teach them that doing well at school – while yes it may be the result of their hard work – is not a given for all kids.
Some kids work harder than your kid ever will and will never get top marks. Other kids are not privileged enough to get the basics for good academic achievements (breakfast, a desk to study at). Still others live with a diagnosis whose symptoms make it impossible for them to win any awards.
And none of those kids need to hear yours bragging about their report rewards.
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