My question has to do with school - how do you approach grades and reward/punish academic performance? I've been thinking about Tiger Mother and how even though I don't agree with HOW she approached things, I think there is something to be said for holding our kids to a higher standard. I know my kids probably ARE capable of getting all A's - so how do I make sure they hold themselves to that standard too? Or is that the wrong place to focus? My oldest just started first grade, and they have a different grading scale, but basically she got her first report card and it was equivalent to all A's - I want to reward that, but not sure how, other than to tell her I'm proud (which maybe is enough - she was really happy when I told her that).
Oh man, I've obviously been thinking about this a lot with the end of the year and my comments about it back in this post. I think some people misunderstood when I said I want Max to keep his 4.0 to get into good colleges. I know that not getting a 4.0 is certainly not the end of the world. I know that in the real world, there are many other things much more important than that. (Namely being kind and being well-balanced...at least in my book.) I just want my kids to do their best, and yes, I want to hold them up to a higher standard. I'm so ok with kids getting B's if that really is their best. But in some cases, as a mother, you know very well that that "B" was not their best work and I'm so not ok with kids slacking off just because they think that what they are doing is simply "good enough." In our family growing up we had a saying that "good is the enemy of BEST." My Dad sometimes related that to grades. Just doing good isn't enough sometimes. We should always strive to do our best.
Elle came home from school the other day and told me she was worried about one of her classes at school. Then came this, "Mom, really, a 'B' is a decent grade. Why do you care that we get 'A's' so much?" And my response was, "Wait, Seriously?" Because it is like fingernails scraping against a chalkboard when kids tell me that doing "ok" is good enough. Now, she knows very well that I'm ok if she gets a "B" if that's her best. But she also knew very well that she was not doing her best in that particular class.
So she went ahead and put in the extra effort and got an A.
To me, there is so much more to getting an A than just seeing that little triangular letter on your report card. It's not just internalizing some information and regurgitating it for a test and then being "done" with that information. Call me crazy, but I think part of getting an A is learning how to study. How to talk to the teacher (which teaches kids how to talk to adults...SO important) if part of the grade isn't making sense, or if they miss something and need it explained. It teaches responsibility in getting assignments turned in on time. It teaches that doing your best is important.
Of course, there are those stories of kids turning off because their parents put so much pressure on them and they just cannot live up to the expectations. But there is a balance between expecting too much and having high standards.
The key, of course, is getting kids to take ownership of their grades. If the parents are always the ones pushing and the kids are doing it for them rather than them doing it for themselves, that's not doing anyone any good. The trick is figuring out what will make the relationship to good grades and lots of learning click in a child/teen's mind to equal a happy, educated life with so many more options opened up to them. And I personally think every child is completely different in what will help him/her come to that realization. Parents have to be the judge on how long to keep the "training wheels" on.
Dave and I have the same ongoing discussion: do you dangle a carrot in front of your kids and give them all sorts of rewards for getting good grades (and hope that translates into them wanting to do it with no reward in the future), or do you punish them for bad grades (I definitely don't think that's the answer), or do you pat them on the back and say "Wow, you should feel so proud of yourself! So many doors will be opened to you in the future because you are working your brain so well and applying yourself to your studies." (The last one is what happened in my family growing up...the good grade and the feeling of accomplishment was the reward, not money, and really, I think it worked great.)
In our pondering and striving to be deliberate about this Dave and I have asked around like crazy. We have found that some parents pay their kids for grades. Some a LOT, and some a little. Some pay in money, others pay in quality time with parents. Some put money in a fund for college in conjunction with good grades. Others give their kids a pat on the back and tell them they are awesome. And the interesting thing is that there are amazing results and not-so-great results with every single way.
So although we're still figuring it out (what's worked well for us so far is the pat-on-the-back-date-with-parents-very-positive-words-of-affirmation route, but we've tried the cell phone reward too...), the one conclusion we have come to is that each family will have different things that work. And that's ok. What matters is that the kids are learning as much as they possibly can. The rest is just icing on the cake.
Question- somewhere you wrote what books of your parents you would suggest reading first, but I can't find that. Could you send the reference to me?
My all-time favorite is I Didn't Plan to Be a Witch by Linda Eyre (who happens to be my mother). In fact I need to dust that puppy off and read it again. I know I'm biased but it is the best book ever for mothers to put their role in perspective and to take joy in the journey. A Joyful Mother of Children is also up there on the top of my list (also written by my mother). Teaching Your Children Joy sure makes you think too and is linked with "Joy School" which I am incredibly grateful I had the chance to do with each of my children (aside from Lu who I'm still working on). There's a Joy School link on my sidebar if you want more info. on that. Of course, I can't forget to add A Mother's Book of Secrets in here, because my Mom wrote that one too (along with me as her co-author this time), and again, biased, but I think that one sure has some gems in it as well!
I've also read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk multiple times (not by my parents, but a really good book). It has had a big impact on how I talk to my children, and how I listen to them as well.