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Why A Good Childhood Isn’t About Good Grades

Spring and standardized school testing become synonymous in many areas of the country for many public school students, including for my own children attending schools in Massachusetts.

As this annual rite of passage rolls around, I’m reminded of how important it is to help our kids remember that they’re so much more than the sum of their grades, test scores, and project results. Think back on your childhood: What do you remember? Is it the grades, the teachers, the homework amount? Did you have standardized tests and, if so, do you remember the results?

I recall blips of taking tests and filling out scantron sheets for all sorts of tests throughout my educational life. I recall being in class when graded papers, projects and tests were handed back to us. But the moments I recall the most were the times I overcame a challenge or a hurdle that seemed insurmountable at the time — and grew from it in unimaginable ways.

I recall starting flute in 4th grade because “that’s what was done” only to approach my parents in 5th grade wanting to play french horn and in 7th grade, alto saxophone. They let me follow my musical dream and hired private teachers to support my quest because they saw how important it was to me and felt it was more important for me to play an instrument I had passion for than be forced to stick to one that I could more easily learn as part of the school program. I ended up becoming a music major in the saxophone and still play to this day.

I try to take the same approach with my kids because this is their childhood and, for me and my husband, what’s important is their inner passion.

I don’t prescribe to the notion that a child reaches that “too late to start” place for a sport or musical instrument at any point along their development (or any other activity, for that matter). There is zero correlation between pre-pubertal success and post-pubertal success in either.  Post-puberty, all kids come into their own in terms of physical and emotional development. We’d be foolish to think that the interests of a 7 or 8 year old will be the same as a 10, 12 or even 16 year old. Sometimes those interests persist, but most times they molt to other interests. Even adults develop new interest, rediscover old interest and decide prior interest are now not worth spending time on for a bit.

It’s tempting as parents to want to use the “we know best” soapbox to impose our opinion on our kids and push them in the direction we feel is “best.” But is that fair? How did we respond when our parents did that to us once upon a time? Remember those days?

When it comes to activity choice and life direction, we have to resist the temptation to dictate and attempt to be more incredible guides.  Our job is to help our kids explore their passions so they can have the best lives they can have and be the people they are meant to become. If we exert our will upon them, how can that ever occur?

To that end, we also have to try to remember that predictors of success when young come in many forms and grades are not necessarily the best indicators of the success path our kids will end up on in life. I’ve heard story after story of parents expressing disappointment for kids grades even when their kids put in their best efforts. I’ve heard of kids being yelled at, punished and not allowed to socialize with friends around report card time. I’ve heard of many high school kids actually fearful of bringing the report card home. We’re not talking kids getting C or D grades. These are kids getting B grades and sometimes in tough classes. It goes beyond grades, too. Parents are insisting high schoolers take all sports when they’d rather do drama or do mock trial when they’d rather be singing. Does this make sense to you? Where is the voice of the child?

If our kids continue to have childhoods defined by numbers, scores and achievement, they’ll become adults with same expectations and before long the magic of childhood we experienced will be gone by the time our grandkids are born. They’ll end up becoming adults who stop having fun and fail to understand trying something just because and doing so for the thrill of the quest, not the accolade or the “score.”

Is that really the future you want? If not, you can stop it…all it takes is to stop seeing your kids as numbers, grades and achievements you define. Hand the reins back over the them. The path your kids choose likely won’t be the path you would choose for them but it shouldn’t be. You had your childhood and became an adult already. This isn’t your life…it’s your child’s life and your child’s path to determine in his or her own way and time frame.  Your place is on the sideline…ready with a hug, a smile or a compass, if it’s asked for!

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Gwenn Is In*


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