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July 19, 2024

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Good Grades: Kids, Parents and the Problem with Pressure

According to research, six in 10 kids say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades. How can you ease your child's stress but also help him achieve good results? Read on.

Now that kids are settled into the new school year, here come your expectations for achievement in academics. Learning is why we send our kids to school, but there’s an art to getting your child to perform well. A huge focus today is on eliminating the pressures on kids that lead to anxiety and depression, yet pressure and stress are normal parts of life that actually help us grow. No pain, no gain, right?

But too much pressure — or unrealistic pressure — can hurt your child’s chances for success. So what are some of the ways you can help your child to realize that managing pressure is a balancing act? What is your role in trimming back the pressures he may feel from time to time?

First, transition gently into the coming weeks of classes and homework with your kids. One of the best things you can do is to encourage them, support them as best you can, and above all, listen to what your kids tell you about their day-to-day experiences at school.


Keeping a positive mindset goes a long way with kids.

Why Kids Need Encouragement More Than Ever

Realize academics are not everything. With so many children showing stress-related symptoms today, childhood expert and author Madeline Levine says it’s important for you to learn new ways to express your love and concern for your child. She also says to trade in your fear of failure for belief in your child’s innate strengths.

“There comes a point in parenting where we must decide whether to maintain the status quo or, armed with new information, choose a different course,” Levine writes in her book The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids  (Harper; 2008) “There is little question that our children are living in a world that is not simply oblivious to their needs, but is actually damaging them,” she adds.

When a parent insists on an “all-As-or-else” mindset, that’s what Levine’s talking about. Is your child even capable of all As? Will you show disappointment if your child underachieves? Are you aware of what your child is actually capable of academically?

“The cost of this relentless drive to perform at unrealistically high levels is a generation of kids who resemble nothing so much as trauma victims,” Levine says. Especially with older kids, relentless pressure can cause them to “obsess endlessly on a possible wrong answer or a missed opportunity,” notes Levine. For relief they may choose to self-harm, vape, or use drugs or alcohol. Other kids may simply shut down and refuse to play. Younger children will be introduced to feeling badly about themselves.

The truth is this: not every child can be shaped and accelerated into Yale material, but all kids can have their spirits broken by too much pressure, too little downtime and too much attention on external factors that make them look good while leaving them feeling rotten inside.


Healthy Ways to Help Kids Achieve Without Pressure

If the central task of growing up is to develop a sense of self that is autonomous, confident and generally in accord with reality, Levine says to avoid criticizing your kids and pushing too hard. Try these tips instead:

Avoid always talking about how your kids need to work hard
Be there to support your kids when they have school work to do, If they hit a problem, let them know that they should be proud of their best efforts.

Stay positive
There’s nothing worse than a kid hearing negative feedback from a parent. Keep your outlook upbeat and can-do, and your child will take that on.

Focus on support
The message every kid gets is they need to hurry up and do better. Recognize your child as an individual and know his capabilities. Spend plenty of one-on-one time with him and listen more than talk and follow up on helping him with what he needs, but let him do it, not you.

Don’t criticize
Focusing on what a kid does wrong over what he does right is a self-esteem killer. Help your kids find solutions instead of being negative and dwelling on problems.

Look at your actions as well as your words
If you tell your child that you’ll be happy as long as he tries his best, but then criticize him if he underperforms, he may lose the drive to try again. Keep your expectations realistic. Celebrate the successes, empathize with the failures.

Encourage free time
Kids need time to unwind just as adults do. If your child comes home from school and you immediately insist that he hits the books, this doesn’t support his efforts. Give him an hour before he has to start working, and if he has a lot of work, break it into 20 minute increments so he has a chance to run around outside or just relax in between.
If you ever feel that school pressure is getting the best of your child even with your efforts to relieve it, talk to a counselor who can help your child cope so you can map a helpful strategy for him.

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.