Stop Letting School Sabotage Your Relationship with Your Child

Stop Letting School Sabotage Your Relationship with Your Child


boy at deskI’m not sure how many times I have said this, but the most important part of parenting is the relationship we have with our kids. Is it honest? Loving? Respectful? Joy-filled? Secure? If it is, then parenting will be much easier–maybe even fun! 

But I have noticed lately that how well kids perform at school, has strained some parent-child relationships.

When I substitute teach and a child takes a test, they worry about when the grade will be posted online because if it’s bad then they will be grounded for the weekend. This always confused me. Do people think there HAS to be a punishment/consequences for a bad grade? Will grounding help the child pass future tests? Will “not being grounded” then be the motivation for good school performance? How long will that motivation last? 

Just last week I had a 6th grade little boy burst into tears as he contemplated bringing home his “F” on a math test that required a parent signature. I comforted him by telling him my son just got a 46% on a math test that same week in high school. Sometimes tests are hard. I ended up calling his mom so he could talk to her because he couldn’t stop crying. I talked to her first about how upset he was and how hard the test was and she was wonderful with him. 

Over the years I’ve heard about other parents who have tied incentives like iPhones and money to school performance. Sure, no one will die if they do this, but what exactly is being rewarded? Hard work or good grades? Sometimes they don’t mean the same thing. Does adding an external reward minimize the inherent reward of doing your best and conquering new information? Do rewards and punishments for school work lead our children to feel manipulated for their performance rather than loved unconditionally?

Certainly “celebrating” the successful completion of a challenging class or task makes sense, but when we dangle the incentive as the motivation for hard work, then something is lost.

A few thoughts, especially for those parents whose kids are just beginning their school careers.

1) Your child will be with you MUCH less once school starts, so already your time for building a positive relationship with them will be less. Don’t allow school work to infect your relationship. Keep help with homework  positive and non-nagging. Encourage and inspire them.  When it becomes negative, let the teacher handle the consequences, “I’m not going to let your school work interfere with our relationship. You’ll have to ask your teacher how to help in the morning. I’ll send her a note that we got stuck.”

2) It’s tempting to elevate how they do in school beyond what it should be. You are raising a man or a woman. School is a part, but actually not really that big of a part, despite our culture that fixates on it. The tendency is to feel like our child’s performance in school is their grade for how they are doing in life. SO not true! Give me a hardworking, honest, kind “C” student over a mean-spirited, dishonest, manipulative “A” student any time.

3) Some kids struggle in certain subjects in school. Math is easy for some and confusing for others. Some kids are reading before kindergarten and others struggle into second grade. So what? Some teachers can use their role to freak parents out about a child’s performance. Suggesting a tutor for a kindergartener learning to read seems quite a few years premature and only serves to cause anxiety in an already nervous parent.

4) More than likely a child will learn to read on their own schedule without a tutor. Obsessing about school performance in these early years has the potential for discouraging the student and having them label themselves “not good at school.” Rather keep your child motivated despite potential discouragement at school. “Reading is a little tricky for you right now. That’s ok–you’ll get it! I’m not worried about you figuring this stuff out when you’re ready. You sure are putting in the hard work. That will pay off for sure.”

5) Grades are an external motivator for some kids but a MUCH more important motivator is being internally driven to do their best. Deemphasize grades and emphasize the effort and organization. Those are things the student can control. The grades are the secondary result.

6) If a child gets a poor behavior report at school…flipping a card, clipping down, lunch detention, note home etc…don’t flip out yourself. Kids make mistakes. No one is perfect. Mistakes are opportunities to learn. Don’t double whammy them at home unless there is a pattern and a regular issue. Then team with teacher and child to make the situation better for everyone.

7) If a child gets a poor grade on something at school, don’t flip out. When we do that, the child feels like our love is conditional instead of unconditional. Rather, ask the child how they feel about it. What do they think happened? Confusing directions? Extra challenging? Not enough studying? Help kids make a connection about why it happened rather than the teacher “giving” them a low grade. Ask about anything they think they can do to improve their class grade. Encourage resiliency rather than discouragement. 

8) Once high school arrives, give the child the power to choose most classes and activities. We really can’t micromanage every decision. Keep the connection strong so that our opinions matter but at the end of the day, the child is only four years from becoming an adult. That maturity must be given space to develop.

School can be a harsh environment for some kids. Keep home a safe, secure, nurturing place where the child is free from the challenges, difficulties, and drama of school.


  1. I have tagged this article so that I can read it over and over as a reminder. Homework has become a very hard time for my daughter and me. She and I are so alike that we bump heads and homework time can become a time when both of us blow up. Thanks for helping me keep it all in perspective!

  2. I’d love to hear your thoughts on homeschooling since it’s becoming so much more common. The parent-as-teacher adds another element to the relationship…tricky for sure. I totally agree with your thoughts on grades; I’ve heard many homeschooling parents don’t give ‘grades’ per se until high school, or legally required. The student just keeps with something until they’ve grasped it- at their own pace.

    • mariannemiller says:

      Homeschooling certainly is a unique situation. I often interact with my kids’ teachers to help “village” one of my kids but YOU can’t really call YOU for back-up. I would probably have structures and systems and consequences in place to TRY to stay out of the conflict personally. “I don’t want to do this!” would then be met with, “I know you don’t. It’s tricky isn’t it? I do hope that you will be able to get it done by ________so that you will be able to _____________. Let me know if you need my help.” Certainly intrinsic motivation is the goal but structures work when everyone is stuck.

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