Why I Don’t Care if My Kids Get “Bad” Grades

imagesI don’t care if my kids get bad grades. You did read that correctly. I don’t care about what grades my kids get on tests, quizzes, projects, or report cards. But please don’t stop reading before you hear why. And maybe, this school year just maybe you may consider the impact of our culture’s incessant striving for “A’s” and not walk blindly into it yourself.

I have four teenage sons with a variety of strengths and weaknesses. Most of these they were born with. My tidy son probably tried not to roll too much as an infant so as not to disrupt his blankets in the crib. My disorganized son really does have NO idea where his favorite shirt might be. One son knew all his letters and sounds at 18 months while another learned to read in first grade (which in case you didn’t know…that is “late.”) Given these starting points, it’s no wonder that different aspects of school are easier or harder depending on a number of factors. So how then can I expect them all to get good grades on everything? I can’t. I don’t. I won’t.

Because when we focus our efforts on grades, we miss the opportunity to teach foundational truths that have longer lasting effects than their grades. A few thoughts to consider:

  •  Do I celebrate “A’s” if my child never studied and simply “showed up” for the class with his natural ability in his back pocket? I hope not. Rather than showering them with praise and even financial reward about the “A” how about, “Wow, an “A”…That sure seemed easy for you–you didn’t even have to study. Be careful not to think that everything will be that easy.” Praising natural ability may add pressure for them to always do well on everything.
  •  Do I get upset if my child brings home a low test or quiz grade? What matters is the WHY? Not the WHAT? Ask how THEY feel about it. It’s their grade, not the parent’s. 
  • Punishing for bad grades is very common. That doesn’t make it a good idea. We want our children to care about how they do. We want bad grades to be a motivator to try to do better the next time by studying more, or differently, or taking notes or getting a tutor. When we punish for grades, the focus is now on US and WE become their problem rather than the grades. We don’t want kids who only perform because of a threat of punishment.
  •  Can I celebrate a “B” or “C” or even a “D+” in a class that was challenging and one where the child prepared? I hope that you can. Talk to kids about “the big picture.” If some areas are incredibly challenging, it might be cause for celebrating a “D+” on a test that certainly could have been an “F”. 
  • Yes, grades matter for getting into college. We never want to “try to get C’s,” but sometimes we must accept that formal schooling is not something that every kid can excel in. Find your child’s strengths and spend more time there. Have them power through school the best they can. Real life is a lot longer.
  •  Mistakes are the best opportunities to learn. Sometimes low grades are the result of a mistake in some area…misreading directions, rushing, procrastination, lack of effort. With a positive attitude can we help our child see this too. “Why do you think you got a grade lower than you thought? What might you do next time?” If we avoid the mistake by rushing in to help at the last minute, the learning never occurs and the mistake is likely to be repeated.
  • Am I brave enough to have a student NOT on honor roll? There aren’t that many bumper stickers that say, “My kid is doing his best, but school is really hard for him.”  

Sometimes a child worked VERY hard on a project or studied very hard for a test and the grade was low anyway. This is your opportunity to emphasize what is really important. “I don’t want you to let that low grade distract you from the awesome work that you did. There may be a “C” on it, but I’m very proud of your work. Help your child focus on the work beneath the grade. Help them not obsess about someone else’s interpretation of their work. Help them not find their value, identity, or significance in the grades they receive.

There are plenty of “A” students who are not “A” people. Help focus your kids on what really matters most. Below is a copy of an email from my child’s math teacher in middle school. I asked about a poor test score and guessed why it was so low. Her response makes me laugh even four years later:

“I’d agree with your “guess” in that he rushes, is a bit over confident and not focused. The other day he was so fixated on getting people to sign his petition that “Cats are people too” that he was not totally focused in class..I truly think there will be a day when he’ll realize that giving a good effort will pay off! :)”

 Happy to report….We are at that day.

How can you direct your child’s attention to the process and not the product? 


  1. Love this and am bookmarking for later…lots later, probably, since my boys are still only 5 and 3 :) This subject means a lot to me, since I was one of those kids who got straight As with not much effort in school. I was told I was smart a lot. I started noticing as an adult that I have a hard time getting started on something that might be challenging–that I might not succeed at right away. My work ethic is good, but it took a lot of time to get it that way thanks to so much coasting in school.

    I’ve always admired my sister’s amazing work ethic. While I watched TV after school and then scrambled way past my bedtime to rush through homework, she sat down immediately and worked her butt off. Then when I was bent over my desk later she was enjoying her evening and getting a decent amount of sleep. Her grades weren’t always as good, but she worked HARD for them. That kind of work ethic and time management skill pays off later in life for sure.

  2. Lisa W. says:

    I have two boys – 14 and 9. My 14 year-old ‘skated’ through elementary school, having learned to ready and write by the time he was 3. He never worked hard, and since our educational system thrived on worksheets and ‘reading for 20 minutes/day’ and endless testing, he never had to work hard. The day he hit middle school, life changed. His grades tanked out and he couldn’t keep himself in good standing. I tried punishing, rewarding, taking, giving, yelling, talking, and being very involved. By 7th grade, we had him tested and confirmed that he is an ADD kid (without HD), and we started the VERY expensive meds. However, we are still in the same boat. Do I care about his grades? Yes. Not for the simple fact of the letter, but for what is behind that letter. Behind every A is completion of work, giving best effort on projects and tests, and ‘trying’. Behind every D, is a lack of care – homework not turned in, tests not studied for, projects haphazardly completed…and plenty of blame to spread around. I’ve cared…and cared…and cared. Next year he starts high school. He HAS to survive on his own. His dad and I work hard and demonstrate that work ethic. I decided today after another joyful (not) look at his grades (by the way, they were ALL A’s and B’s with one C all this last term…until now, 1 week before school ends) and a long walk over my lunch hour that I cannot care anymore. His success (or failure) has to be his. I can’t care FOR him, but I will never stop caring for HIM. If it doesn’t matter to him, what good is every threat and punishment (and reward and praise, for that matter)? What it is serving to do is to ruin my relationship with my son. I’m angry at him for not being more responsible and active and at my husband for not being more involved in school stuff, but in the end, still taking all the blame on myself.

    • You took the words right out of my mouth! I dread opening my email for the daily “grade notification” of something below an acceptable threshold.
      My favorite ‘ I can’t care FOR him, but will never stop caring for HIM’. It drives me bonkers that he doesn’t care, but no matter what I do, it doesn’t change. It’s got to be him. My mother keeps telling me I’ve just got to let him fail/fly and he will eventually be fine. She was a teacher/principal for 25 years, so I guess I should listen, lol.
      Gracious, it ‘s a relief to know I am not alone in this!

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