“Four As and a B- in math. That’s a good report card, but… how are we going to get that math grade up?”
Has that conversation ever taken place in your home? Something like it did in mine, way back in middle school. Looking back I can now say, “Honey, I shrunk our kid.”
Not enough. Never good enough. That’s the unspoken message I sent… unintentionally, of course. The message also said, “I know you can do better than that.” For those of you who tend to see today’s problem as tomorrow’s disaster, you know the message also included, “How will you ever get into your first choice college with that on your transcript?”
Not focusing on the B- doesn’t mean that you ignore it. Maybe this is a subject that will always be challenging, or maybe there are more steps to take. That being said, the sad truth is that when you focus on the one thing that isn’t 100%, you take away your child’s motivation to work on that one thing. What you focus on grows, and the negativity around math (or any perceived deficit), will grow.
How do you address the B- in a more productive way?
In my work with parents, we always come back to having a conversation. Just about any topic is food for a conversation, and a powerful conversation includes powerful questions.
These questions help your child understand her feelings and what motivates her. They have the power to begin shifting responsibility to her, and ultimately to build healthy self-esteem, instead of shrinking her down.
Here are some powerful questions for the ‘report card’ conversation:
- How do you feel about your report card this marking period?
- Which grade represents a real achievement for you? Why?
- Which subject was challenging?
- Where could you use some help?
- Who do you need to ask for that help?
- What did you enjoy most? Why?
- How would you rate your overall effort? (1-10)
- Where could you have done more? What got in the way?
Now go back and look at those questions again. What do they have in common?
- They are all open-ended questions, which require thought and a deeper understanding. (When you ask a yes/no question, yes or no is all you’ll get.)
- None of these questions is judgmental or critical. You’ve asked for your child’s thoughts on her performance and effort.
- When you ask open-ended questions, it’s your child who does the thinking and self-examination. You are not speaking for her, or making assumptions and judgments.
These powerful questions, and your child’s answers, give her the opportunity to become a problem-solver. When you step back from offering solutions, she gradually learns to take more responsibility for herself, her decisions and her learning.
As for the B- in math, you can see how these questions help her find her own answers to that problem, if indeed it is a problem. It’s possible that B- is the best grade she’ll ever earn in that subject. (If that’s the case, then the problem becomes yours, not hers. Something to think about…)
Words can build up or tear down. Use them wisely.
Listen more. Say less. When you do speak, add powerful questions.
Put an end to ‘not good enough’ and shrinking the kid.