The Childwise Parent

I was interacting with some teachers when a child walked over and told me Ishita was crying. I found out she had scored 98 out of 100 in her mathematics exam, which was a fantastic score she should have been proud of, but Ishita was afraid to go home. Then there was another child,who, having scored 84 marks blamed himself for the errors in his answers and hated the idea of having to confront his parents.

Parental expectations can have a strong impact on a child's sense of self-worth. In a study published by the Harvard Family Research project, Professor William H. Jeynes of California State University found that:"Parental expectations affected children’s academic outcomes more than other types of parental involvement, including attendance of school events and the setting of clear rules."

Clear expectations, coupled with loving and supportive attitudes, can help children to learn manners, social skills, study skills, and other tools they will need to succeed in school and in society.To establish healthy academic and behavioral expectations, parents should be aware of their children’s unique needs, skills, strengths, and maturity levels. Also, it is essential that parents avoid comparing them to others, as every child is different and thus develops at a different rate. Unrealistically high expectations can set a child up for failure, anxiety, discouragement and low self-esteem when the child cannot live up to his or her parents’ goals. Conversely, low expectations can make it difficult for children to realize and achieve their full potential. It is better to create small, manageable goals to ensure that our children progress in their learning while not feeling daunted by unrealistic expectations.

Here is another parent whose child scored zero or near zero out of ten marks in her spelling tests. This parent encouraged her to learn just one word instead of ten per test. The child tried and managed to spell the word correctly. "I then increased the number of words to two, and then to three. Over time, my daughter finally achieved a perfect score of ten marks. I feel so proud of her and I am sure she feels the same about herself."

The Effortwise Parent

Children are under tremendous pressure before exams. All children, without exception, want to do well and stand on the expectations laid down by their parents. Many hope some sort of magic will happen at the last minute, either the questions they know well will come, or the teacher will gloss over their mistakes. In a way, I wish, in fact, they did gloss over their mistakes. I wish that 'A' was for effort. I wish too that teachers and parents, and thus children, made effort more important and found a way to endorse it. I wish we did not call a child 'intelligent' because s/he got more marks. Marks have more to do with preparation, mind-sets, memory power and motivation than with intelligence. Besides, exams are unfair. They are not the best way of assessing a child’s true ability and skill. They test limited knowledge in the written form. This does not suit all learners. Children also know more than their exam results show. The moment they walk out of those dreaded examinations, they already know more. They know what they did wrong and how to fix it. Regardless, exams results are no guarantee of how well the child does in the real examination of life. It is better to prepare them for life from now itself.

I versus I

No child is dumb or smart but all are capable of 'growing' and 'progressing'. A child that puts in more effort succeeds more in exams and in life. Is it not better, therefore, that we put more emphasis on effort as a proxy for success. For this, we need to measure progress. Children need to compete with themselves, not others. It is I versus I that matters, not I versus others which is passé, an old ethic from the 19th century we can live without in the 21st century. Besides, research is very conclusive: history has shown people who compete with themselves create successes, break old moulds and relative expectations and set the bar higher. All breakthrough inventions come from people who do not look sideways for what already exists but look beyond. They do not compete with others, but only with self.

We can bring out the best in our children when we put effort before marks. This will reduce the ill effects of the exam burden our children feel. In fact, it will free them up to think bigger than we ever imagined. Endorsement every step of the way is what they need most desperately, not judgment, criticism, comparison and low level expectations based on marks on a sheet. They truly can get those marks if they felt more supported and encouraged, and if they focused on effort rather than worry so much about undue expectations they cannot manage. A quick gauge of this is self-study: how much your child wants to study on her own.