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From Type A to Type ‘Ommm’: Why I Stopped Fretting Over My Kids’ Grades

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” –Margaret Mead

The beginning of a new school year is on the horizon. Back-to-school supplies cram the aisles of our local stores, candy-colored notebooks and fresh pink erasers piled high on the shelves. There is something so reviving about filling a cart full of pencils and three-ring binders—something that speaks of promise and potential, of growth and of dreams and of discipline.

But, for many of us, back-to-school season can also be a time of great stress. I am going to confess right here and now that I have a history of being a Type A mama. From the time I was pregnant, I wanted to ban video games from the house and anything that would harm my children’s mind. I wanted my sons to be smart, successful, and curious about the world around them. Yes, I wanted A’s. I wanted glowing reports from teachers. I wanted ease, happiness, and academic accolades for my 3 boys.

Well, the universe had other plans for me and my children. My sons (Ethan, Jackson, and Sammy) all have ADHD, and as such, they have all faced unique struggles in the classroom. Learning didn’t always come easy. And that made me scared. Very, very scared. A bad grade on their report card felt like a bad grade on MY report card as a mother. I was always on the lookout for how to ‘fix’ the problem at hand, whether it was hiring a new tutor, having yet another meeting with the teacher, talking to our pediatrician, you name it.

Sadly, my anxiety over their grades impacted them in a negative way—instead of developing an intellectual curiosity and a love for learning, they began to shut down. School felt like a recrimination, a cauldron of their failures rather than a safe place to learn, grow, and make mistakes. They did anything they could to escape homework time and to avoid their textbooks.

Sound familiar? Probably so. We have all been there. We all so desperately want our kids to be successful. Why? Because we think that will promise them a life of happiness. Of ease. Of joy. Of financial freedom. And, also, let’s be honest, there is a little vanity at play, too. We want to be able to brag about our kids being on the honor roll (we have all seen those bumper stickers!).

But, maybe it’s time for a new bumper sticker. For a new measuring stick of success. What if instead of demanding academic excellence and valuing A’s above all else, we started asking our children for effort, for dedication, and for a willingness to try, try again? I am not alone in wanting this change. In fact, grit is the new buzzword in the field of child development, and for good reason.

But what is grit? In the words of psychologist Dr. Angela Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day-in, day-out. Not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

When we teach our kids to have grit, we teach them to accept failure as part of life’s journey. Bad grades are going to happen. Visits to the principal’s office are going to happen. Missed deadlines are going to happen. Lost homework and forgotten books are going to happen. But, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Crisis can be an invitation. Failure can be an opportunity. Straight A’s aren’t always possible. But growth? Growth is always possible.

But how can we go from being parents who value academic success to being parents that value grit?

I have made this into a reality in my household with these simple action steps:

  • I trust and believe that my children already are Resilient. Teachable. Scrappy. I mediate regularly and in my meditation practice, I often spend time holding an image of my children in my mind. In these images, I see them as successful. As whole. As capable. As compassionate. I picture them in situations at school and I see them working from a place of ease and flow. I see them building confidence. I see them vibrant. I see them strong in themselves and wise with the knowledge that they have an unending source of strength within them.

  • I make our home a refuge. After-school time at our house used to be very stressful. Between dinner, homework, and baths, I was always going, going, going trying to get everything done and urging my kids to finish their tasks.

Now, I take a different approach. I call it the 5-to-1 approach. It means that for every 1 interaction I have with my sons about school work and grades, I have 5 interactions that are playful, loving, and connective. For example, for every 1 reminder I give about finishing a science project, my husband Sam and I offer 5 other interactions as well. This could be as simple as rumpling their hair and saying “I love you,” or sharing a joke, or dancing to a song on the iPod, or asking for their help with making a sauce for dinner. Doing so helps them to understand a balance of work/rest, and it also helps teach them internal motivation.

  • I offer myself compassion. I cannot teach my children to be resilient and to face life’s challenges with grit and grace if I beat myself up every time I have a professional or personal failure. I know my children use me as a mirror—they learn how to treat themselves from watching how I treat myself. So, when I screw up, I don’t ask myself: What was I thinking? Instead, I ask myself, What was I learning? (This is something very valuable I learned from Karen Salmansohn and it is called ‘Kindsight’).

Moving forward into the school year, I wish all my fellow parents (and teachers!) tenacity, grit, self-forgiveness, and the ability to model these skills for our kids. Remember, don’t make A’s the goal: Make grit the goal.



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