Does this conversation sound familiar?

“Great job for getting straight A’s!” will lead children to believe that earning a high GPA will guarantee automatic success as an adult. The outdated success formula of earning high grades will lead them to get into a highly respected university, leading to a lucrative job to fulfill one’s dream of becoming a homeowner happily married with well-behaved children who also become high achievers, repeating the success formula. The Pandemic in 2020 taught us that even if the success formula was followed, high-paying jobs could suddenly disappear, one’s health could be compromised leading to temporary unemployment, divorce happens, and other traumatic events that caused many parents to question the success formula.

Stop focusing on earning high grades.

As an educator and owner of Brain Builders, a private tutoring business whose mission is to help children succeed in and out of the classroom, my philosophy of earning high grades has drastically changed.  I’ve seen honor roll students experience mental breakdowns.  They question whether to pursue the career they had planned because they lost interest or the challenge of finding a career in their field seems nonexistent.

My current advice to parents and students is to stop focusing on earning high grades.  Grades may reflect discipline and hard work but do not define intelligence. Many honor roll students fall apart when things don’t go their way.  I have had students cry as if they lost their loved ones if they earned a “B.”  

My concern as an educator and parent coach is that students will be deeply disappointed when they discover their perfect grades do not guarantee life success.   Children who believe that grades define their worth may experience unnecessary stress that may transfer into adulthood. They may pursue careers that ultimately define their worth. The more prestigious the position, the more money they earn and the more respect they gain in society’s eyes.

person studying

So, what should parents do to prepare their children for success, and how do we define our child’s worth?

empathy child


Teach your child the value of empathy by role modeling the importance of understanding how their actions impact others.  Being conscientious, remorseful for their mistakes and establishing healthy emotional connections helps kids increase peace while decreasing stress.


Praise them on their attitude and effort instead of the end result.  When we praise the process, not the outcome, children learn their true worth does not come from achievements.  Other options to  “Wow!  You got honor roll!” could be “You deserve it!  You worked really hard for that.” 

Photo by Keira Burton
Photo by August de Richelieu


Children who are lectured and told to “study harder so you can improve your grade” and hear, “You’re not good enough until your grades improve.”  Remind your children that their grades don’t mean they are loved less.  Students who stress over earning high grades believe that their parents will love and accept them if they meet their parents’ academic expectations.


Don’t express disappointment or anger when your child brings home a “less than” grade.  Children who feel their grades define their worth feel that they don’t deserve to be loved when they are lectured or see their parents furious or disappointed.

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Photo by CDC


Remember that focusing on grades becomes a barrier to learning.  Students end up caring about their grades more than the learning process.  The classroom feels like a battleground they must conquer by getting an “A.” if they earn an average grade, they’ve lost the battle.

The belief that we “always strive to be the best” is ingrained in our brains.  However, our children’s mental health has been compromised with increased suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, and behavior problems. Demonstrating unconditional love means children feel accepted even when earning a low grade.  Nurturing children means spending quality time listening to them and permitting them to share their feelings without judgment.  Parents often try to fix the problem, give their advice, or have difficulty trusting their child’s journey.  Witnessing your child struggle in school or earn low grades does not mean they won’t be responsible adults.  It means they need extra support, which could look like a hug, a smile reminding them they’ll get through their struggles, or telling them you love them no matter what challenges they face.\


Karen Gibson