All over the country, schools have opened their doors for the new academic year. If you’re a parent, you may be feeling slightly anxious about how your child’s year will go. Will they make friends? Will they behave in class? Will they get good grades? Like many parents, you may have even set up a reward system to motivate them to try their best academically. After all, you know that academic success leads to a solid high school transcript, college acceptance, and a “successful” start to adulthood.
But in our high-pressure society where children are expected to follow a strict academic timeline, the pressure to achieve top grades can create a daunting environment where success and worthiness are defined solely by letters on a report card. While education is important, children’s mental wellbeing is equally vital for their holistic development. Unfortunately, emotional skills such as resilience, self-esteem, and emotional intelligence can easily take a backseat to academic performance. However, failing to support these skills can lead to long-term consequences for a child's emotional health and overall happiness.
The academic race is real, and even young students can find themselves caught in its grip. The weight of high expectations can cause immense stress and anxiety for children who cherish the approval of their trusted adults. It's not uncommon for young minds to grapple with sleepless nights and a constant fear of not meeting standards set by teachers and parents. They may feel like they are a “bad kid” if they don’t meet those standards. This pursuit of perfection can be overwhelming and detrimental to their mental health.
While grades are important, they don't define a child's worth. Skills like problem-solving, creativity, empathy, and communication hold equal significance for their success and happiness in the long run. Children should derive their self-worth from their inherent qualities, passions, and efforts rather than a letter on a paper. Parents play a crucial role in reinforcing this message. When parents celebrate their child's unique qualities and express unconditional love, it nurtures a healthy self-image that withstands the challenges of academic stress.
Parents can support their child's mental wellbeing while still valuing education; the key lies in striking a balance between academic achievement and emotional growth. This balance is about encouraging exploration, learning from failures, and teaching kids to manage stress and emotions constructively.
If you were raised with a strong focus on achieving high grades, it may be difficult to imagine how you can parent differently. Below are some strategies you can work on implementing to support your child’s holistic development:
Praise Effort Over Results - While celebrating achievements is important, focusing solely on results can inadvertently teach children that their worth is tied to outcomes. Emphasize the value of effort and perseverance. Encourage them to take pride in their hard work, regardless of the end result. This mindset promotes a healthy work ethic and resilience, helping them face challenges with determination.
What that looks like: Instead of “Wow, you got an A, great job!” say “Wow, you worked really hard on that!”
Foster Resilience - Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” after a challenge, disappointment, or adverse situation. Children who believe that high grades are the “end-all-be-all” might view a low grade as an irredeemable failure. To prevent this, encourage your child to view challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth. When they encounter obstacles, guide them through problem-solving and encourage them to try again. Model this for them with your own response to setbacks. Resilience teaches children that setbacks are a natural part of life and can lead to valuable lessons.
What that looks like: “I’m sorry you failed that test. Everybody gets bad grades sometimes. Let’s go over it and figure out the ones you missed - then you’ll know it for the next time!”
Stoke Their Innate Curiosity - Children are born with an inherent curiosity and love of learning. Unfortunately, a strict focus on grades can sometimes cause them to associate learning with obligation, expectations, and shame. Try to separate learning from school by encouraging curiosity-driven exploration in their daily life. Let them ask questions and seek answers, even if they don't align with the current curriculum. This fosters a lifelong love for learning and nurtures their creativity.
What this looks like: “That’s a great question; I’ve wondered that too. Why don’t we research that together?”
Provide Emotional Support - Create an open and nonjudgmental space where your child feels comfortable expressing their emotions. Encourage them to share their thoughts, fears, and dreams. Listen actively and validate their feelings. This support helps them develop a strong emotional foundation and teaches them that their emotions are valid and worth acknowledging.
What that looks like: “I’m hearing that you’re feeling nervous. That’s ok - everyone feels nervous sometimes. I feel nervous before I have to present too!”
Teach Emotional Self-Regulation - No one is born knowing how to manage the full range of human emotions. Emotional self-regulation is a vital skill that equips children to manage their feelings constructively. Guide them in recognizing their emotions and finding healthy ways to cope. This skill empowers them to handle challenging situations with composure.
What that looks like: Teaching deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, or journaling as tools to manage stress and anxiety. Modeling out loud how you manage difficult emotions.
Pay Attention to Social Skills - Academic success is important, but social skills are equally vital for a well-rounded individual. Teach your child about empathy, body language, consent, active listening, and effective communication. Encourage positive interactions with peers and guide them in navigating difficult social situations. These skills lay the foundation for building meaningful relationships and navigating various social settings - including future workplaces!
What that looks like: Asking your child about their friends. Asking their teacher how they are doing socially.
Build Self-Worth - Help your child cultivate a strong sense of self-worth that transcends academic achievements. Remind them of their unique qualities, strengths, and interests. This approach helps them recognize their intrinsic value, regardless of external validation.
What that looks like: Praising kindness, creativity, curiosity, and effort. Pointing out their strengths and positive qualities unprompted.
Express Unconditional Love - Reiterate your love and pride for your child often, outside of praising them for their achievements. Let them know that your affection is not contingent on their grades or accomplishments. This assurance creates a safe and nurturing environment where they feel valued for who they are, fostering a healthy self-esteem that isn't tied to academic success.
What that looks like: Letting your child know that you love them and are proud of them, without prompting and without any specific reason.
Academic success is just one facet of a child's growth. Prioritizing mental wellbeing is not a compromise; it's an investment in their future happiness and success. By embracing these strategies, you'll empower your child to develop holistically—equipped with emotional intelligence, resilience, and a positive self-image that will serve them well throughout their lives.
If safeguarding your child’s mental wellbeing and fostering their emotional development feels like a daunting task, that’s because it is! Fortunately, you can always add a trusted mental health professional to your family’s support network. At Medens Health, we are here to support you. We have caring, talented providers who have a wealth of experience with children ages 8+. If you are looking for therapy for your child in California or Nevada, reach out to us by phone or text at (833) 624-5400, send us a message using our online contact form, or get started here.|
The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.
If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.