It’s the message in every household, every daycare, and every classroom across America… “just try your best!” We have taught children from a young age that it is the amount of effort we adults care about not the end result. We say things like, “as long as you tried your hardest I am proud of you.” Let’s be clear I am 100% behind the message that effort counts. What baffles me is why we say this, yet in the end scores and grades are what the majority of parents and administrators care about.
Growth mindset – the belief that you can do and be anything so long as you retain a positive attitude. Changing everyday statements such as “I can’t do this” into “I can’t do this yet” make a world of difference. For many students trying their hardest does usually equal success, better test scores, better grades, and happy parents. But what about those kids who are attacking their school work with every ounce of effort they’ve got, and still yield disappointing results?
Schools and parents need to be honest about one thing… we are all for valuing effort so long as it produces a positive outcome. So how do we support those children who cannot give anymore, but are struggling to see success? We tell them that we just want them to give it a try… well that is great except they do give it a try and fail. Next thing you know you are questioning them about a failing grade.
You cannot promote a growth mindset, yet bog children down with the need for stellar results on tests and assessments.
Sarah is a third grader who has significant difficulty in math. She has an outside tutor, receives one on one services during her school day, puts in an hour of work each night with her mother, and takes on extra credit assignments to try to boost her failing grade. Every morning before she heads off to school her parents tell her to try her best, that is all that matters. Sarah smiles but inside knows this is not true. She sees the look of disappointment on her parents faces when she brings home her latest math test with a score of 60% written in red ink on the top. She sees the look of frustration when they review a concept with her during homework time that she still is not grasping fully. She is trying her best so why isn’t that enough?
Preaching to our kids that as long as they work hard and try their best we will be happy, is completely untrue if we are going to get upset with a low grade. Again for many children success is linked to effort. However, this is not always the case.
You know your child better than anyone. If he or she is giving 100% to the task at hand, yet still unable to accomplish the goal (whether it be passing grades, assembling the puzzle, swimming that full lap across the pool, or reading a passage without stumbling over the words) praise them for their effort. Begin to recognize that you do care about effort, but you also care about success and that is okay. Start to investigate other areas of support, (a different plan of attack) to make your child recognize their strengths. Not every child needs to simply “work harder” in order to achieve success. They may require outside intervention in order to accomplish what is being asked of them.
Work hard, try hard, give it a chance, are all good messages to send to your kids. But remember to stand by your words, and offer praise and congratulations when your child did work hard, try hard, or gave it a chance. Do this regardless of the outcome. Genuinely validate that their effort does matter to you. Let them know you see their achievements, and their struggles.
Children who never feel successful absolutely hate school. Help your child see how their effort is the success, not the test grade. Then offer encouragement and support, ask for help if necessary, but keep the message clear. I see your effort and it’s inspiring.
By, Anna Misurelli
If you like what you are reading please subscribe to my blog below!