4 Ways Parents Actually Make Kids' Grades Worse By Trying To Help


mom reading to child Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Tiger Mom. Svengali. Helicopter Parent: Do these parenting styles remind of someone you know … or maybe yourself?

Most people believe that parents who set high academic expectations have kids who generally do better in school than the ones whose parents are more laid back.

In a study published by the American Psychological Association, research showed both positive and negative results of high parental expectations on kids’ academic performance.


The lead author of the study, Kou Murayama, said that “although parental aspiration can improve children’s academic performance, excessive parental aspiration can be poisonous.” 

RELATED: Raising Nine Kids Via 'Gentle Parenting' Killed My High Expectations — And Saved My Life

Yes, poisonous.

If parents set unreasonable expectations for their kids at a very young age, it creates a pattern of failure and disappointment in the mind of the child, which can, in turn, lead to a negative self-image. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of being “bad at school” which, if unchecked, will spiral to other negative beliefs about themselves.


So how do you know if you're unwittingly sabotaging your kid's education? 

Here are four VERY common ways parents actually hurt their kids' ability to perform well in school (and how you can stop):

1. You set the bar way too high.

Every year there's a story about a 10-year-old graduating high school or a 17-year-old getting acceptance letters from all 8 of his favorite Ivy League schools. While these things are possible, is it realistic to expect them from EVERY child? Obviously not. 

Instead of holding your kids up to these unrealistic expectations, work in conjunction with (or in bad situations, outside of) the classroom to set realistic incremental growth goals for your kids. A motivated student with an involved parent(s) can (and will) maximize your child's efforts in school.

2. You're not clear about what you expect.

In my experience with both adults and children, I find that people live up to expectations when given the chance. However, when children are never informed about what's expected of them, how are they supposed to figure out how to succeed? This requires communication.


Have a discussion (not a lecture) with your kids about what you expect from them both now and in the future, and they'll be sure to work hard to make that happen.

RELATED: 8 Ways To Slow Down & Connect With Your Children At Home

3. You think your kids should want the same things you do.

Many parents project their own aspirations onto their kids. It is usually one of two forms – you either want them to be exactly like you, or you want them to do what you never could.

Although you may be happy in your own endeavors, your child may be interested in something totally different. Or they are a natural at something you've always been terrible at. 


If you are looking to be a good role model and you love what you do, your kids will be naturally curious. Let them do what they do naturally and explore.

But if they don't want to follow in your footsteps, there are tons of opportunities out there for them to explore. Stop pushing them so hard towards something they don't like.

4. You let grades define your success.

Subjective aspirations are expectations that the student has no control over. In a perfect world, every child would straight A's and a 4.0-grade point average.

But what is your kid supposed to do about the hard-ass teacher who doesn’t give A's? You know the one I’m talking about – the teacher who is going to show kids how life “really works”.


As parents, we should never set subjective expectations for our kids.

Your expectations should be measurable while having a degree of flexibility to account for effort and outside forces beyond their control. 

RELATED: Parents: Your Child Is A Person, Not An Accessory To Be Flaunted

Mark Papadas is a nationally recognized children’s empowerment expert. Mark is the author of the acclaimed book “ 10 Secrets to Empower Kids and Awaken the Child in You” as well as President of The I AM 4 Kids Foundation