One morning when my son was in primary (grade) three, I sent him off to school with a hug and a “do your best” advice as he ran to catch the school bus. He had a Math test that day. We had done some practices at home and I reassured myself that he will be fine.

A week later, he came home with his Math test paper and proudly showed me the grades. He was happy with the results. I was not. Actually, like most typical boys, he did not really care for the results. But I did. A lot of marks were deducted due to careless mistakes and handwriting issues.

With a fire burning inside me, I questioned him on his low grades. My son looked down at the ground, drawing tiny circles with his feet. His shoulders hunched. His face looked deflated, then sullen. I pressed for an answer. He glanced up at me for a quick moment before looking down again and in a quiet quavering voice, he muttered he had done his best. Just as I had instructed.

I looked at him. And kept quiet. He was right.

I cannot fault him for following unclear instructions. There was no scolding him that day.

Advice For Kids Universal Scribbles

From that day on, I refrain from telling my kids to do their best. Because “doing their best” is an abstract term that they do not yet have the maturity to grasp. Because when you say “do your best”, its like saying “good luck” or “best of luck” to a job candidate without the guarantee of a positive outcome. And because when the kids are older, they sometimes use this “doing their best” as an excuse to cop out of their responsibility to prepare for tests or exams.

So when my kids go for exams now, I tell them something more specific and encouraging. I tell them that they can handle it because they have prepared for it. I remind them to breathe if they are frustrated at a challenging question (for my son) or feel a little panicky (for my daughter). I tell them that I love them no matter what because they are my kids. I tell them that they are ready and therefore can handle any questions from the test/exam.

Yes, basically I give them a quick pep talk before sending them off to school with a hug.

When they come home for the test or exam, I tell them that “It’s done. Whatever outcome from the test is now out of our hands.”

On the occasions when they do bring home poor grades, I ask them: “is this the best you can do?”

I guarantee you that the next test result will be a much improved one.

Because no one wants to admit that their best is a poor result. Not even a child. Trust me, they will work harder.

If the next results does not yield any improvement, then it is time to look for answers to the problem.

  • Is it a learning issue (difficulty vs disability)?
  • Does the problem lie with the kid or teacher? Maybe the teacher is not clear or the child’s learning style is different from what is being taught in school?
  • Is it the environment (home/school)?
  • What is the missing link?

Do you agree with me? What do you say to your child before they head out to sit for their tests or exams?

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Till our next post, love yourself, love one another.

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