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Most parents want their children to do well at school. We inherently know that when they do well at school it’s a good thing.

But we also know that kids under too much pressure to perform can suffer. We don’t want to give our kids the message that unless they do well, they’re not valuable.

So how important is a child’s academic performance and how much importance should a parent place on it?

The harsh truth about academic performance
While it is possible to over-pressure kids, which is counter-productive for them in the long run, the better a child performs at school, the greater the benefit will be for them in the long run.

Here are a few reasons why.

1. Greater academic performance opens doors for them
University entrance is almost entirely dependent on your child’s ATAR, which is based on academic performance in assignments and exams. Some courses also consider portfolios or interviews, but most do not.

This means your child’s freedom to choose the career they desire is directly impacted by their academic performance.

This, in turn, can impact their future income level and their ability to advance beyond certain levels in certain careers. Academic performance can directly impact future job satisfaction and career success.

2. Academic performance impacts the development of character traits that are beneficial in adult life
When a child is active and successful academically, they are developing tools and traits that will serve them well in workplaces and relationships later in life. These include problem-solving skills, embracing challenges and difficulties, measuring their performance and identifying where improvements could be made, researching and comprehension skills that can be applied to various circumstances, self-control and delayed gratification, and the relationship between investing effort and seeing reward.

Even further, as their understanding of principles underlying subjects like maths and English grows, they gain implicit knowledge about how the world works. Maths helps form an understanding of how banking, finance, insurance, accounting, and business management work. English is building their foundational understanding of the basic tenants of law, government, policy, academia and the arts.

All of this is valuable in navigating the necessities of adult life successfully.

3. Confidence, self-esteem, and social skills.
As children gain academic skills and abilities, it’s inevitable that their confidence will grow too. They can see their abilities improve and know that they have the tools to unpack and resolve problems. This, in turn, helps relieve the stress of performing under pressure (another great skill for adult life), and can result in an enormous sense of pride at a job well done.

They’ll also learn to work with others, speak in public, lead and allow others to lead. These skills are vital to a balanced and connected life. They’ll learn to see their own strengths and weaknesses, and to accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of others. That self-knowledge leads to confidence in accepting tasks, approaching challenges and recognising when to ask for help or defer to the expertise of others.

How much should parents stress the importance of academic performance?
It’s not an easy issue but when something is this central to a child’s success in life, it cannot be left to chance.

While we don’t recommend undue pressure, and we understand that some children will be naturally gifted more than others, a parent’s approach to their child’s learning can make a huge difference in how the child views school work and how well they perform.

Here are a few tips:

  • Express the importance of school work clearly, but not threateningly. There’s no need to threaten in order to motivate, but being very clear about what you expect is important. And expecting improvement and effort is more helpful than explicitly defining a score or grade.
  • Be interested and engaged in your child’s learning, not just their final marks. Talk to them, learn more yourself, be interested and enthusiastic.
  • Talk to your child about why it’s important that they do their best. Often the real-life connection to what’s taught isn’t clear to kids and no one enjoys putting effort into things that feel pointless.
  • Inspire your child by talking about careers around subject where they show a natural interest. If they like dinosaurs, talk about paleontology. If they like saving money, talking about banking. If they like arguing their case, talk about legal professions. If they like teaching, talk about academia. Talk about what they need to do to work in that profession (what degrees and what kind of marks they need).
  • Incentivise your child to put effort in when it’s unpleasant. Create rewards and bonuses for achieving goals.
  • Emphasise continued improvement, not overnight success. A struggling child can’t simply change overnight. This is a long-game and they need to know you’re not expecting miracles, just solid work that will get good results over time.

Understand that your attitude is subtly sinking into your child, more than you realise. If you value education and learning, and you are proud of their performance, then they will respond more positively and carry the same values. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it doesn’t matter. Your child’s academic performance matters deeply.