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Kids Should Not Be Graded on Social Skills

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Look out parents—there’s a new report card in town at some elementary schools in California. Beyond grades in traditional subjects like science, reading and math, students will be graded on their social attributes as well. Do we really need teachers to grade our kids on their social skills or can we as parents figure this one out on our own?

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These new grade reports rank social attributes such as optimism, zest, grit, curiosity, social intelligence, gratitude, self-control in school work and interpersonal relationships on a scale of 1 to 4. Grades range from an A (meaning almost always), to an O (often), an S (sometimes) or an R (rarely). So while your child may excel in academic areas, his lack of gratitude or zest might cloud his otherwise noteworthy report card. So much for self-esteem, right?

But aren’t social skills a big deal?

Sure, social skills are important—I actually worked with small groups of elementary school kids for seven years practicing social skills through games and role-playing. But pull together a group of 30 kids (or 30 adults, for that matter) and what do you get? A wide variety of social skill sets, from the child who doesn’t appear to have much empathy for others to the totally emotionally attuned child who not only notices your facial expressions but asks you how you are feeling. So many of these attributes are taught by parents modeling appropriate social behavior, or are just a natural extension of a child’s personality. Just because Bobby isn’t emotionally astute enough to notice that Shelby needs help with her shoelaces doesn’t make him a social skills failure—and shouldn’t earn him a bad grade in social intelligence.

A teacher assigning a grade to these social skills only punishes kids who are struggling, and makes parents feel inadequate.

How do you even measure social skills?

Qualities like zest and grit are totally subjective, and teachers will interpret each skill set differently and apply it to every kid in a different way. What you call grit, I might call stubbornness. Your version of curiosity might be another’s inattentiveness. Creating a grading system for social skills also gives parents one more benchmark assessment to use when comparing their kids to others. That annoying mom from the school volunteer committee brags about her daughter enough already. Do you really want her sharing that little Taylor has all As in zest, grit and curiosity? I didn’t think so.

Let the parents parent

Is your kid kind, curious, gracious and optimistic? Maybe sometimes, maybe not—but social skills have to be practiced over and over in order to stick. True, they do enter into every aspect of our lives, even as adults. But we as parents are working hard as it is to raise good kids. A teacher assigning a grade to these social skills only punishes kids who are struggling, and makes parents feel inadequate. While teachers should be sharing their observations with parents, I think assigning grades to these individual social skills goes a bit too far. Sure, schools can reward or praise kids for kind behaviors, but assigning a grade to each category only serves to make socially awkward kids stand out even more.

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You know who needs a few lessons on social skills? Those moms in the pickup line after school. Check your zest and grit at the door and serve up an extra helping of kindness and patience. Now there’s a program I can get behind.

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