Parenting

Simple Ways to Help Your Child Succeed at School This Year

August 30, 2012

I never want the summer to end. Somehow though, it always does, and then it is the back to school rush.Then it’s all about notebooks, paper, pens and pencils, new shoes, uniforms and haircuts.

And more. Much more. It’s a new school year with fresh new demands on our kids (and ourselves)–academic and otherwise.

So we need to take a few minutes and reflect on how to truly help our children succeed at school.

Have the right attitude:

Parents more than ever have a vested interest in their children’s school performance. Without realizing it, they may feel it’s a direct reflection on their parenting abilities. If their child succeeds, then they have succeeded. If their child fails, they think they have failed as parents.

This can lead to parents becoming hyper-focused on their child’s achievements. Children brought up in this type of environment become overwhelmed by the unspoken demands of their parents.

For the kids who aren’t able to succeed in school have to deal with double negativity: their academic failures and parental displeasure. This can cause children to feel even more discouraged and further compromises their academic career, not to mention their mental health.

Realize that academic success (or failure, for that matter) can have very little to do with your parenting. The wrong kind of parenting, however, can definitely make matters worse–if not in school, then in your child’s mind. So give your child space.

Relax about school:

We need to become a little more relaxed about academics. Kids need time to develop their learning skills at their own pace. Instead of always focusing on their grades, try to focus on fostering a lifetime love of learning.

I try to tell my kids, “It’s not only your grades that matter. It’s more important that you try to enjoy something about what you are learning.”

Ironically, when you let your kids know that their grades are not what is important to you, they become more responsible about their schoolwork. They develop an internal motivation to succeed. They work hard and put in lots of effort for themselves. This is what we call a work ethic and is probably one of the best ways to help foster success in our kids.

Support your kids unconditionally:

Many times we might try to be more relaxed about our kids school work, but when they come home with that bad grade we lose it. We say things like:

“You’re not trying hard enough. If you just applied yourself you’d be able to do better!”

“Your schoolwork is so disorganized! You need to shape up or you will never do well in school!”

The above examples are judgment statements. Children are being evaluated and coming up short. This type of language does not motivate children but causes them to feel even more anxious. It also builds resentment.

Parents need to focus on the situation at hand. They need to concentrate on what their child needs and not on their child’s character. For example:

“It seems as if school is not as interesting as it once was for you. Am I noticing that correctly? Is there anything you could think of that would help you enjoy learning more?”

“I see that improvement is needed in the area of organization. Let’s put our heads together and see if we can come up with some ideas that could help you get in order.”

When kids struggle in school, they need our support and unconditional love. Most kids want to succeed and do well in school. They need us to help them focus on solutions without judging them and their character.

Teach your kids to be responsible about school:

At the start of the academic year we are all focused on helping our children succeed. But if we are overly anxious about their performance, we may may not trust them to take school seriously enough. And then, hoping to guarantee their success. we become too controlling.

“Clean out your backpack. You won’t find anything in that mess!”

“You need to hurry up. The bus is not going to wait all day for you!”

“Do your homework now!”

“How many times do I have to tell you to pack your lunch?!”

Commands make children feel anxious, rebellious, helpless and angry. Commands create power struggles and conflict. Instead we want to ask:

“What do you think you can do to keep your bookbag organized?”
“What is the best time for you to wake up so you can get to the bus on time?”
“Where is the best place for you to do your homework?”
“What are some helpful ways to remind you to pack your lunch?”

This eliminates negative feelings and gives your children a sense of responsibility. And when they feel personally accountable for their lives and achievements, they will have a greater drive to perform well.

Teach your kids to be responsible about homework:

Homework is not your job. If you are morally opposed to doing your kids homework  (like I am), then you want to make sure that they feel responsible for it themselves. This will make it easier because you won’t always be engaged in a power struggle about homework.

So if your kids are having a rough time getting settled, you don’t want to say:

“You better do your homework or you are not going out to pizza tonight!”

“You need to sit down right now and do your homework or you are never going to get anywhere in life!”

When you say things like that you give your child the idea that homework is very important to you and that he is not capable of being in charge of himself and his homework.

In the quirky world of child development, you have just taken the responsibility for doing his homework out of his hands and put it into yours. Kids can end up thinking, “Hey, my Mom thinks this is a big deal. I am going to let her worry about it and get uptight. That way, I don’t really have to do anything at all.”

So instead, you want to say things like:

“Looks like you are having some trouble getting settled, when do you think would be a good time for you to get your homework done?”

“We are going out for pizza tonight. How long does it take you to do your homework? Do you think you will be able to join us?”

This helps you show your child that you understand that homework is difficult. However, you are also sending the message that he is capable of completing his homework by himself, and that you’re not so crazed about homework that you will assume responsibility.

Here’s to an all-around healthy, successful new school year.

Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.