Helping Children Grow Into Successful, Independent Adults
By Desmond Burke, Deputy Head - Student Life
Posted September 13, 2012
It’s important to take the long view in child development. The ultimate goal is to ensure that when our children head into the world they are ready to handle the challenges and successes that will come their way.
Every challenge is not a potential disaster to be avoided. Remember that students need to struggle through academic and social challenges in order to learn the coping skills they’ll need to survive in the world once they leave home. While it’s hard to watch a loved one struggle, in some cases standing back may be the best strategy for a parent to employ. If children aren’t permitted to learn these skills from their parent, they’ll have to pick them up at university or in the work world. American universities report that contemporary students’ inability to cope with the minor bumps that are normal in life is beginning to interfere with their ability to deliver education.
Here are a few things that parents might consider as they work to help their children grow into the successful independent adults we all hope they will become:
Encourage voluntary reading
There is no more important habit for students to acquire than reading. Plainly put, if students only read what’s assigned in school, they’re probably not going to have the reading skills necessary to excel in university.
Students who read voluntarily, read, write and think more effectively, perform better in all subjects, have better general knowledge - which contributes to better understanding of what they read, which is a deeper type of literacy - and have more extensive vocabularies that are key to success on SAT’s and LSAT tests. Some researchers have written recently that expanding vocabulary is a way to increase IQ. It’s interesting to note that several of the much written about 21st Century Skills are good old fashioned skills that can be acquired through reading.
In order to facilitate voluntarily reading, have a wide variety of materials available like newspapers, magazine and books. Don’t worry if they’re not reading Shakespeare. While it would be great if students spent hours consuming the classics, they won’t. Even English teachers like to mix it up with fun books once in a while!
Perhaps most important of all is that parents model the behaviour by reading too. If parents collapse in front of the TV after dinner for the evening, it’s going to be hard to convince the kids that they need to read.
Make them sleep, even if they’re night hawks
Studies have demonstrated that there is a measurable relationship between the amount of sleep students receive and academic success. Sleep isn’t just down time. The brain works hard during the night to process the day’s lessons and solidify memories. Students who sleep well, remember more of what they learned in school. Researchers are also reporting about the connection between the lack of sleep and obesity.
Students need to learn to speak for themselves and to negotiate with their peers and with their teachers and other adults. There are few life skills more vital to adults than the ability to advocate for themselves and since it’s a skill that can take years to master it’s important that parents encourage it. Parents who jump in and help resolve all conflicts for their children are doing two damaging things: they are preventing an important life skill from developing and they’re also communicating a message to their kids that they aren’t competant to look after themselves. Taking time to rehearse difficult conversations ahead of time is a useful strategy that can help young people develop this important skill.
Find the technological balance
There’s wonderful technology available nowadays that can crowd out virtually everything else in a child’s experience. It’s important that kids know how to use these new technologies appropriately and safely, but it’s also important that students continue to read, go outside and interact with real people in person. Try to limit screen time and keep an eye on the amount of texting going on. Parents also need to have a sense of the nature of what’s being texted. The virtual world can become a very unhealthy place for young people who don’t have the maturity to understand the impact of the communications or realize that what gets said in the cyber realm can spill into the real world with very serious consequences.
Train to become organized
Help your children become organized but don’t organize them. Encourage them to use tools like the homework diary or even devices like the Blackberry. Review with them their long range plans for completing major assignments and preparing for tests. Teach them to work ahead and work to overcome the default mode of most people – procrastination.
Be involved with school life beyond academics
Students who are involved in co-curricular programmes at school perform better academically and demonstrate more positive attitudes about school and academics. They develop stronger relationships with people at school and maintain those relationships long after they graduate. So while it seems to make sense to go home right after class and get on with homework, the reality is that students will achieve higher levels of academic success and be happier, if they’re busier at school.
Make sure students take down time
The world is becoming a more competitive place with nations like China and India competing more aggressively with us and it seems crucial to squeeze as much purposeful activity into young peoples’ lives so that they will be ready for what’s ahead, but young people need down time. They need to have unstructured or unscheduled time in which they can choose what they want to do, not only because they need a break, just like adults, but because they need to learn how to manage themselves and make decisions on their own.