What Parents Can do to Ensure Their Child's Success at School
By Tracy Howard
Posted August 25, 2010
Student learning, whether a child is in Grade 3 or in Grade 12, is best fostered in an environment of kind support, encouragement and personal accountability ideally, the development of positive relationships between children, parents and teachers provides a solid foundation for successful learning and positive social risk taking. Numerous studies point to parental involvement as a key component of success in a child’s learning process.
My experience in working with hundreds of students is that parent/guardian involvement most assuredly leads to a greater sense of personal accountability. In addition, daily discussions of school work and projects – including timely and constructive feedback, in combination with logical and age-appropriate discipline – can engender a love of learning while promoting student success. Conversely, over-involvement (such as doing students’ homework, consistently fixing problems or micromanaging) can serve to undermine a child’s confidence. This type of controlling involvement hinders risk taking and participation in the school environment, and can impede learning of important problem-solving skills.
In his book Optimizing Student Success in School with the Other Three Rs, Yale Professor Dr. Robert J. Sternberg identifies reasoning, resilience and responsibility as crucial and learnable skills that, when internalized and utilized, hold potential for increased academic success for children in the world of institutionalized learning. Dr. Sternberg defines reasoning as thinking that utilizes explicit or implicit rules to focus on problem solving, particularly with regard to academic challenges. To be successful at school, children must learn to problem solve with critical-thinking skills and by recognizing the multi-dimensional nature of any particular task.
Children learn resilience by developing three specific skills sets – learning, social management and self-management. By recognizing these distinct components as important and by supporting your child in acquiring and utilizing these skills, you can significantly improve your child’s academic and social performance over time. In other words, children must learn how to process information and glean ideas and reflect that knowledge successfully. They must learn how to navigate through the numerous social problems that manifest daily in their world. Finally, they must have opportunities to manage time (e.g. collaboratively come up with a list of Saturday activities and ask your child to budget the day); and to think through problems (what would you do if you were teased on the way home? What would you do if you lost your house key and no one was home?). Children must also learn to motivate themselves and to manage their emotions.
Keep in mind that children are decision makers, and if you create an environment in which your children are encouraged to make choices and be actively involved and engaged in the world around them, both at home and at school, then the integration of learning, social and self-management skills will be more easily achieved.
Teaching with a consistent focus on resiliency and reasoning has been proven to support student success whether a child is in Lower, Middle or Senior School. These are essential and universal skills, which will assist them at school, at play and in later years, at work. Experts in the field of parenting also make reference to responsibility as a key component of student success. When parents teach responsibility, along with resiliency and reasoning in age-appropriate ways, student success increases significantly. Along with discipline and guidance, responsibility works toward increasing a child’s confidence, healthy risk taking and self-esteem.
There are many ways to teach responsibility: set a good example; talk to children about the feelings of others; help children to “own” their feelings; give them an opportunity to make things better; use fair, logical and consistent consequences; expect good behaviour (especially from your teenager); give children real and meaningful work to do; be supportive of failure as well as success; let them work at balancing a part-time job and school; “catch them being good” and provide positive reinforcement. Too often in the business of daily life, we become focused on what is not working and what our children are not doing, rather than on what they are doing well, or have improved upon. We then find ourselves uncomfortable with the true and sincere art of praise.
In addition to teaching and role-modelling reasoning, resiliency and responsibility, we can focus on healthy optimism to assist children to achieve academic success. Healthy optimism is built by teaching students to set realistic goals, developing action plans to support the achievement of those goals, setting progress-monitoring strategies and encouraging new strategies when the original plan is not working. When students achieve any set goal, it reinforces their belief in themselves and their ability to accomplish. If we want to increase student success at school, we need to teach cognitive skills, such as goal-setting, progress-monitoring and memory skills. We also need to focus on social skills, which include interpersonal, social problem-solving and teamwork skills. And finally, self-management strategies, such as managing attention and motivation, need to be a part of any parenting plan.
As I was writing this article, I went to an excellent source for information and advice. My stepdaughter, Hailey, is an intelligent Grade 9 girl who consistently finds success at school and seems, at times, to have it all figured out. Here is what she offered, simple and direct. “Ask questions, because if you don’t, you appear disinterested, like you don’t care. Ask about our projects, but don’t do them for us or give too many suggestions as to what we should do. We can figure it out. Check on homework, because sometimes we don’t have it done. Don’t take over and schedule everything. Think of yourself as a motivator. Notice when we get it right.”
Sounds like great advice.