12 Tips to Help Your Child Succeed in School

By: Robert W. Smith

On the first day of school, Jimmy (one of my fifth-grade students) approached me. “My mom says I lose TV for a whole week every time you call home to complain about my behavior or my work. I guess the party’s over,” he said with a sigh as he strolled disconsolately out to recess.

That mother, if she follows through on her promise, has just issued herself the cheapest insurance policy in the world against a year of wasted energy and failure.

As a teacher, I have found that parents who stay involved in the learning process of their children create a climate for success which serves as a springboard for future achievement. Here are some tips I have learned from 17 years in the classroom:

1. Start Right Off

Let your child know right from the beginning that his success in school is very important to you and that you expect him to reach his fullest potential. The time to begin is the first day of school. Follow through and make sure he forms his work habits correctly.

2. Regular Homework Periods

Every child needs a routine. Designate a specified time slot each night when he is expected to be doing homework. This means peace and quiet – not with the television blaring or the stereo belching forth the latest rock hit. The period will depend on the age of the child, but it should run, on the average, 30 to 60 minutes each night.

3. Meet the Teacher

Soon after the school year begins, it is important to meet the teacher. Attend a “Back-to-School” event or simply drop by the classroom. Ask about the homework policy. Don’t discover with the first “F” notice that your child – who said he never had homework – wasn’t completing his assignments.

At the same time, tell the teacher any special concerns or problems your child may have. I didn’t learn until March one year that one of my students was supposed to wear glasses for reading. It’s amazing how “bright” children become, when they can see the page.

4. Don’t Become a Pawn

Children can become remarkably adept at maneuvering parents and teachers against one another. If you have a question or complaint, call the teacher. Don’t use your child as a sounding board for your frustrations. A good deal of misunderstanding between home and school is created, intentionally or not, by the child.

And don’t think that you are bothering a teacher by calling. Parental concerns are a major part of any teacher’s job description.

5. Value and Praise Work

“Why didn’t you take your folder of papers home?” I asked one student.
“Your mother wants to see them.”
“She just glances at the top one and tosses them into the trash,” the girl responded.

There is no quicker way to discourage a child from putting forth his best effort than this mother’s approach.

You should praise the papers and projects your children do, even if they seem childish or poor. They aren’t supposed to be perfect; they are learning experiences. Put the best paper on the refrigerator or a bulletin board. What you value, your child will value, too.

6. Build Responsibility

The child with a sloppy desk at school generally has a pigpen for a bedroom. The one who doesn’t get his work done on time usually doesn’t show any responsibility at home, either.

Be careful not to say, “That’s just the was Johnny is.” Create a system of rewards and punishments for keeping a bedroom in order. Give the child certain cleaning duties at home, even if he doesn’t do them as well as you can at first. The allowance system should always be based on chores being completed. Nobody should be paid for just breathing.

7. Control the Television Set

Every expert on child development in this country acknowledges that children watch far too much television. It is not only the amount of time, but the inferior and inappropriate nature of the programming that is destructive to their creative processes and their sense of reality.

Parents must monitor the quality of the programs their children watch and limit time spent in front of the tube. Shows developed for adult entertainment are never appropriate for children. An hour of this passive activity an evening seems plenty. Better yet, turn the TV off during the week.

8. High Expectations

Expect your child to achieve his or her very best. Doing work correctly and neatly is a value that will serve him well in school and later in the work place. Children should aim to garner the best grades they can achieve. Don’t accept less just because it’s a passing grade.

9. Be Realistic

Assess your child’s ability with blunt honesty and without being embarrassed as if you were somehow responsible. Some children are going to be better in academic areas than others. Some will struggle their entire school careers simply to pass.

Parents set themselves up for disappointment if they hold aspirations for having a doctor in the family when their son’s interests are directed more towards resuscitating car engines. Be mindful that you child’s life is not yours. Be proud of his skills, in whatever area they exist.

10. Encourage Outside Interests

Every child needs activities beyond school. Whatever a child’s interest is – piano lessons, ballet, soccer, scuba diving or stamp collecting – encourage him to pursue and channel his energies in this direction also.

A child should develop a sense of identity beyond school, especially in the junior and senior high school years. This is true for the students who struggle in school as well as for children with excellent marks.

Every child needs to see himself and be perceived by others as having some special skill or talent. This attribute pays off in self-esteem and peer-respect.

11. Working for Money

Having a job or chores to do is an important part of the growing-up process, even for grade schoolers. A child with a job simply feels better about himself.

Mowing a neighbor’s lawn, walking an elderly person’s dog or washing the family car are several ways for him to learn some important on-the-job skills. Babysitting is also an excellent way to learn responsibility.

A child who earns his own money will use greater discretion in spending it then he will about spending yours. Trite but true: Boys and girls need to learn to recognize the value of a dollar and relate money to effort expended. After-school jobs can teach them this value.

12. Communicate

A child needs to share the problems and joys of the day through small talk. Often, he will use his parents as a spring board to test his ideas or as a safety net for posing questions.

Sometimes these questions are expressed as outrageous opinions. The child may really be seeking affirmation that you truly care about him or that your values are what you say they are. He may simply be trying to determine what he really thinks.

In any case, be calm and talk. Care enough to describe what you think. Listen to your child, even if you’re bored or outraged. You really need to worry more when children won’t speak than when they do. The dinner table, without the ubiquitous television set, is a good time for this sharing to take place.

Remember, no parent ever feels successful all the time. But you can limit your frustrations and profoundly influence your child’s school success by involving yourself fully in all areas of his life. So, start right not by building a climate of success in your home.

(The above material appeared in Family Life Magazine.)

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