Like most parents, You probably try to do everything to make sure your kids succeed in school each year:
Register them, pay fees, buy school supplies and new clothes, check out their new classroom, and talk with them about how much fun the upcoming school year will be.
It seems like we should be all set – except for the usual worries about how good of a “homework coach” you will be during the year, trying to make sure your kids succeed in school and enjoy life-long learning.
As parents, we often approach our children’s school performance and school success with anxiety and tension.
You want to make sure your kids succeed in school so they feel happy about their accomplishments and have better opportunities in the future.
But we also have the nagging feeling that if our child doesn’t do well in school, it will reflect poorly on us as parents.
You may feel pressured to make sure your kids succeed in school. Often, with the best of intentions, we end up using exactly the wrong strategies:
Nagging and Lecturing
Parents usually don’t start nagging children about homework and study habits until there is a problem (e.g., being sloppy with homework, or not wanting to do homework at all). Nagging only makes the problem worse because your child will either get angry at you or tune you out.
Instead, make sure your kids succeed in school by trying to problem-solve together with your child. Ask them to come up with several ideas on their own for how to improve this situation. Brainstorm about how to make homework more fun. Try out at least one of their ideas and discuss how it worked.
You don’t trust your child to get things done right, so you tell them what to do, when and how. This may work in the short run but doesn’t teach children to become independent learners who take responsibility for their work.
Instead of taking over, make sure your kids succeed in school by helping them figure out what they need to do by asking questions: “What will you do? When will you do it? How will I know? How do you want me to hold you accountable for this?”
Focusing on the Future Benefits of School
As parents, we know how important a good education will be later in life. Just don’t expect your children to be motivated by this idea; they are more focused on the here and now and give little thought to the future.
To motivate them, make sure your kids succeed in school by focusing on the immediate benefits of learning (having fun, developing new skills, and ability to play team sports in school if grades are good.)
Leaving Homework for the End of the Day
If homework is scheduled too late in the evening, with only bedtime to follow and no time to play, children won’t be motivated to be efficient, and also won’t want to go to bed since they haven’t had any fun yet.
Make sure your kids succeed in school by increasing their motivation to complete homework by giving them something to look forward to afterwards.
Favorite TV shows, videogames, talking on the phone, or having a special snack are all great rewards after homework is completed, and may provide the extra incentive your child needs to get through a boring and tedious task.
Insisting on Long Study Sessions
“You will sit here until all your homework is done” – this can feel overwhelming to children and create resistance, resulting in conflict.
Instead, make sure your kids succeed in school by scheduling 10-15 minutes of study time, followed by a 5-min. break, then another 15 minutes of study.
Repeat as often as necessary to complete homework. Children actually get more done that way.
Grounding Children for Missed Assignments and Poor Grades
This is not effective for helping them do better in the future.
Instead, make sure your kids succeed in school by problem solving (“What would help you do better next time?”), offer support, and give them incentives for good performance (extra privileges, special rewards).
Not Communicating With Teachers
This means two-way communication: Let the teacher know early on how they can best support your child’s learning (how does your child learn best?) -then ask the teacher periodically, “What’s the best thing I can do to help my child with this subject at home?”
Don’t wait for the parent-teach conference to ask questions. Make sure your kids succeed in school by finding out how your child is doing now or what kinds of problems need to be corrected.
Overfocusing on Grades and Test Scores
When children get the message that grades are all that counts, they quickly lose interest in the process of discovery and learning, and instead focus only on the outcome.
If they can’t achieve the expected grade or score, they end up feeling bad which usually does not increase their motivation to do better. Children also need to hear from us that success comes in many forms.
Some students will excel in sports, drama, music, or art; some develop excellent leadership skills, good citizenship, become peer mediators, or relate well to animals.
Make sure your kids succeed in school by focusing on their strengths. Be sure you focus on their talents more than you focus on their grades.
Sticking Only to the Curriculum
As long as children learn what’s expected of them in school, that’s good enough, right? Chances are that this year’s school curriculum doesn’t exactly match his or her own interests and curiosity (maybe they are into whales and sharks, space travel, jungle life, airplanes, etc).
Make sure your kids succeed in school by encouraging their natural love for learning. Ask, “If you could learn about anything you wanted to, what would you like to learn?” – then provide them with books, videos, trips to museums, and (most importantly) adult conversations about those topics.
Not Modeling Life-Long Learning
Do your children see you interested and enthusiastic about learning, studying, and achieving? Do you read books at home? Go to museums? Look things up? Talk about new ideas? Remember that our children are always watching what we are doing.
Dr. Karin Suesser, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with Aurora Behavioral Health in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She provides therapy and assessment for children (ages 1-18) and their families, as well as for adults and couples.
She specializes in helping individuals find effective solutions to emotional, behavioral, or life transition concerns and offers expert advice on how to make sure your kids succeed in school.
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