By Gregory Keer
One of the more prevalent questions by parents is: How can I make my child care about doing well in school? This is an age-old question, and one I deal with every day as a teacher. My only problem with this inquiry is when it comes from overly intense parents of children in their early years of grade school or even preschool. Seriously, no college is going to worry about a kid’s performance in elementary school. However, it’s healthy to lay the foundation for school success, as long as you manage your expectations and remain aware that too much pressure can backfire, either by making a child move further away from wanting to do well or becoming a perfectionist).
Here are a few ideas to start in the right direction.
Instill Your Philosophy on Academic Responsibility. Good grades are, in large part, a reflection of responsibility. You want your child to try his or her best by doing homework on time and completely, setting aside time to study each day, and behaving well in class. Discuss these expectations with your child and praise them for being responsible more than for acing their classes. With your child, work on a homework schedule for each day. Even in elementary school, an assignment book is helpful in setting up good habits and allowing a student to check off what they’ve done so they can see their progress. Remember, the key here is that you’re stressing effort, not grades. Results will come, eventually, but the work habits and sense of accountability are most important at this age.
Go Shopping! A few years back, the office supply company Staples ran a commercial that featured a parent dancing around the aisles of supplies to the tune of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The humor might be that the parent is just glad to get the children into school after a long summer of trying to keep the kids entertained. But there is a certain joy in getting new school stuff. The truth is that most of us still love buying supplies, including our kids. Go shopping — with a budget of course — and help your children stock up on everything they need to get their work done. Homework is not so bad if you’ve got cool pens, pencils, folders, and tape dispensers.
Model Your Beliefs. Show your son or daughter that you walk the walk. If you do any work at home, try doing it in the same room with your child, or at least the same time. Perhaps you can talk about something you think is a really hard task that you’ll just have to do your best on. Also, consider telling your child stories about your own school experiences, such as how hard you worked to do well in some area — but also how you didn’t earn high grades in others, despite trying hard.
Play to Your Child’s Interests. In addition to their reflection of responsibility, good grades are a function of motivation — kids do well at what they like. You can instill in your child a deeper love for learning by playing to her interests. Take her on field trips related to what she’s into, and praise her for her passions. In this way, you support your child’s individuality and may indirectly help the passion to spill over into other subjects.
Offer Incentive. Some folks offer money, gifts, and candy in exchange for school success. Frequently, this kind of motivation works – in the short term. But if you’re looking for ways that are a bit longer lasting, you need to reinforce that hard work and achievement are their own reward. Praise your child to your spouse, to his siblings, and to his grandparents when he finishes a tough project. Tell your child how proud you are of his efforts. Daily affirmations of a job well done are important. But don’t overdo it, since you want to allow his sense of inner pride to develop as well.
Know your child. Remember that every child learns differently. Some children have to work twice as hard to earn a C as the child who gets an A every time. Some kids learn slowly, and need to take their time. Others click with math, but not languages. Understand and accept your child’s weakeness as well as strengths, and don’t compare him to his older (or younger) brother or sister, his best friend or the neighbor’s kid. Learning is not a competitive sport. Instead, provide as much support as you can. If certain learning approaches don’t work, seek alternatives. Be patient but firm, and you’ll see progress that is even more satisfying to your child than it is to you.
For more things to think about to set your kids up for success, see Birthday Cutoffs.