How can I help my child succeed in school?

Part 2 of 2

expectations for your child in school

3. Establish open channels of communication early. Language may be the base for all other learning, but sometimes it's hard to get your youngster to talk when you want them to, and to stop when you do not. One of the most important things a parent can do get their kids off to an excellent start at school is to establish an early communication foundation. Have them recite the names of things around them, for example, as soon as they are able to talk. As they develop and their communication skills grow, ask questions and invite them to talk about their experiences, what they did at play, about their friends, who they saw at day care or at pre-school… anything that requires them to describe people, places and things. This simple exercise alone can prepare the child for answering the teacher's questions at school, and help make them comfortable raising their hand in class and speaking up before their classmates.

Another positive activity is reading to you children almost from birth. Not everyone can teach a child to read, but parents can certainly foster their child's desire to read -- and that may be all it takes to get their young feet planted firmly on the road to success in school. Limit TV viewing to a minimum during the school week, encourage recreational reading or the pursuit of a hobby in their spare time, and look for creative opportunities to interact with your child. The more TV youngsters watch, the more they will rely on it for entertainment -- to the exclusion of everything else. Video games and the Internet can also capture all of a child's "spare time."

Respect has its origins at home. If this is a strong family value, children are more likely to respect teachers and figures of authority at school, too. This means standing as a good role model and setting reasonable and enforceable limits for your child. Avoid the temptation to complain about the time it takes to fill out all those endless forms that come home on the first day of school. Without thinking, your grumbling could be sending the wrong message to your child that doing "assignments" is boring, tedious work. Never make critical or disparaging remarks about school officials or teachers that your child might overhear. Do nothing -- even unintentionally -- to diminish or tarnish their enthusiasm, respect or positive attitude about school.

Talk with your children and reward their efforts at conversation with your absolute, undivided attention. Invite their opinions, and really listen to -- and discuss -- their responses. Challenge them to explain and imagine and think. Take time to really answer questions; you'll be able to tell how much information is enough, or when their attention has strayed.

4. Setting Healthy Goals and Expectations for Your Child. To do well at school, children need to get to class ready to concentrate and to learn. They should know from their very first day at school what you expect of them in the way of behavior and effort. Let them know that school is "children's work," and it is important. It will help if a routine is established early on that includes plenty of sleep, a good breakfast and a firm study and homework agenda. Bedtime is bedtime, not something to be negotiated night after night.

Right from day one, tell your children exactly what is expected of them: when you expect them to wake up, how long they have to get bathed and dressed, when their breakfast will be ready, and when you need to leave to get them to school on time. There will certainly be exceptions, but an established routine builds a sense of security and order that gives youngsters a good send-off to school.

Stop and think about your own life, for a minute. How do you react when you are awakened abruptly, have to race to get dressed, skip breakfast, and rush all the way to work. It kind of upsets the whole day, doesn't it? You don't feel quite "together," and it's easy for your attention to wander; to think about things you forgot in your haste to get to work. (Did I turn off the iron? Did I let out the cat? Is this the way you want your children to feel when they head off to school each day? Most likely not. It takes some planning to prevent the morning rush hour, but it can teach kids the importance of being well organized and punctual for life.

Organization is not a lost art. Designate a homework area so that children get in the habit of emptying their school bag every evening, doing the required homework, putting it neatly away in their back pack or notebook, ready to pick up by the door the next morning. This not only cuts down on last minute searches, but it also eliminates "junk" buildup in the school bag and ensures that parents will receive any notices or messages sent home to them.

Set the homework rules early in the game, and specify when and where homework is to be done and stick to it. Ask each evening about homework assignments, and be available to help. That doesn't mean doing your child's homework for them. That much help is not fair to the youngster, the teacher always knows, and it risks making your child feel inadequate. Make it clear at the beginning of school just how much help -- and what kind -- you are willing to provide.

When it comes down to expectations for your child, ask yourself, "Whose life is it, anyway?" There is no magic formula for raising the perfect, super-smart achievers who excel in everything they try. Not only is that unrealistic, but this fast-paced, do-it-all mentality isn't appropriate for all kids. Youngsters do not need to be competing, learning, performing or participating in organized sports or activities during every moment away from school. They need unstructured play time and good quality time with their parents, too.

help kids succeed in schoolNo matter how hard they try, parents cannot program achievement for their kids. They can foster self-esteem, be good role models in the areas of leadership and values, and they can set firm but loving guidelines that balance discipline and fun.

Some parents translate their children's academic prowess or athletic ability into some kind of validation of their success as parents, but it's not about them. Most of all, parents need to understand that their unreasonable expectations for their kids can lead to burnout and stress which can manifest itself in restless or attention-getting behavior, bed-wetting, stomachaches, and even depression. Children are, after all, people, not high-performance, unfeeling machines.

5. Get involved early and stay involved. To paraphrase an old saying, education is too important to be left to educators alone. When parents get involved in their children's education -- and stay involved -- their youngsters do better in school. The experts point out that parental involvement promotes better attendance and better academic achievement and, what's more, these benefits apply no matter what the economic, racial or cultural background of the family.

Make time to visit your child's school. Go to open houses; go to orientation sessions with your child. Show an interest -- no matter how tired or stressed out you may be from a long day at work. If you place a high priority on going to their school, so will your young students. If you don't visit your child's school how, for example, would you know what condition it is in? If there are enough desks, tables or chairs… or textbooks, or computers? Or if the classrooms are too crowded? Or, when will you meet the people who spend a lot of hours each day teaching your child?

If you can possibly arrange it, volunteer for a project at school and join the parent teacher organization at each of your child's schools. Pass along a supportive, upbeat attitude about school and education in general. Let your children know that you have high -- but realistic -- expectations for their success and that you will be there every step along the way to help that happen. Attend School Board meetings from time to time. These Boards are accountable to the entire community, not to special interest groups. Make sure the leadership of your School Board is taking the District in the right direction -- on behalf of ALL the community's children.

Parents who invest their time, love, encouragement and support in the success of their children are usually rewarded when their "pride and joy" achieve to the best of their ability… and then pass along the same values to their children.

To learn more, read:
- "Helping Kids Succeed in School" Part 1 for tips on how to keep school kids healthy.
- Ten Tips for Your Child's Success in School

Sources: Five Ways to Help Your Kids "Make the Grade"

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