PARENTS MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Research shows that children’s school achievement improves when parents have high expectations for their children, encourage children with their homework, communicate with teachers, and volunteer in schools.
Start the school year off by telling your children you believe this will be a good year. Explain that you consider them to be intelligent, but nothing comes for free, so they will need to be hard workers. Tell them you care about their efforts, their grades, their learning, and their productivity.
Emphasis on productivity is important, or you may hear your children tell you they're learning even when they don't do their homework. Learning is important, but just absorbing information is not enough. Producing stories, doing projects, and homework assignments, and developing creative ideas are important components of the learning process.
Many parents have been warned about the pressure children feel when expectations are too high. It is true that some parents expect too much of their children. Expecting them to be best or first can cause problems, but expecting them to be smart and hardworking does not cause pressure. The manner in which expectations are set makes a difference. Set your expectations as coaches, not judges. The See Jane Win research on the childhoods of 1,000 successful women* showed that the parents of these women had high expectations for them during their childhoods, but their expectations were typically as coaching parents.
Coaching differs from judging in that coaching parents believe in their children and help their children feel like the family is a winning team. As coaches, they can expect children to practice, follow rules, and respect limits. Judging parents expect the worst and are continuously ready to punish. Children resent judging parents and often underachieve out of anger toward them.
Judging Versus Coaching*
Mother: What’s wrong with you today? Bad report card again?
Daughter: Well, it’s not so bad except for math. It’s just that Ms. Alper’s a bad grader. Everyone in the class has bad grades.
Mother: That’s a familiar excuse. Why didn’t you go to your teacher and get some help instead of waiting until you got a C? You just never plan ahead. I suppose your other grades aren’t much better. It looks to me as if you need a consequence. I guess if you’re not mature enough to get the help you need, you’re not mature enough to drive. When you get all your grades above B, you can have your license back. It doesn’t seem as if you even care about your future.
Daughter: It’s not that bad. There’s not much sense in driving if I always lose my license? (Slams bedroom door)
Mother: You seem disappointed. Is it your report card?
Daughter: Yeah, Mom. I thought I’d get a B in math, but I got a C.
Mother: It sounds like you need a little help to get where you belong. I was pretty good at math. Would you like me to take a look at it, or would you prefer setting up an appointment with Ms. Alper? I know you can turn the grade around next quarter and bring your semester grade up. You know I’d really like to help you catch up, and once you have it put together, I’ll just stay out of it again. What’s fun about math is it keeps you working.
*From See Jane Win: The Rimm Report on How 1000
Girls Became Successful Women by
Dr. Sylvia Rimm (Crown Publishing, 1999)
VOLUNTEER IN YOUR SCHOOL
Volunteering in your children’s school can fit with your interests, your time availability, and the school’s needs. You may wish to tutor other children in class, become a room mother or father, assist with clerical work in the office, help with a class trip, or talk to a class about your career or travel. There are a variety of ways that schools and children can use your help, but you'll need to think about how you can help and offer that help to your children's teacher or principal. When children see their parents involved in school, they understand that their education is important to their parents. When parents are involved in schools they have a more realistic picture of their children's everyday life in the classroom.
It's not a good idea to sit with your children while they do homework because they should feel independent and responsible. However, you will definitely want to be available for your young children to answer their questions and check over their work when it's completed to be sure they understand it and that it's complete. You'll also want to help your children organize a homework routine. That may be important into middle school, although by then they can often organize themselves quite well. See Parent Pointers and Student Stepping Stones for setting up a time and a place and helping children to understand their responsibilities.
Special school projects are often intended to have more parent involvement. Parents can even suggest some special projects that tie into their children's curriculum. Families become closer when they work on such projects together, and children are able to observe their parents' interest and commitment to learning. Parents need to continue to be cautious about not getting too involved so that the children can feel ownership for the projects.
COMMUNICATE WITH TEACHERS
Although teachers should take the initiative to reach parents when children are having problems, they have many children to observe and can miss your children's problems until after they've become serious. Parents shouldn't hesitate to communicate with teachers if they have any concerns. Thus, if you think your children are unchallenged or being irresponsible, a call to a teacher will help clarify what has to be done and bring your children to the teachers' attention. If your children require regular accountability communication on a daily or weekly basis, teachers can help make this happen. Either e-mail, notes home, or phone calls can be used. Research clearly shows that this type of communication is helpful if children are having underachievement problems.
You'll need to be patient with the teacher and understand that great detail can't be expected. It is important for your children to do their homework regularly so they establish a sense of success. Once they feel more confident, parents can back off, and children should take over the responsibility for their own work. Children with learning disabilities or special problems may need extra support for a longer period of time.
Education continues to provide the pathway to success for most people. Give your children an advantage by letting them understand that their future will be more fulfilled if they prioritize education as first and foremost. Everything we know about education tells us that parents make a difference in their children's success. Guiding your children to success is not easy, but it's worth your efforts.
*From See Jane Win: How 1000 Girls Became Successful Women by Dr. Sylvia Rimm (1999, Crown Publishing).
©2001 by Sylvia B. Rimm. All rights reserved. This publication, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.