Five Strategies to Help Your Child Succeed at School

August 25, 2023

Five Strategies to Help Your Child Succeed at School

By Lindsey Flannery

There are as many parenting strategies as there are parents, and it’s hard to know which ones work best in the seemingly high-stakes game of school. What will really help our kids succeed, and what will not? 

A good strategy will help our children learn to learn. Ideally, they’re motivated by curiosity, and not grades or report cards alone. We want our kids to think independently, retain information and ask questions. We want them to be engaged.

Here are some guidelines for setting kids up for success in school, no matter their personality or aptitude.

1. Focus on the process, not the grades.

If you were raised by parents who focused entirely on your grades, it can be really hard to make this change: but your kid’s success is not determined by their grades alone. Focus on how they arrived at the grade they got, and what they can do to improve next time.

Don’t hang up report cards, and don’t bribe or pay for good grades, as this is a sure-fire way to reduce their natural motivation in the long-term. It’s also setting them up to feel ashamed or inadequate if their grades aren’t what you expect. Instead, focus on what study techniques worked for them, what subjects they enjoyed the most, and how they can channel their natural talents to help them succeed in the future.

2. Model goal-setting.

If you want your child to go after big goals, then show them how to do so by setting a big goal for yourself, and being honest along the way about the challenges and setbacks. If kids don’t have a role model showing them that overcoming challenges is possible, they’ll give up at the first sign of difficulty. This can be tough when you’re busy and immersed in the everyday, but you can simply give them a window into the things you’re already doing, whether that’s at home or in your career.

Encourage your child to set goals for the coming quarter or semester, and make sure they have nothing to do with grades. (The specific grade a child receives is out of their control, anyway.) They could be focused on how to improve, like “I will ask for help in math class when I’m confused.” Or, they could be focused on challenging yourself to something new, like “I am going to sign up for one new extracurricular this year.”

3. Resist the urge to step in every time they are challenged.

No matter the grade level, teachers assign projects that they believe the children are ready and able to complete. They expect that the results will match the level the child is at. If your child is saying the homework is “impossible” or “too hard,” resist the urge to do the work for them. Instead, let them know that both their teacher, and you, believe in their ability to complete the assignment. You can help interpret instructions, or offer simple redirection. And then, let them figure it out. You may be surprised at what they come up with.

If we’re interested in the long-term success of our kids, smoothing the path for them at every turn will simply make them less resilient and less persistent. Learning how to overcome challenges is one of the most important “real-world” skills kids get from school. 

    Speaking of long-term success,

    4. Focus on the long game.

    Your child’s education and growth, as well as your parenting, are long-haul endeavors. Improvements don’t happen overnight. If you keep your focus on your child’s growth over time, from school year to school year, it helps avoid the stress about forgotten assignments, poor test scores, or missed deadlines. Of course, these things are important over time, but one slip-up is not an emergency. Making it one will simply put undue pressure on your child, and could hurt their motivation.

      If your child forgets about an assignment, instead of focusing on that assignment, help them learn how to keep track of deadlines -- because that’s a valuable strategy for long-term success. Additionally, model how you overcome situations when things didn’t go your way. Missed a deadline at work? Don’t dwell on the negative outcomes; share with your family how you plan on avoiding the same mistake in the future, and why your job is worth it to you.

      5. Celebrate the effort, not the smarts.

      And love your kid, not their achievements.

      This wisdom applies to parenting in general, not just school success. If we praise our children for being “so good” at something, or for being “so smart,” they’ll think their success is always tied to their innate abilities, and not their effort. Focus on celebrating their improvement, persistence and determination. Kids should understand that their capabilities can always be increased with effort.

      They said the report was “impossible,” but then completed it on their own without your help? Praise that persistence, even if they interpreted the assignment differently than you would have. They failed the first math test of the year, and went on to get a C on the next one? Praise them for finding a new way to study that worked better for them.

      In short, your child should always feel supported, loved and accepted by you, no matter what their school performance is. When they know they have your support and encouragement no matter what, they’re more likely to be intrinsically motivated to do well in school, instead of feeling a pressure to perform out of fear of your disapproval.

      This doesn’t mean you never step in: if a child is struggling and it’s causing undue stress, help them get to the heart of the issue. Maybe they have an undiagnosed learning difference, or they’re studying ineffectively. They could have gotten behind during the pandemic or simply missed something they needed to know. Understanding what the root of the challenge is will highlight the path to the solution.

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