Ask about my favorite brands of back-to-school gear or clothes when I was a child or a teen. I can't remember them. There's a reason.
Those items and possessions were important only in the moment. Looking back, it was the home culture established by my parents that echoes to this day with my children.
A data-driven study isn't necessary to understand the greatest support you can offer doesn't come from a store. The feelings and thoughts coursing through a child's heart and mind are heavily influenced by parents. From emotional resilience to religious faith, a positive worldview can make a tremendous impact in a child's performance at school. Let's unpack how your words and actions can equip your daughter or son for success.
Give little ones grown-up tasks
Getting backpacks ready and clothes ready the night before. Making choices for breakfast and lunch. These are the kinds of actions and decisions that help young children build independence and planning skills. As these actions become routine, mornings become easier and more efficient. Instead of stress at home and on the way to school, you'll have more opportunities for conversations with your child (and enough time for a bowl of Lucky Charms).
Do your best
With three simple words, you set expectations that are both realistic and a useful challenge. My father often said, "The only thing I'll ask for is your best." As a child, I understood this only at face value as a banal and clichéd expression. With time, his simple wisdom proved more profound. Giving my all — whether in school, extracurriculars or hobbies — meant pushing myself, within reason. This idea fostered a household culture that continues today with my children.
The effect of "do your best" is a bit of biblical instruction. Ephesians 6:4 notes, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Regarding school, you're going to have disagreements and trying times with your children about homework. The key is to avoid pushing one another's buttons. Maintaining a calm but firm demeanor keeps the decibel level down so your child doesn't associate homework with arguments.
Meet the teachers
Attending the first meet-and-greet of the school year is certainly helpful for matching names with faces and getting classroom information. Yet all too often, that's where the involvement ends. Maintaining good communication (phone or email) with your child's teacher during the year is equally important. Be sure to ask about homework updates via email and/or text message. It's a simple way to be informed on the same day as your child.
This doesn't mean you should become a helicopter parent. Rather, the point is to be aware, communicative when needed, and a supporter of your child's education.
Don't ask 'How was school?'
It's a bland question that's almost certain to receive a quick "fine," "so-so" or "bad." It's better to try specific questions. Ask about the best part of the day, who they met, the personalities of their teachers and so on. The key is to open a discussion and learn more about their perceptions of school. Don't worry if your young one acts annoyed by the questions. Your behavior shows that you're invested in your son's or daughter's life.
Learn to eat an elephant
As young as elementary school, children may receive major project assignments from their teachers ("Mom, my teacher wants a scale model of the solar system! HELP!"). What may appear overwhelming to a child will likely prove simpler to an adult. This is an opportunity to help your son or daughter build two sets of skills at once.
The practical and scholarly skills needed for the project will dovetail with the lessons being taught at school. Of equal importance are the mental skills you can teach your child, such as perseverance, planning and focus.
Offer your child the following idea: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Seemingly enormous tasks are much more digestible when broken into smaller actions. When it's time to build that solar system, help your child write a series of steps needed for the project. With each action taken, confidence and capabilities grow — and the overall goal appears more attainable.
Watch grades like the stock market
Any experienced financial planner will counsel you against studying your account day by day. The smarter view is the longer view. The same applies to grades.
Definitely take note of your child's grades when they bring home papers to be signed, but avoid placing too much emphasis on any one assignment. For example: If your son typically makes As and Bs but a fairly rare C or even D creeps in, it's better to praise him for the overall trend of his work. Put another way, who would wish to be evaluated by his or her worst effort?
Be relatable and humble about your childhood
Perhaps you were the homecoming queen or class valedictorian. Maybe you won the science fair or you were point guard for the basketball team. The greater your accomplishments back in the day, the more you should guard against retelling the story in glowing terms. Your child will find his or her own path, which will likely be quite divergent from yours.
Encouraging your son or daughter to reach for goals is a good parenting behavior. Expecting him or her to follow in your footsteps can create an unnecessary and painful rift. With freedom bounded by loving discipline, your child will likely blossom.
Tell them about your prayer life
Praying for your child's welfare, character and success is a powerful way to show your love. One question, though: Does s/he know about your prayers? What if you shared those thoughts with your child?
When you discuss your prayers with your child, you offer a larger view of how you see the world and your relationship to God. Also, ask your child about his/her prayer needs.
Your child will change. Be his/her constant.
Now and then we all look at pictures of our children and see the changes that accompany growth. Mostly we smile, sometimes we laugh ("Really? That haircut?"). As your child matures in identity, his or her need for a parental anchor remains.
It has been said that during adolescence, children like to don the trappings of adulthood to see what fits and what meshes with their needs. No matter how a child navigates his or her youth and no matter how independent a child might be, the constancy of parental support amid a worldview of faith can offer deep, strong, roots and guidance that last a lifetime.
Brett McArdle works as the Content and Branding Manager for United Methodist Communications. He lives near Nashville with his wife and two children. He divides his spare time between creative writing, fitness and discussing the greatness of Alabama Crimson Tide football.
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