How To Parent Your Kids For a Good School Year!
Two weeks ago on the Eyshet Chayil Show, we discussed ways to help your kids get ready for the new school year.
I don't have any kids in school, but there's something very endearing about this topic to me (maybe because I always got so excited about those new notebooks). So here's a little more good advice from the good folks at Family Circle Magazine:
The Secrets to School Success
By Mary Garner Ganske
Kids who know how to get the work done not only do better in school, they also have happier lives. Here's what it takes to get them motivated.
The Importance of Motivation
[...]Motivation is not only important for academic success, it's also linked to a healthy sense of self. "Kids don't develop self-esteem by having their parents tell them how great they are," says David Walsh, PhD, author of No: Why Kids -- of All Ages -- Need It and Ways Parents Can Say It (Free Press). "They get it from feeling competent -- achieving goals, doing things for themselves."
Trouble is "the culture today sends the message that everything should be fast, easy, and fun," says Walsh. With the immediate gratification of instant messaging and TiVo, kids don't learn patience or determination. This makes it tough to tackle complex tasks, like solving geometry proofs or reading Shakespeare. Parents make things worse by doing for their children what their kids can, and should, do for themselves. "They don't want their kids to be discouraged or disappointed," says Walsh. "But these feelings are important building blocks for achievement." So how can you motivate your kids? We had experts develop a 10-step plan to jump-start the students in your house.
The 10-Step Program
1. Unleash a natural love of learning. There are two types of motivation: extrinsic (I'm going to study Flaubert so I can get an A on my English test) and intrinsic (I love 19th-century French literature and can't wait to study Flaubert). "There's nothing wrong with being motivated by external rewards -- straight A's, getting into a good college, even the promise of a new iPod. After all, adults work, at least in part, for the money," says Mel Levine, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School in Chapel Hill, and author of The Myth of Laziness (Simon & Schuster). "But kids should also have one or two subjects that really resonate with them. This builds 'motivation muscle.' Ideally their enthusiasm will spill over into other areas." Feed your child's passions: If she's fascinated by fashion, subscribe to fashion magazines, sign her up for a design class. If he loves to cook, help him look up recipes and prepare dishes for the family.
2. Be a cheerleader. Set an upbeat tone. "If parents are eager about learning, children are more likely to be," says Ron Clark, author of The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child (Hyperion). "Too many parents give off negative signals. They say, 'Fifth grade is going to be really hard' or 'I hated math when I was your age.'" Try to maintain a positive attitude toward your child's teacher. Yes, there are so-so educators, but belittling them in front of your child sends the message that she can slack off in that class. Instead, meet with the teacher. If you're still not satisfied, see a school administrator.
3. Set realistic expectations. Focus on effort rather than grades. If your child studies hard for a test and gets three answers wrong, that's fine because he tried. But if he doesn't prepare and gets three wrong, explain that you expect him to put more energy into studying. Insist that he do his homework or read a book for a minimum amount of time each night. (Ask the school what it recommends.)
4. Empower a diehard procrastinator. Encourage a foot-dragger to develop her own study routine. "I have children draw lines with the times of day next to them, then fill in what they're going to do each half-hour from the time school lets out until bedtime," says Myrna Shure, PhD, author of Thinking Parent, Thinking Child (McGraw-Hill). "They're much more likely to comply if it's their own idea." A schedule also takes nagging out of the picture. If your daughter is slotted to do math from 4:00 to 4:30, you don't have to get on her case at 3:00, when she's decompressing with a copy of Us Weekly.
5. Don't force kids in over their heads. Urging your child to overachieve isn't always the best approach. "Children are more motivated when they can accomplish a task without superhuman effort," says Dr. Levine. "Teachers tell me, 'This student will do better in math when he's motivated.' But I say, 'No, he'll get motivated when he starts doing better.'" In other words, the more success you have, the more you want to have. This doesn't mean your child should opt for easy classes or assignments. Just don't push so hard that he gets frustrated and gives up. The same goes for homework. If your son can't complete his science assignment without monumental help from you, either it's too challenging and needs to be altered, or he needs extra instruction from his teacher or a tutor.
6. Help, but not too much. If your child is having trouble with his homework, it's fine to act as a sounding board or point out which chapters he might reread to find the answer. But don't do the work for him. That undermines motivation ("Why bother working hard when Mom will do it for me?") and chips away at self-confidence ("I can't do it as well as she can, so I'm not going to try").
7. Prod -- don't push. Ask an underachiever to come up with ways he can be more diligent. Could he improve a subpar report by proofreading again or adding two more sentences? Rather than saying, "You obviously didn't study enough," when he comes home with a poor grade, say, in a neutral or compassionate voice, "How did you feel when you got that C?" Then ask him to plan a way to be more successful next time. "Most kids don't want negative consequences. They don't want to fail," says Shure.
8. Demonstrate your own studious side. "It's awfully difficult for kids to do their homework while their parents are watching TV," says Dr. Levine. There should be one hour every night, maybe after dinner, when everyone in the family is engaged in something brainy -- reading a book, finishing a sudoku puzzle, playing chess. If you've brought work home, or have a volunteer project to complete, be open with your kids about it. "If they see you exhibiting a strong work ethic, they're more likely to develop one as well," says Dr. Levine.
9. Learn as a family. Collaborate on activities that require your children to delay gratification and build their stick-to-it-iveness. For example, if you're planning to buy a new car, let your kids check safety records and investigate extras. Last spring I encouraged my girls to plant a vegetable garden. They spent hours determining what plants do well in our area, poring over seed catalogs, revising garden layouts, then digging, weeding, and watering. The final product -- a charming and abundant garden -- has been a source of delight and pride. That kind of success builds motivation.
10. Praise instead of punishing. If your daughter misses half the problems on a math test, you can still celebrate her progress. "What inspires kids is knowing that their parents are proud of them," says Dr. Levine. So display an A+ paper on the fridge or brag about your kids when they're in earshot. Just be sure you don't overpraise, advises Walsh. Saying "good job" for every worksheet completed dilutes the effect. If you decide to use monetary rewards, do so sparingly, so the focus stays on accomplishment rather than on material gratification. An occasional surprise -- a trip to a batting cage, a new pair of earrings -- is enough to underscore your enthusiasm. In my house I make sure rewards aren't too splashy and are at least a little bit educational -- a book of Mad Libs, a knitting kit, a jigsaw puzzle. Whatever you decide, the hope is that success eventually becomes its own reward, that a job well done will give your child the confidence and desire to reach ever higher.
Defrazzling an Overachiever
What about the perfectionist, the one who gets hysterical if she forgets her homework or brings home a B?
Tell your child that it's okay to make mistakes, that she doesn't have to get every answer right, says Mel Levine, MD, author of The Myth of Laziness.
Explain that all you expect is for her to continue working as hard as she always has. She can do only her best, no more.
*Calm pretest jitters with a line like, "You've been studying all evening. Now it's time to relax. Why don't you call Sally or read a magazine?"
*Focus on the process, not the grade. When she brings home schoolwork, "instead of responding, 'Wow you got an A,' say, 'So, you studied the Civil War. What was most interesting about that period?'" says Dr. Levine. You'll also be reinforcing that what she has learned is what counts.
*Remind her that grades aren't always in her control. Everybody has an off day or gets a teacher who rarely gives A's.