Essential Tips for Parents: How to Help Your Child in School

Here are several tips to implement if you are looking for ways to help your child in school. Creating a plan for your children’s education requires more than a fully funded 529 Plan to pay for college. There are 13 incremental steps (kindergarten to grade 12) that lead up to college, and how to help your child perform well in school each year takes planning and consideration that should start when children are babies. Parents should continue to revise and augment these plans, but some problems can be prevented if parents make some deliberate choices early on for their children. It’s much easier to start on the right track than to have to change routes in the middle of the journey. Parents should make important decisions about how to nurture their children physically and how to convey that they value education.

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Physical Well-being

The easiest way to help your child in school is by ensuring your child’s physical well-being. It is vital that students feel good as they try to learn, both at school and at home. For starters, making deliberate choices about what your children eat will certainly improve their health, but it also helps children to concentrate better in school. In her WebMD article, “Top 10 Brain Foods for Children,” Jeanie Lerche Davis describes ten super foods that will help children do their best thinking at school. Included in that list are salmon, eggs, peanut butter, whole grains, oatmeal, berries (e.g., strawberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.), beans, colorful vegetables (e.g., tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, etc.), milk and yogurt (recent research suggests a tremendous vitamin D deficiency among children.), and lean beef (or meat alternative). Note the lack of sugar and white carbs. Making a commitment to serve the best brain foods to children will help your child in school.

Another critical consideration is the amount and quality of sleep that children get each night. Sometimes, parents will send a sleep-deprived child to school with the warning that the parent had better not hear about the child falling asleep in school, or they’ll ensure an earlier bedtime. Not only are these children inattentive; they’re also irritable and more inclined to be a discipline concern. Parents should not rely on contact from teachers about their sleepy children in school because a patient teacher is more inclined to assume that this is a one-time occurrence and probably won’t inform the parent each time. The fact is that children and teenagers need a lot of sleep each night. The National Sleep Foundation asserts, “…too many school-age children get less sleep than experts recommend–-about 9.25 hours/night for teens and between 9 – 11 hours for younger children (5-12).” The quality of sleep is important as well. If children are going to bed early enough but have sleep issues, it is unlikely that they are getting enough quality sleep. It is in their best interest for parents to seek professional help for their children if this is a concern. Getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep is second to proper nutrition in helping children perform better in school.

A third consideration for a child’s physical well-being has to do with brain development. Providing the “brain super foods” mentioned above are the base, but the proper functioning of the brain extends beyond that. Dr. Susan Hardwicke, a respected cognitive psychologist with 25 years of experience in the cognitive sciences, compares the brain to a laptop battery. The battery powers the computer well as long as it has a charge on it, but eventually, with continued use, it loses power and will shut down completely. It requires sleep, nutrition, and physical exercise to “charge” it up again. One of the things that deplete children’s’ brains quickly is too much electronic stimulation. The constant changes of images take place rapidly—about every 15 seconds--during television viewing and video gaming. This constant shifting requires quick adjustments in attention and focus, and this tires the brain, especially in children.

Children’s brains are still growing and will continue to grow even after adolescence—until age 25! The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children under age two should not watch any television (or video games or movies) because it hinders their brain development. Children older than two, the APA suggests, should have no more than two hours of quality viewing each day. Parents of children with attention and focus issues should greatly limit the amount of “screen time” that their children have to no more than an hour a day. Of course, this is not easy to enforce, but it’s crucial if they want to maximize their children’s performance in school. Certainly, modifications can be made: e.g., allowing them more viewing time on the weekends but requiring significant breaks; occasionally letting them have extra viewing time for a special broadcast; recording a program that the child wants to see for later viewing; etc. Nurturing their children’s brains is a relatively new concept for most parents, but it really should be part of the academic support that they provide for their children.

Valuing Education

Just as important as deciding how to enhance their children’s physical well-being, is the importance of conveying to their children how much they value education. This should be part of their children’s earliest memories. Does that mean that a parent should start home-schooling their toddler? Not in the way that you imagine, but a parent is a child’s first teacher. Parents can demonstrate that they value education by implementing structure and experiences in reading, time for studying, and partnering with teachers.

Reading

The foundation of a child’s education is how well they read. Let’s face it, good readers do well in school and poor readers do not. Even people who don’t enjoy reading can be good readers. To help your child in school, parents who don’t enjoy leisure reading still need to demonstrate its importance to their children. Children’s first reading “lessons” can begin in the womb. There is a body of research that supports the idea that the fetus responds to reading aloud. Even if parents don’t read to their unborn children, all children should be read to daily starting from the first few days of life until they can read on their own. Even then, emerging readers are delighted to show off their newfound skills by reading to their parents. What a motivator for them! To get an older, reluctant reader to improve, have him or her read to a parent or younger sibling as a meal is being prepared, for example.

Requiring a child to read consistently is very important, but it should not be a case of “Do what I say, not what I do.” So, parents will need to be early and consistent role models for their children. Also, it might be wise if parents don’t tell their children that they, themselves, don’t like to read when the children are young. If the child is a reluctant reader, they won’t be able to use that as a reason to avoid reading. If parents aren’t leisure readers, they can still let their children see them reading: e.g., reports for work, magazines, news articles, etc. Children should remember seeing their parents reading throughout their childhoods.

To help your child in school aside from being a good role model, an important ritual to establish is to implement a family silent reading time at least five days a week. That means that the television and other distractions are turned off, and everyone in the family grabs a book, a magazine, etc. at the same time. For 30 minutes, everyone reads. Sometimes, someone can read aloud a short passage that really excites or confuses him or her. Even the non-readers in the family can have an audio book to listen to (with headphones) while they follow along during this time so that this becomes routine to them as well.

Studies show that comprehension and vocabulary improve as a natural by-product of frequent reading. It’s the single, most important way for parents to increase their children’s reading levels. Being a good reader improves a child’s chances of doing well in all subjects, so parents would be wise to implement a reading focus that incorporates these strategies early in their children’s lives.

Study Environment

Once your child is school-aged, you can help your child in school by providing the best study environment for your children. Study time should be consistent and includes both homework AND studying! Most children think that completing written assignments is all they need to do, but they also need to study. The promise that a child can watch television or play video games “When you finish your homework” is a major reason that children do not study. Usually, there is the mad rush to complete the written work just so they can go do something more enjoyable. It should be noted here that parents need to help their children manage their time so that they do not have too many extracurricular activities each week. A good rule of thumb is no more than two extra activities—one physical and one non-physical is preferable--each week. Sometimes children are just overscheduled and overwhelmed doing too many things that they have nothing left when it’s time to study.

With firm understanding that children must devote the time to their schoolwork, many may ultimately resort to more desirable activities such as reading. If necessary, parents need to enroll their children in a study skills course because just sending an uninformed child to a room with the demand that they study is a frustrating waste of time. Even though children may want to study, children will resort to just looking at the pages and become more and more disillusioned with school and education in the process when these futile efforts do not lead to success at school.

At the very minimum, parents would serve their children well if they provide a quiet, well-lit location that is stocked with ample supplies. Adjustments may need to be made if the child requires more supervision. For example, children could study near the kitchen as a meal is prepared, but parents should limit distractions such as talking on the telephone and having the television on as much as possible until the child can handle study time without parental supervision. Having a set time and a set place for study is a very important part of the education plan that parents create for their children.

Teacher-Parent Partnership
Parents should view teachers as partners in their children’s education. That means that no disparaging comments about the teacher should be uttered in front of the child. (Of course, if needed, parents should seek administrative intervention for serious problems with a teacher but not with the child’s knowledge.) Parents need to be actively engaged in monitoring their children’s performance and progress.

It is a great idea to make themselves available to teachers in the most efficient way possible. One teacher-appreciated gesture is to provide the teacher with an email address for quick updates. It’s faster than telephone calls, and email communication guarantees that information is communicated in a timely manner. Playing phone tag can be a tremendous loss of time. Teachers also appreciate your providing them with timely updates via email. It makes communication easier.

Also to help your child in school, parents should pay attention to important dates. They would be wise to take the academic calendar that is given at the beginning of the school year and incorporate vacations, parent-teacher conference weeks, and report card dates (including interim report card dates) on the family’s calendar and/or their PDA’s (with alarms!). In the “busyness” of life, it is easy to lose track of time. Before they know it, weeks have passed without realizing it! It’s important that parents are aware of their children’s progress or lack of progress so that issues are not left unchecked too long. Unaddressed issues can mean permanent problems if they are not resolved quickly. If nothing else, parents should contact teachers during the report card dates if they are not getting them in a timely manner. Students who know that their parents are communicating and working with teachers regularly tend to perform better in school.

A well thought-out education framework that addresses their children’s physical needs and that obviously values education is good parenting and will help your child in school. Many times, parents fly by the seat of their pants and find themselves being reactionary instead of proactive. If their children happen to be natural self-starters, things work out rather well, but if their children don’t have this innate initiative, trouble ensues. The suggestions provided in this article can help parents establish a good framework for thinking about how to enhance their children’s education. The best advice is to start construction of this framework well in advance of the start of school, but these things can be implemented any time in order to help your child in school.

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