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How to Help Your Child Succeed

How to Help Your Child Succeed

A practical primer on being Chief Executive Believer in your child's potential.


It's back to school time and that doesn't just mean for your children, their teachers and principals. We parents are about to enter another ten months of car pooling, parent-teacher conferences, homework/crisis/stress management and overall provider of support, coaching and a shoulder to lean on. Keeping up with our many responsibilities can often sidetrack us from our most important role as Chief Executive Believer in our child's potential. Here are some recommendations for keeping your eye on the ball, and helping your child succeed in school this year.

1. Believe your child can do everything.

We are our children's most influential allies or critics. They know whether we believe in them and to what degree we are confident that they can succeed. If we convey confidence, they feel it. If we doubt them, they begin to doubt themselves. After all, they assume we have more experience in life and are supposed to be better judges of people.

"I can't" is just another way of saying "I can once I learn how."

Therefore never accept an "I can't." "I can't" is a myth. It's really another way of saying "I can once I learn how." If your child is resistant, ask him if a $1,000 incentive would make a difference. Chances are it definitely would, and that's how we teach them that they "definitely can". If you still have doubts whether they can, ask yourself if you were to receive a million dollars for showing them how to do it, could you?

2. Focus on skills first.

Teachers and subjects change every year, but the skills your child needs and uses every day essentially stay the same. Knowing how to take note takes, listen well, manage time and prepare for tests are the fundamental skills behind every academic success. Nevertheless, many students never master the learning/study process and end up struggling with the same issues.

Start by taking a look at your children's notes and asking yourself whether you would be able to score well based on those notes alone. Most students go into tests remembering their notes, not their class. If you would have trouble succeeding from those notes alone, you've found your first skill to work on.

3. Take pride in success that comes from effort, not lack of it.

Many parents take great pride that their children whiz through school without much effort. They shower their children with kudos for "being smart." What they don't realize is that they are sending an implicit message that "effort" is a sign of a lack of intelligence and that "working at it" is what weaker students do. These children often end up trying to protect their "smart identity" by staying away from learning experiences that put them at risk of needing to try and potentially failing.

The key to raising highly intelligent children is raising hard working children.

Recent studies show that our intelligence grows the more we learn. More effort produces more intelligence. Therefore the key to raising highly intelligent children is raising hard working children. Praise and acknowledge their work, and stay away from labels.

4. Teach them how to work.

If adults have a hard enough time managing all their priorities and responsibilities, then is it reasonable to expect our children to know how to keep up with theirs? Nevertheless many parents are frustrated and disappointed when their children are stressed out and overwhelmed. It's as if they expect them to calmly pull out their Franklin Planners and check off their next "to do." That's totally unrealistic.

Parents need to empathize with their child's struggle and then teach them what a work ethic is. Here's a suggested 6-step process to getting things done.

1. Acknowledge the painful transition from play to work.
It helps to acknowledge the effort, will and discipline it takes to pull away from friends and games and hunker down to work. It's a real skill. One way to build up this muscle is to tell your child you're going to time each night how long it takes for them to get going. Reward them when they cut down the transition time, and praise them for developing a good work ethic.

2. Systematize the process.
Decision making can be tough and tiring, and having to deliberate every night how to proceed is painful and a waste of time. Instead train your child the importance of a routine. It may be as simple as choosing a consistent order of subjects, or always starting with the easiest work first. Keeping to a homework ritual builds consistency and discipline.

3. Break the work down into little pieces.
While no one can completely avoid stress, we should never accept it as our modus operandi. It's natural for our children to get overwhelmed when there is a lot of work to do. Teach them the skill of breaking their homework down into smaller units, so they can experience a sense of progress. This builds stamina and pride of accomplishment in achieving small goals.

4. Set time goals
The first step to teaching your child time management skills is to start sensitizing him to how much time work takes. One simple tip is to have them guess how long they think it will take to finish a page of math, or chapter of reading. Most of the time children are surprised to discover that most activities take a lot less time than they imagined. Beating previous time goals also helps increase their energy and focus when doing the work.

5. Motivate with rewards
Our children need to learn that while we might not be motivated to do certain work, we can still motivate ourselves to get the job done. Learning what gets us excited so we can fulfill our responsibilities is an important life skill. A nightly treat or privilege, or a weekly chart that leads to some prize is often enough to get them into gear and begin to study.

6. Keep reminding them why you want them to succeed as students.
The skills necessary to become a good student are the same skills necessary to become good at anything else. Life is an ongoing journey into new situations where one's ability to listen, learn, absorb, retain and eventually master is a skill set for life. School provides our children with many opportunities to achieve success, build pride in their work ethic, and develop confidence that they can do and learn whatever they set out to achieve. Keep reminding them of how important learning is, and most importantly that you're right behind them every step along the way.

For more information, visit Rabbi Goldhar's website

September 6, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Anonymous, April 27, 2011 2:29 PM

such good common sense

This is such good common sense. Rabbi Goldhar's advice would be the best gift to give parents before their children even start nursery school. I would also like to see Rabbi Goldhar do a video of these simple parent/child learning techniques.

(6) Esther Gendelman, September 9, 2009 12:12 AM

I was searching for a condensed version of practical tips to offer my parent body on oreintation evening.

Thank you for summarizing the perfect message for parents on my oreintation evening.

(5) Anonymous, September 8, 2009 12:40 PM

Sports is a great motivator

Great article - I use some of it on my 3 children. Allowing your child to participate in sports can also be a great motivator. If they get their work done on time, they can attend the games/practices. Knowing a team schedule in advance teaches your child how to plan to make the games by doing his/her homework in a timely fashion. Before my son was on a team, he got mediocre grades. Now he goaltends for 3 teams a year and has consistently made honor/high honor roll. He even did assignments over the summer by emailing his teachers. Today is the first day back to school and he has already completed a month and half's assignments in Social Studies and read 300 pages in his Biology textbook. The Biology class is accelerated, and he didn't originally get selected for it. After pressuring his teacher that he could handle the challenge and would study over the summer, he got this approved. Just so you know, my son does get Resource room because he had speech delays related to sleep apnea in his formative years. This lead to a learning disability which we are working hard in closing the gap. I know plenty of other parents in similar situations that gave up on their children and the kids went nowhere with their lives. It is easy to blame the school system if your kid does not learn just from them. It is better to be proactive about it and do what it takes to get and keep them on track. I regard most teachers as "introducers", but the real teaching goes on at home.

(4) Zehava Somerstein, September 7, 2009 8:32 PM

Excellent article

I have been in education for over 40 years and rarely have I come across an article that so clearly lays out the road to succes.Parents and students take note!

(3) Debbie, September 6, 2009 7:09 PM

Thanks for a great article.

It's still the first week of school and I'm already feeling the stress. This article helps me calm down and focus a bit. I really appreciate the idea about effort and "working at it." I think I wish life could be easy for my child, when actually working hard is probably very good for her. Really school skills are life skills, as mentioned here. Good work!

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