When you think about how to help your child succeed in school, what comes to mind? It is hours of Kumon? A perfect science fair project? The best educational apps? A private tutor?
The truth is none of those things are the key to success in school. If it’s your kid’s jam and it works for your family, that’s great! I don’t Mom Shame. I support you.
- Related: No More Mom Shaming – free printable
I taught elementary school for 11 years in the inner-city and in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods. I taught kids who had all the advantages and kids who had all the cards stacked again them.
This is what I’ve discovered now that I’m a parent. The best way you can help your child succeed in school: teach them skills that support success into adulthood. Here are 11 ways you can help your child succeed in school.
Want to remember this? Pin for later!
1. Teach your children to be independent
From the moment our kids are born, the medical community puts intense pressure on parents. We have to make sure our babies flourish. But at some point in early childhood, we need to start fostering their independence.
There is no clear path on how to teach our kids these important skills – so I get it, the pathway is unclear.
Remember: the ultimate goal is to raise children to be adults and we need enough time to teach them all the skills to be independent.
When you teach your children to be independent, that means you don’t do anything for your children that they can do for themselves. You’re going to have to teach and reteach and remind for a while, but this is an important part of parenting.
So think about the routines you have during the day for your child and how they can learn to do more on their own.
They will need to return classroom supplies to the correct spot and listen to directions the first time. They will be expected to use the restroom independently and get their hot lunch in the school cafeteria.
Ideally, you can start teaching independence with routines when your children are toddlers and preschoolers. This mean they start dressing themselves and going potty on their own. It means they take their own backpack to the car.
Teaching independence also means you might need to purchase things that allow your child to be independent like plastic dishes and silverware they can take to the sink themselves. If you’re committed to using china and glass with your child, you might be more reluctant to give them independence.
Developing a solid routines at home provides the foundation for your children to learn self-management skills and ultimately, independence.
2. Create places for your children’s belongings
In order for your child to develop independence with routines, they need to learn where their stuff goes. So if you haven’t created designated places for your children’s belongings, this is a great time to start.
At school your child need to keep track of their belongings and put them in the right place. Your kindergarten student will be expected to turn in a homework folder the correct basket, place their lunch box in the correct spot, and hang their coat and backpack in a cubby. So give them a lot of practice with this skill at home.
The first four steps of my daughter’s after school routine include: put shoes away, hang up back pack, get out lunchbox, and get out homework folder.
3. Give them chores
Somehow in the race for college admissions, a lot of us parents started thinking that chores weren’t as important as team sports or homework.
Research has found that chores are actually more accurate predictor for adulthood success than academic achievement! Chores develop grit, resilience, problem-solving, responsibility as well as a sense of community.
In your child’s class, they will also have chores like wiping the tables or organizing the class library. They’ll be expected to clean up their own supplies. So we can teach them this at home.
Of course, there will be exceptions, but for the most part you want to teach them to care for themselves and their belongings starting at around two years old. For toddlers, this means putting the toys back in the baskets or on the shelf, tossing dirty laundry in the hamper, or placing plastic bowls or plates in the sink after meals.
Chores support your child’s success by teaching skills necessary for self-management.
4. Teach your children to advocate for themselves
While many of us don’t want to helicopter parent, sometimes we do that because our children don’t know how to express their concerns with adults at school themselves. We want our children to feel they can approach adults at school with their concerns, and we want to make sure it isn’t dismissed as tattling.
Teaching them how to advocate for themselves starts at home. The first way to do this is to start listening to your children. I know I was not allowed to express my concerns as a child – that was called “talking back” in the 1980s.
So explain to your children that if they have a concern, they can respectfully address you and you’ll listen. When I taught 2nd grade, I told my students: “I will make mistakes. Adults can be wrong. You can say, ‘Excuse me, Mrs. Wahlgren, I’d like to talk to you about a concern.”
With my own children, we use the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model in Ross Greene’s Raising Human Beings.
When we repeatedly have the same conflict, this is what we do in a nut shell:
- I use empathy and help my children articulate their concern.
- I express my expectation and my concern for it.
- We collaborate to find a solution that meets our concerns.
Teaching your children to advocate for themselves is going to be a long process, so just start planting and nurturing the seeds now.
NOTE: Your child will likely still be apprehensive to discuss a problem with a teacher unless you are blessed with someone truly exceptional. So email the teacher and ask her to speak with your child about the concern.
5. Allow them opportunities to problem solve with peers
At school, your child’s teacher will probably have 20 other students to help. She won’t always be available to help mediate every peer interaction (although you should definitely communicate with the teacher when you have a concern).
When children can solve simple conflicts with peers like how to share the markers or when to get a turn with a favorite picture book, they are better able to focus on their academic work. However, if they worry or have to wait for a teacher’s assistance, they will miss learning opportunities.
Plus when our kids are older, in college or in the workforce, they need the skills to navigate conflicts with peers. They need to know how to tell their roommate that the loud music at 5am bothers them, or to ask the slacking co-worker to do their share.
So to help your child be more successful, don’t rush in when your children are fighting. When you’re hosting a playdate and you notice your child’s peer is controlling the game or imagine play, keep your mouth shut. As long as no one is getting physically hurt, allow them the chance to problem solve. Trust that you will know when it’s time to step in and coach.
6. Encourage healthy habits
I know you’ve been doing this since your children were toddlers, but teaching healthy habits helps children be more successful in school.
Sick kids don’t learn well at school; you know what it’s like to try to go to meetings or write a report when you’re sick. Or if you’re a stay-at-home-parent, you know how hard it is to do regular tasks. Sick kids also miss more school.
So make sure you’re teaching your kids about thorough hand washing. Teach them how to use a Kleenex and sneeze in their elbows.
Limit screen time, encourage exercise, and teach them to pack a balanced, healthy lunch. All of these habits will go a long way towards making your kids healthy so they can succeed in school.
7. Create a solid homework routine
Even as a former teacher, developing a solid routine for the small amount of kindergarten homework was a struggle for our family. We also have daily speech and OT homework for our daughter, so finding a balance was HARD.
Then I read a fantastic e-book by a follow blogger: Drama Free Homework. This book was a game-changer for me! I gathered several tips and the FIRST NIGHT I tried them, we had immediate results.
Now there is a lot of debate about whether or not homework is even evidence-based or appropriate for elementary-aged kids, but here’s the deal: it is a super useful tool for developing grit, time and project management, and coping skills.
8. Have a solid bedtime routine
Did you know that children with sleep issues or who are chronically overtired are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD? Poor quality sleep can cause or make attention problems worse.
I’m no medical expert so please consult your child’s doctor if you have any concerns about the quality of your child’s sleep. One of our children sees a sleep specialist and once we were able to address the sleep issues, this child’s daytime attention increased significantly.
To get a good night sleep, make sure your elementary-aged kids (6- 11 years old) are getting the recommended 9 -11 hours sleep. Turn off screens two hours before bedtime and make sure you’re not serving caffeine or sugar in the evenings (think chocolate or soda).
A good bedtime routine can really help children settle into a good night’s sleep, too.
9. Support the learning at home
In order to help your child succeed in school, it’s important to support the learning at home. The main way you can do this is read the information that is sent home. It’s so simple but many busy parents don’t realize how beneficial it is.
For example, my child’s elementary school uses the language of “Red Choices and Green Choices” to discuss poor and good behavior choices. This helps remove the shame that comes from making a poor choice in order to devote more attention into correcting the choice and making better choices in the future. This strategy incredibly useful for our home life, and it helps reinforce what’s taught in school.
Similarly, for children who are learning to read, the teacher will send home information about what to do when your child gets stuck on words. Reading this information will make practice at home more successful.
When I taught we were required to send weekly newsletters. It did feel frustrating and defeating when parents would ask questions addressed in those letters, so this is another way you can support your child’s teacher. She’s writing it to help you, so please read it!
10. Allow acceptable failures
As contradictory as it seems, to help your child succeed in school, you really need to allow your child to fail in elementary school. Kids need some life lessons from making mistakes in order to develop the skills for success.
But elementary school is SO low stakes. The worst consequence is maybe some missed recess or a poor homework mark on the report card. As my daughter’s kindergarten teacher said, “I promise a poor report won’t keep your child out of Harvard.”
Don’t do the homework for your kids! You don’t need to check it every night. Trust the system you set up with your child. It they persistently fail, then you can address it with the teacher at another time.
To be clear: we’re not talking about unacceptable failures like bullying or growing grade levels behind in academic skills. Those are serious issues and you should address them with the teacher immediately.
Acceptable failures means you’re providing the opportunity to develop grit which is critical to life-long success. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, read the book by former Stanford dean and parent of two, Julie Lythcott-Haims, How to Raise an Adult.
11. Think twice before you rescue
Along with allowing acceptable failures, natural consequences are some of the best teachers to help our children succeed in school.
- Your children forget their lunch box; they can buy hot lunch or be hungry.
- Your son left his homework folder at home; he can turn in the school work the next day.
- Your daughter chose to wear boots instead of running shoes on PE day; she can sit out and watch.
This is how they will learn – not from you rescuing them.
You’re going to have to use your best judgement with this. My daughter is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts so when she forgot her lunch box in kindergarten, I took it to school. Now in first grade, she has money in her lunch account and I trust the teachers could help her make safe choices if she forgets her lunch box again.
Free Printable “Ten Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in School”
Grab this printable to remind yourself of the many ways you can help your child succeed in school. And congratulate yourself – if you’re reading this post, you’re really invested in helping your child be successful.