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How Do I Set Up My Child for Success at School?

After spending 25 years as a principal at primary, elementary and secondary schools, I have found that it is crucial for the school and parents to work together for the good of the child. There are several mud puddles on the road to success that are easily stepped in. Below are three puddles I have encountered frequently, with some practical suggestions to help you avoid them:

  1. Child is not ready to learn when they arrive at school. 
    Readiness to learn hinges on preparedness. It helps if parents talk positively and excitedly about the new school year. A positive attitude and excitement are contagious; if your child arrives at school expecting great things, the likelihood of him or her finding them will be increased.Readiness to learn focuses on having materials organized. The night before each school day help your child get learning materials, homework, messages to and from the teacher, ready so there are no unfortunate experiences when expectations are not met. Lunch is crucial; no matter if it is a packed lunch, purchased hot lunch, or a free or reduced price lunch, take care of that beforehand in order to avoid any hint of embarrassment for your child.Ready to learn means minimizing stress. Going to school is a stressful especially if the child feels inadequate in any regard. Individualism is fine, but most children feel more secure if they believe they look and dress much like their peers. It is not necessary to have them in the latest styles and fads, but if they are seriously different in their own minds they may interpret that negatively. If they are one of the fortunate ones to speak a language other than English, try to interpret that for them as a strength not a weakness, even if they struggle with English. Bilingualism is a wonderful asset in our culture. Help them see the value and beauty in that, rather than just the challenge they may feel.
  2. Child arrives at school with a negative attitude.
    Children are not created negative. Negativism is a learned behavior. I have always cautioned parents to speak positively about school in front of their children. If you had bad experiences in school, it is very easy to transfer that feeling to your children. If you have a concern with school – nearly everyone does at some time or another, don’t share that with your child. It is an adult issue. You certainly should advocate for your child, it is your absolute responsibility and you do have expertise to share; however, it needs to be done privately with your child’s teacher and principal.Be careful not to be a ‘helicopter parent’ who hovers over your child. If you volunteer in your child’s room, make sure you deal with other children not just your own. Emphasize your sense of humor…learning is fun and the classroom needs to be filled with laughter. Worrying about your child is normal parental behavior, but remember your child is far more resilient than you think. It is common to feel, “the world is so big and my child is so small”. That well may be true but most of us manage quite well with positive support.Get to know your child’s teacher on a first name basis. Look at what challenges them in the classroom. Those things would challenge you too if you were teaching there. What could you say or do to support them in this often thankless job? They will likely remember your support when they see your child.
  3. Child arrives at school fearful. 
    You can expect the first day of class to be stressful for your child. We all fear the unknown. You will have to project calm and confidence and be filled with reassurance that ‘things will be just fine’ even when you are fearful on the inside. Your child needs to know you will be there at the end of the day. Take time to ask them how their day went and listen. Maybe some special celebration is in order when they come home that first day, or most any day for that matter.One thing that tends to leave a scar on the child’s very soul is perfectionism. It is okay for kids to mess things up – it is beyond okay – it is normal. Mistakes can be celebrated as an effort for trying. If your expectations for your child are unreasonably high, they will affect the spirit of your child. The will of your child may be strong, but their spirit is made of eggshells and can be easily crushed. They need encouragement and support. There is a common myth out there that tells us that the most important thing is that children excel in academics at school. It is a myth. Often the average person academically out performs the intellectual giant because we are integrated social people and need to be in touch with our social, emotional, and spiritual sides just as much as academics. I have found unrealistic academic expectations to hinder holistic development of the child. No child can be great at everything, but every child can be good at something. You have the opportunity to find that something and accentuate it for your child’s sake.
    You have done a lot of hard work with your child, so send them off to school with confidence.