At EdNavigator, parents often ask us what they can do to help their children succeed. Should they enroll their kids in math tutoring programs outside of school? Check every homework assignment? Play Baby Einstein videos for their toddlers? Volunteer in the classroom? They know that they have an important role to play, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed and hard to know what matters and what doesn’t.
With that in mind, we looked at the research, talked with our Navigators, and generated a list of nine parenting strategies that seem to make the biggest difference for students.
Set high expectations
Talented students rise to the challenge – so talk with your child about what you expect and keep raising the bar. Researchers have found that regularly communicating high academic expectations for your child (for example, telling them that you know they will go to a great college) has a bigger impact on student success than other parental actions like being very involved in homework.
Promote a "growth mindset"
Doing well in school takes more than just talent. It takes discipline, hard work and focus. Offer praise when you see your child trying hard, and say things like, “Great job! I know you worked really hard on that report,” rather than, “Great job! You are really good at writing” (which implies writing is something you are either good at or not, rather than a skill you can improve). When they get frustrated and say something like, “I just don’t know how to do this,” add “yet” to the end of the sentence: “You just don’t know how to do this… yet.”
Learning is exciting! Pay close attention to your child’s work in school and celebrate accomplishments and those “a-ha” moments of discovery. That means more than praising good grades or test scores. When they bring home a big project, ask them to show it to you and explain what they did. When they're excited about something they learned, ask them to explain it to you. Look for small opportunities to tell them how proud you are of their work as a student and the person they're becoming.
Seek out challenges
As a parent, you never want to hear your child say, “That class is so easy.” While you might feel proud, it’s probably a sign that they aren't being appropriately challenged. Register your child for the most challenging courses in school, including AP and honors classes. If your child is younger, tell their teacher that you want them to be challenged and stretched in class, and seek out new opportunities like student clubs or extracurricular activities that push them even further.
Make reading a daily habit
Reading is essential to learning, and numerous studies have shown that students who read more and enjoy reading do better in school. Go to the library regularly and make sure your child always has access to good books. Ask questions about what they're reading and suggest new things to read based on their interests. Librarians and English teachers can help offer ideas.
Create space for learning at home
Sometimes, this means literal space – finding a quiet, well-lit place in your home where your child can do homework and study without interruptions. Sometimes, it means reducing distractions, like limiting how much screen time they get each day, or turning down the music during homework time. Or it might mean ensuring your child gets enough sleep to focus on school. Most of all, it means clearly communicating that being a student is their top priority right now.
Get to know their friends
A student’s friends and peers can have a powerful impact on their success in school. Encourage your child to form friendships with kids who share your family’s commitment to education, expand your child’s perspective, and make it easier—not harder—to focus on learning.
Encourage personal interests
Curiosity is fuel for learning – and not everything worth learning gets taught in school. Find out what your child is curious or passionate about (coding? Video production? Dance?) and help them explore those areas by going to museums or events, finding books or videos on the topic, or looking for camps or classes where they can learn more. (Extracurriculars don’t have to be expensive, either! Here are some ideas for where to look for affordable opportunities.)
Keep it fun
High expectations are important, but so is giving your child room to breathe, have fun, and be a kid. Be serious about school but be careful not to overdo the pressure, and look for ways to help your child take a break through sports, arts, or other activities they love.
Run by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this parenting website focuses on, well, healthy children. Check out their resources for navigating conversations about puberty and much more.
National PTA Parents' Guide to Success
The National PTA offers these year-by-year guides to help parents understand what their kids should be working on in school.