Sunday, January 16, 2022

As the school year begins, parents are often confronted with mixed emotions. The excitement and optimism of new beginnings can at times be challenged by the many questions and uncertainties that surround the academic experience. Some questions may include:

How will my child deal with new academic surroundings?

How do I know that my child will be happy in school?

What will I need to do if my child struggles academically?

How often should I be communicating with my child’s school?

These doubts and questions can often be remedied by resolving to become a complete partner in your child’s academic life. As in any many areas of child development, parental involvement is crucial to the academic success of children. Beyond the practical elements of securing the child’s particular needs, parental involvement conveys the message of ‘I believe in you’ to your child. This belief can be very helpful in helping the child overcome different academic struggles. Furthermore, serving as your child’s advocate can also ensure that specific problems are addressed in a timely fashion.

I would like to present a series of tips as to how parents can become ‘partners’ with their child’s educational growth.

It is important for parents to understand the particulars of their child’s schedule. How many hours of learning are in the morning? Are there any breaks for my child to play outside? Is my child going to be pulled out of class for academic support? Knowing the details of a child’s schedule can help parents to prepare their children for academic transitions and potential difficulties. Let’s take for example the parents of Reuven who became deeply concerned that their child was bringing home failing grades in English. As they assessed the issue, they began to realize that Reuven was not receiving many of the academic supports that were part of his original schedule! The ability of the parents to follow up with the school was predicated on their understanding of all of the initial supports that had been originally established for their son.

Parents should assist their children in normalizing initial adjustments. Entering a new grade presents many different academic and social challenges. Workloads may increase, and as a result, academic struggles may arise due to new academic expectations. As parents, we can help our children to plan accordingly for these adjustment periods.

Parents should work with their child on specific academic goals that may require additional strengthening. While some children will adjust to learning how to take notes, organization and time management, other children need reinforcement in these areas. Teaching your child how to create a nightly academic schedule, how to prioritize assignments, and how to organize all of the information that they receive from teachers can be very beneficial to keeping your child on track in school. Parental reinforcement of these skills can also allow children to have an internal sense of control when adversity arises. The ability to master specific academic skills allows children to feel that they are capable to independently deal with challenges if they arise.

Helping your child to do their homework is a way to join with your child in their academic experience. Beyond homework assignments, a parent’s encouragement and positive reinforcement can assist a child to feel confident in his academic abilities. From a very young age, our children crave the attention of their parents. Additionally, the ability of parents to attend to the needs of their children reinforces feelings of love and warmth in our children’s minds.

Encouraging your child to get involved in after -school activities can help a child to feel more connected to the school. While participation may include other family challenges, encouraging your child to stay for something like a Thursday Night Mishmar can provide the child with new opportunities to meet new friends and to connect to a rabbi or teacher. Encouraging your child to try out for a team or participate in a club can also be a great way for the child to have a little break from school academics and create new friendships. It is not uncommon for a child to lack the assertiveness or initiation skills to do this on his own. As parents, we may need to gently ‘push them’ to try out a team or get involved with a school club. Informal experiences can be very powerful to a child’s academic experience.

Parents should help their children to identify appropriate outlets for relaxation and recreation. The challenges of the educational experience can at times best be addressed when a child feels relaxed and rejuvenated. Promoting physical exercise or other forms of recreation can help a child to ‘recharge their batteries’ during stressful academic times. Furthermore, promoting healthy eating or a routine bedtime procedure can help the child to be physically prepared for a long day of school.

These points highlight the importance of parental involvement in their child’s academic experience. By becoming partners with our children’s education, we send a very powerful message related to our desire to be involved in a major part of their life. Identifying ways to work with our children can promote feelings of closeness between parent and child. These feelings of closeness can be utilized to bring out the inner potential of each child.

By Mark Staum, LCSW

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