For School Success, Dont Coddle Your Kids

Parents want their children to succeed in school. However, sometimes their best intentions are misguided. Attempts to provide children with a wonderful life can, in fact, increase the stress of the entire family.

One of parents' most common mistakes is to want to make everything easy for their children. It's painful for parents to see their children struggle. If children never do anything difficult, however, they never learn that they can successfully meet a challenge.

Here are some things parents can do to promote their children's success in school:

? Make school attendance a family priority. Try to schedule doctors' appointments and family vacations when school is not in session. Have your child arrive at school in time to organize for the day.

? Show your child that you consider school to be important. Attend parent meetings and conferences. Talk with your child about school. Don't overemphasize grades.

? Read to and with your child. Let your child also see you reading alone.

? Either rule out or treat physical difficulties, such as vision problems, hearing problems, or attention deficit, that may impede learning.

? Don't overschedule your child. Be sure at least three hours between school and bedtime are free of extracurricular activities.

? Encourage healthy sleep patterns. Because of the changes their bodies are undergoing, adolescents actually require more sleep than younger children, perhaps nine hours per night.

? Provide your child with nutritious foods (limited in sugar, fats, caffeine, and additives). Be sure your child starts the day with breakfast.

? Make dinner a family activity, complete with conversation on a wide range of topics.

? Provide a place, with minimal distractions, for your child to study. Be sure the study area is well lit, well ventilated, and equipped with all the supplies your child is likely to need: pencils and pens, dictionary, ruler, stapler, etc.

? Establish a definite time each day for homework, reading, or other academic activities.

? Don't allow TV or video games in the morning before school. Limit total time for these activities to 10 hours per week.

? Don't give your child everything he or she wants. Doing so will teach the child that desires can be satisfied without work.

? Be sure your child has household chores to complete without reminders.

? Help your child develop the habit of writing all assignments in an assignment notebook. It works best if assignments are written on the date they are due.

? Help your child learn to organize time and materials. Begin to wean your child from this help as soon as he or she is able to assume partial responsibility.

? On nights before a test, have your child review material just before bedtime and then go to sleep without reading or listening to music. This will aid retention of material studied.

? Make homework your child's responsibility. This lets your child know that you recognize him or her as a capable person.

? Be sure your child gathers together each evening all the materials that he or she will take to school the next morning.

? Allow your child to experience the natural consequences of his or her actions. For example, don't retrieve things the child forgot.

? Have realistic expectations for your child. If his or her abilities are slightly above average, do not expect the child to be at the top of the class.

? Recognize that your child's teachers are striving for the academic, social, and emotional development of many children besides yours. Seating your child next to a best friend, for example, may not be in the best interest of the class -- or even of your own child.

? Recognize that there will be times when your child will be frustrated by a difficult task. Resist the temptation to solve the problem yourself. Your child will learn and grow from this experience and will emerge with confidence to face the next challenge.

A successful school year depends on the cooperative efforts of parents and teachers -- and, of course, on the students themselves. Each member of the team must fulfill his or her own responsibilities -- and allow the other members to fulfill theirs.

A parent and former teacher, Fran Hamilton is the author of Hands-On English, now in its second edition. Hands-On English gives quick access to English fundamentals and makes grammar visual by using icons to represent parts of speech. The book is for anyone 9 years or older, including adults. Fran also publishes companion products to Hands-On English and free e-mail newsletters: LinguaPhile, published monthly, is for people who teach and/or enjoy English; Acu-Write, published weekly, addresses common errors in English. Both are available at

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