A number of parents ask the same question framed a thousand different ways: How can I help my child to succeed in school? It’s a good question, but perhaps not the right one. A better question might read as follows: How can my child help themselves to succeed in school with my support?
Please understand that I am in no way discounting the role that loving parents, grandparents, and others play in a student’s school success. Trips to the library, a quiet spot in which to do school work, and a safe and stable home are critically important to any child, and we must encourage families to do more to support their children during their school years.
However, providing all of the above and oodles of encouragement do not necessarily translate into school success—which drives anxious parents to distraction. In fact, more than occasionally precisely the opposite seems to be true, and parents are left wondering why all their best efforts to produce a scholar who becomes a productive citizen have come to naught.
Could it be possible that too much love and attention, as well-intended as it may be, is sometimes be detrimental to the ability of children to think—and learn—for themselves?
For example, is it possible to help a child too much with schoolwork? I well remember dealing with research papers that more than likely were written by a parent instead of a student. Would it have been better for that teenager to have struggled to produce work that, although far from perfect, was theirs and theirs alone so there was an opportunity to learn from the assignment?
Could it be unhealthy to attack your child’s teacher when a D appears on a report card? Is there any possibility that the student worked beneath their capabilities and you are allowing the blame for poor performance to be placed on someone else’s shoulders? Do you want your children to learn that failure is always someone else’s fault because your first instinct is to rush to their defense?
Although it is certainly generous to send a child to an academic, music, or sports camp, will any of it be appreciated if the child has no personal stake in the outcome of the experience that is so lovingly offered? Would a child, for example, work harder if required to earn some portion of the privilege that might otherwise be taken for granted? Parental support can easily turn into something less attractive if the student is not taught that the right to enjoy an activity also means there is a responsibility to cherish the opportunity it offers.
Education is, in the final analysis, an exercise in self-reliance. If schools are to produce scholars, students must do their own work, accept and learn from their shortcomings, and be allowed to fall down in order to learn how to get right back up. As tempting as it is for a parent to wrap a child in a soft warm blanket of unconditional love and approval, it is more than likely not going to produce anything other than spoiled and willful children who will turn into a frustrated—and frustrating—adults who will wonder why the grown-up world so infrequently conforms to their whims and desires. Unless your game plan is to raise your child to live in the spare bedroom of your retirement home, a little kick in the pants during their school years might not be a bad thing.
Sitting up late to finish a difficult homework assignment, failing to plan time properly and missing a deadline, and realizing it might have been a good idea to take more careful notes in class to avoid a poor grade are not necessarily pleasant—and there will be some pain and tears involved in the learning processes these experiences engender. These are, however, lessons that must be learned sooner rather than later.
It is often pointed out that good habits are just as easy to learn as bad ones. Perhaps it would be better for a few of our children to learn the good habits of responsibility and realism in school rather than well into their 30’s when they may have already made quite a mess of their lives through bad habits imparted by parents whose overwhelming love was a hindrance rather than a help.