32 Things To Teach Your Children so They Are Successful in School
As part of my Education Reformation, The Never-Give-Up Initiative, I have mentioned the equal balance of responsibility among students, teachers, and parents. The greatest obstacle children face in their achievement of educational success is the misconception that teachers will teach them everything they need to know. Teachers must teach their content area, but they cannot just pour that information into students’ brains. Students have to be prepared to receive the knowledge, and they must have the desire to apply that information.
That’s where parents’ roles are crucial. Instead of expecting that teachers can somehow miraculously get a child to listen, when he hasn’t listened to his parents for 5-10 years, parents can be proactive in creating the best scenario for all involved. It’s never too late to teach and enforce these necessary skills/traits.
Let me start by saying I’m not the perfect parent, by any means. This list comes more from my experiences as a teacher and what my students have told me, shown me, and not shown me, than from my “perfect” parenting skills. As a matter of fact, I used to be one of those parents who had a hard time saying no to my children. I was a parent who didn’t follow through on directives, who felt guilty for taking away a beloved toy or privilege when my child was disrespectful. But I’m not that parent any longer. I have seen the characteristics of successful students, and the mistakes I was making as a parent were going to cripple my children academically. I have been making changes as a parent, and I invite and encourage other parents to do the same.
I’ve broken up the list into easier, more digestible posts: The first post concentrates on what to teach for learning-ready behavior (academic and social).
In order for students to be successful in school, here are some characteristics parents can teach their children to improve their odds for success:
- Teach them to listen: We have so many children in school who are not really listening to their teachers or peers. They are the students who say to their teachers, “You didn’t tell us to do that.” Or “You never went over that.” Granted, there are times when teachers do indeed forget to announce an assignment or go over information, but when other students did get the information, it’s a sure indication that it’s the listener’s error, not the teacher’s. Teaching them to listen, to focus on the speaker’s words, will guarantee that students will get the information they need.
- Teach them to follow directions: The common denominator of successful students is their ability to follow directions. This skill goes hand in hand with listening. If a student does not listen, he will not know how to complete the task. When teaching children to follow directions, make sure they can follow oral and written directions. Some children listen better than they read, or vice versa, but they should be able to do both well.
- Teach them how to talk to adults: Children who cannot talk to adults will have a hard time in school. These are the students who cannot ask their teachers for help because they are too shy or feel weird talking to adults. Teachers are not mind readers; they don’t know if a student is struggling until the student says something.
- Teach them to respect adults: There are so many students who are disrespectful to adults; it’s truly shocking. Students who cannot use polite words, who yell or snap at adults as if they are peers, or who play the “whatever” card with their teachers will not get far. Teachers generally don’t tolerate that kind of disrespect, which makes it harder for those students to get the attention they need.
- Teach them to respect peers: Having positive relationships in school impacts students’ ability to function in school. Drama is caused by lack of respect, plain and simple. Honestly, students who are nasty to other students may appear like they have control, but no one really likes them. Teaching children how to respect peers will get those children to school, help them to have great relationships, and help them benefit from collaboration, a necessary learning tool. I tell my children they don’t have to be friends with everyone, but they must be respectful to everyone. Life in school is much easier when students have respect for each other.
- Teach them to be kind without being pushovers: Doing this right can be tricky, but it is absolutely necessary that children are kind, without being an easy target for abuse. Students who can be kind to others without being “used” by less studious students have a strength and maturity that will serve them well, which will then extend beyond high school.
- Teach them to apologize sincerely: A heart-felt apology goes a long way. And let’s face it, everyone makes errors in judgment every once in a while. Students who know how to apologize to teachers and their peers have better relationships with them. It may be hard to apologize, but students who can do it sincerely are trusted, even after an error in judgment. Students who avoid apologies are not trusted. Students who are not trusted start to feel defeated and hopeless, which leads to worse decisions. A sincere apology can stop the descent before it starts.
- Teach them to tell the truth: If there is one thing that can destroy a student’s standing with teachers and peers, it is being a liar. Children start out lying because they don’t want to lose their parents’ love; if not corrected—with love—it will quickly escalate to lying to friends and teachers to get approval. Sadly, once a student is marked as a liar, he or she will lose trust and respect, which leads down the same path as a student who can’t apologize sincerely.
- Teach them to stand up for themselves: Obviously, not all children will be respectful and kind to each other; it will be necessary, at some point, for a child to stand his or her ground. Parents need to have conversations with their children about when it will be necessary to stand up to a bully, and then give them the tools, words, and confidence to say enough is enough.
- Teach them to stand up for others: Teaching this can be tricky as well. How do we teach our children to stand up for someone else without turning into bullies themselves? There is a fine line, but it’s necessary to know where that line is. Students who are not afraid to protect a weaker person have the makings of true leaders. We want our children to be leaders, not followers, and this skill will ensure they stay on that path.
- Teach them to be proactive: Students who are proactive are preparing themselves for school work before a teacher assigns it: They ask clarifying questions before they leave school; they notify the teacher of a planned absence and ask for the work they will miss; and they read more than the assigned chapters in a book, knowing they have projects or essays due the following week. These students will never fall behind or get overwhelmed because they anticipate the issues that may arise.
- Teach them the necessity of working hard: A new trend in student achievement (according to students and parents) seems to be that even minimal effort should be rewarded with an A. If students want A’s they need to be willing to put in the hard work necessary to get that A. It is unfortunate that parents are supporting this trend because it leads to the even worse trend of students only caring about the grade, not the learning. Students who don’t value working hard will be susceptible to cheating, which will lead to more severe consequences as they get older.
- Teach them the importance of a job well done: Students who only get the job done turn in shoddy work. Students who want to turn in a job well done will make sure every element of a project or essay has been checked and rechecked. These students look up words and grammar rules before turning in an essay. They work on a number of drafts and turn in a final essay, rather than turning in a first-attempt rough draft. Students who received a D- in a class got the job done (they passed), but they certainly didn’t learn anything well. We are seeing the consequences outside of school from those students who think just getting the job done is what’s important. Employers are noticing the lack of care going into job applications; colleges are appalled by the errors in application essays.
- Teach them the necessity of waiting their turn: Taking turns is certainly something parents try to teach their children from an early age, but how does this lead to success in school? Students who know when it’s their turn to talk don’t waste time waiting and thinking about their questions; these students are listening to the lecture, writing down notes, and listening for the answer to questions that are formulating in their minds. At the appropriate moment, these students ask the questions that were not answered. Also, students who wait their turn don’t walk away impatiently when their needs are not instantly met by a teacher who is talking to another student. Students who wait their turn will always have an opportunity to succeed.
- Teach them patience: Obviously, waiting their turn takes patience, but patience is needed when students are learning new concepts, especially with students who normally achieve success easily. Children who are extremely bright might give up on a class if they don’t get an A on everything they turn in; patience will help them stick with the class, concept, or skill. Students also need patience to deal with personalities (teachers and peers) with whom they may not get along. There will be personality conflicts; students will dislike teachers; teachers will dislike students; however, this fact should never impede the learning process. Patience will help students deal with these conflicts so they can be successful wherever they are.
- Teach them to pick good friends: Instilling in children the desire to be popular is one of the worst things a parent can do. Popularity can lead to more problems than necessary (more on this in a future post). Instead, teach children to look for a few friends who are loyal and true, who have the same interests and morals, and who have the same academic goals. Not only is trying to be friends with everyone impossible, it is also the perfect way for a child to never know who he or she truly is. This is not to be confused with being kind and respectful to peers. They should still do that, but having true friendships should be limited to those who have the same goals. They will sharpen each other and challenge each other to become better and more successful.
- Teach them accountability: Students who are not afraid to answer for something they have done are more likely to make better decisions as they get older. When students say, “Yes. I copied his homework instead of doing it myself,” they are looking at the action honestly and allowing themselves to pay a consequence that will help them make better decisions in the future. If students cannot admit to wrongdoing for small things, and think they got away with it, the trouble they can cause and get into will intensify exponentially as they get older. Eventually, the lack of accountability will catch up with them.
- Teach them responsibility: Students need to know what their responsibilities are. So many students have skewed beliefs about their own responsibilities, especially in education. Students not only need to show up to class, they need to come prepared with all materials for that class; they need to be rested and ready to learn; and they need to find a way to connect with the material the teacher presents. Successful students know this is their responsibility; students who struggle sit passively in class, when they choose to show up, waiting for the teacher to entertain them and give them a reason to care.
- Teach them thankfulness: Without gratitude, children will never truly know happiness. Teaching children to be happy with what they have instead of always wanting something more will give them security and strength in who they are. That’s not to say children shouldn’t dream of a glorious future; of course we want them to dream big, but we don’t want them to take for granted the beautiful things they already have. Being thankful for little things will give them an appreciation for all of life. Students who are thankful find success in every step they make towards fulfilling their goals; it serves to motivate them to stay focused on the positive, instead of being deterred by negative thoughts. Happiness is found throughout the journey, which is a true measure of success.
- Teach them compassion: Without empathy, children will do and say horrendous things, and not understand why their actions and words are hurtful. Compassion serves to improve relationships with peers and teachers; compassion serves as a compass for moral choices. Successful students use their compassion to identify with struggles in history, literature, and science; if they can make connections on a personal level with what they are learning, the knowledge sticks with them. They can access compassionate knowledge better than the rote memorization knowledge.
- Teach them acceptance: First, teach children to accept the differences in themselves and others. Narrow-minded beliefs destroy relationships. So many of the problems in school begin with lack of acceptance. Remember, children don’t have to be friends with everyone, but they must be kind to everyone. Understanding that people have different upbringings, that individual choices are what we should strive for, that forced compliance destroys the unique beauty of individuals creates a safe world. Students who have a healthy sense of self-worth won’t feel it necessary to tear others down. Second, teach children to accept their circumstances, even when it doesn’t appear to be fair. So much time is wasted by students who can’t accept a lower grade or a project’s timing that they miss out on having to dig deep to find the strength to persevere in order to accomplish the task successfully.
- Teach them to connect with what they are hearing: Students may be in class and show all the signs of listening, but if they aren’t connecting with what they are hearing, they might as well be somewhere else. Asking children to repeat information given to them is a good start, but then ask them to apply what it means: “I need to clean my room before I can hang out with my friends. That means, when Joey knocks on our door in a half hour, I won’t be able to play basketball with him if my room isn’t clean.” That’s a simple parenting directive. What does it look like in class? In English class, it may look like this: “I need to put a comma and a conjunction between two independent clauses. That means, I don’t need a comma in the sentence, ‘Sam went to the park and then to the store’ because it is only one independent clause.” Listening is a good start; however, they need to connect and apply what they are hearing.
- Teach them to ask good questions: Asking questions and asking “good” questions can be two very different things. Questions that help students connect to the information are good questions. Why were the Puritans so stupid? vs. Why didn’t Hester Prynne just move to another town or state? We want students to move away from the judgmental, silly questions and move towards the clarifying questions that bring understanding. Asking good questions is a sign that students are connecting with what they are hearing.
- Teach them to write things down: It is never too early (or too late) to teach your children to do this. Note taking is an integral part of learning; students should start every class with opening their notebooks with pen/pencil in hand. At all levels of high school teachers still have to remind students to take out their notebooks. That should be a given, not a daily command. Parents can show children how vital this is by asking them to write out to-do lists, to take notes on the things they are responsible for at home, to write down places they hope to visit someday or jobs they’d like to have some day. Anything that will show children that writing down thoughts will make them concrete and unforgettable, or at least accessible.
- Teach them to be curious: Curiosity goes beyond the required material in class. Teachers do their best to present the most important information, which leaves a world of information teachers cannot teach; however, that extra information may be the hook that sparks a child’s imagination and/or passion. Reading Ben Franklin’s Autobiography is essential in helping students understand Franklin’s role in American Literature, but a student’s curiosity might push him to research the different inventions Franklin created in his lifetime, which could spark a child’s creativity. Teaching children to look up these interesting elements help them to discover who they are and create a love for research.
- Teach them to love learning: If I could ban any sentence spoken by students in school, it would be “This is boring.” It is more and more common to hear students say that. I often reply with, “Only boring people get bored.” But seriously, how can knowledge be boring? How can opening the minds of great thinkers and delving into their philosophies numb young minds? Simple, they’ve never been taught to love learning. Unfortunately, those students who remain bored throughout life will also be boring people; they will have nothing interesting to talk about. On the contrary, a love for learning will give them plenty of fodder for class discussions, essays, and future office parties.
- Teach them to love language: Young children are primed to love language. They get excited over big words or silly sounding words or the beauty of the sound of words. They love to learn foreign languages for the same reasons. However, somewhere down the road all that excitement disappears. Language stops being fun. It’s never too late to encourage that love again. Find words together that are fun to say and break them up into their stems. Find sentences that are beautifully written and talk about why they evoke that response. Learn foreign languages together. Students who love language will easily build an immense vocabulary. They will have a better grasp of grammar and written language, which will transfer into their oral communications.
- Teach them to love numbers: The understanding of math concepts will determine children’s placement throughout school. If they are strong math students, they will be tracked with the strongest students in the school. How do students become math wizards? They learn to love numbers! Play dice games; create fun with fractions; have contests with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts; teach them fun ways to remember math facts. Chances are if parents are having fun with their children, children will be having fun as well, which will lead to a love for numbers.
- Teach them to memorize facts: Memorization is essential to a successful education! Without memorization of key facts, students will spend an inordinate amount of time looking things up or using calculators. Students are coming to high school without knowing their math facts or the dates of the Civil War. They can’t remember the chemical compound for salt or who said, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Without these facts memorized, they can’t get to the next level of synthesis and/or application. Simple memorization games help build that muscle, but quizzing children on their facts can also create a fun car activity on road trips, showing them that knowledge is important and fun.
- Teach them Biblical references: For some parents, this might be where they draw the line. But please, hear me out. Students who have a working knowledge of Biblical references (notice I am not saying Biblical faith) do better in school. Why? Because so much of what we read and study in school has its foundation in Biblical teaching. Almost every piece of literature has a Biblical allusion. Our country’s and world’s history sits on a Biblical foundation. The fear that teaching anything in the Bible might lead to forcing a religion on a child has kept teachers from discussing the important stories, which has created reading comprehension problems in students of all ages. Here is one example: While reading Patrick Henry’s “Speech to the Virginia Convention” (“Give me liberty, or give me death” speech), high-school juniors could not comprehend the beauty of Henry’s persuasive speech because they could not decipher the Biblical allusions—in fact they didn’t even know they were allusions. One such allusion he uses comes from the stories of Jesus: “Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.” Without the working knowledge that Jesus said that to Judas, a beloved friend who sold Jesus’ location to his enemies, students could not understand Henry’s emotional appeal to the patriots about the British ministry’s betrayal of the colonies. At least 90% of my juniors do not understand this reference, most of which admit to being struggling readers. After I explained the allusion to them, I could see light bulbs turning on all over the room.
- Teach them mythical references: Once again, there may be parents who will draw the line here, but my argument is the same for mythical references as it is for Biblical references. Students will struggle as readers if they don’t understand the allusions. There can be no denying the necessity of knowing who Medusa, Zeus, Achilles, Pandora, etc. are. If parents want their children to be successful students, they have to see the connection between religious, spiritual, and mythical references and reading comprehension, which together will result in a solid educational foundation.
- Teach them the original versions of fairy tales: Disney and Pixar have some entertaining versions of fairy tales, which are good things to know in the modern world, but their original counterparts can be very different. Knowing the original fairy tale versions can also help with reading comprehension. Many allusions in literature refer to the original stories of “The Little Mermaid” and “Cinderella.” If children don’t know these stories they will miss the allusion.
What do you think of my list? Is there anything you would like to add?