Kids and parents talk about school

A CHILD's home environment and his or her attitude toward school play an important role in how successful he will be in his education. Learning requires teachers, parents, and students to all work together.

Teachers play an important role instructing and motivating their students.

Parents play an important guidance role in directing their child's learning.

And, of course, learning requires a student's own effort - it can't be done for them.

A child especially needs to believe that the time and effort spent in doing homework will determine his success or failure in school.

Many young people believe their academic success comes because of luck, teachers, natural ability, or inability.

They sometimes simply refuse to acknowledge responsibility for their schoolwork. It may sound good to them to attribute their failures to something or someone other than themselves.

This problem raises an important question:

How can a parent help a child accept responsibility for his schoolwork and do better?

If a parent wants his child to study and be more successful in school, he needs to spend ``quality time'' with him discussing both the home assignment and what's being learned in school.

``Quality time'' means giving undivided attention, not trying to do two or three other things - watch television, read, wash dishes - while discussing studies.

Almost all messages a person attempts to convey have two parts. They contain content and an underlying feeling.

For example, if a child says he finished the math assignment, the message seems clear. But if he says, ``I've finished that dumb math assignment,'' note that the message has changed.

There's some underlying emotional message that goes along with the content statement. The child may be upset about the assignment or about an experience at school. An active listener can quickly pick up emotional messages and create a helpful response.

So messages are both verbal and nonverbal. A sensitive listener will note voice inflection, facial expression, body posture, and hand and eye movements. All of these nonverbal characteristics come together to convey a total message.

A parent's sensitive strategy needs to be consistent to be effective. A committed effort over a period of time will show the child that a parent is genuinely interested and feels that what the child has to say is important.

Second, the child deserves to have a parent listen actively. Active listening is much different from average listening. It requires genuine concern for a child's work as an individual and his ability to learn.

When children are listened to sensitively, they tend to listen to themselves with more care. Careful listening also reduces a child's argumentative or negative attitudes.

Active listening requires a parent to get inside the child and to try to understand him from his point of view.

We all have a frame of reference that we use to view the world from. This frame is similar to a picture frame that an artist uses to project the painting of a particular scene. Like an artist we view the world in a certain way. This frame is the totality of our experiences, attitudes, and values.

Since parents want to know their children better than anyone else, they can more easily convey to the child the message that they are seeing things from the child's frame of reference - point of view.

Third, it's important to ask questions about a child's work. When he brings home a report card or homework, ask him questions about why he received a certain grade or how he feels about specific homework assignments, or why he succeeded or failed on a particular assignment.

To make sure a parent is viewing the assignment as the child does, the parent can reflect in his own words what the child seems to be saying.

For example, a child says, ``I completed all the math problems in just 10 minutes.'' A parent might reward what he says and respond with, ``You completed the assignment very quickly - it must have been pretty easy for you.'' It's important that a parent take what the child says seriously.

A parent needs to give the child the opportunity to speak. It's been said, ``We have been given two ears and but a single mouth, in order that we may hear more and talk less.'' We may have a lot of advice to give our children, but it is much more important to be a listener than an advice giver.

Fourth, the child's situation might be beyond his control. If the schoolwork is too hard or too easy, it's important that the parent consult with the teacher. Parent/teacher conferences are good times to bring up problems about the child's schoolwork.

Fifth, if a child views his work negatively, it may be because of his teacher or classmates. Once again, a parent needs to view the child from the child's frame of reference. Reminders, such as ``Try harder,'' may help.

Praise is important, if it isn't overused and given for easy tasks. If a parent praises easy tasks, the child may think less of his ability.

Keep praise specific to assignment and praise often. It's important that a child develop a healthy self-concept. Sincere praise will help him feel good about himself.

With active listening, developing the child's self-concept, he or she will be more successful in school. Remember to have talks in a climate of warmth and trust. If it's difficult to have a child discuss school, don't give up. Keep trying, and he will eventually open up.

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