By Dr. Jan Hittelman
During the school year, trying to keep your child up-to-date with school assignments can often result in conflict that can negatively impact the parent-child relationship. As the new school year begins, we have the opportunity to develop a more effective strategy that will encourage school success, while actually strengthening family relationships. Most importantly, children need to be empowered to take ownership of their schoolwork. Using homework as an example, challenge your child to come up with a schedule regarding homework instead of simply imposing one on them. And if homework is not completed, allow the teacher to provide consequences instead of you. Secondly, parents need to focus their attention and feedback on what the child is doing right academically, not just when they’re not getting it done. This is the most effective way to promote the learning of new desired behaviors, like good study skills. Thus, when your child IS completing their schoolwork, that’s the time to provide feedback, not just when they’re not. To initiate this approach, begin discussing your desire for a new approach at home regarding schoolwork as early as possible in the new school year. During these talks about how they need to meet their academic responsibilities, put effort into listening rather than lecturing. Encourage your child to offer suggestions as to how the family can improve this process at home. Whenever possible put your child’s suggestions to use and do some “experiments” for 1-2 weeks, analyzing progress together after the agreed upon time for the experiment. Remember that the larger goal is for your child to develop organizational and study skills that will continue on into use in college and beyond. Even if this approach initially results in some lower grades, the importance of attaining these more important long-term goals far outweighs that. For children to learn to be responsible, they need to be given responsibilities and all learning involves trial and error, so don’t be too overly critical of mistakes along the way. Instead focus on their successes, as this will foster ongoing success in school and in life.