By Dr. Jan Hittelman

There’s a lot that parents can do to be proactive in helping their child be successful in school. Putting the optimal structure in place early in the school year will minimize problems that may not fully surface for several months. Too often parents discover significant academic/behavioral issues as a function of that first or second report card. We then shift to a more reactive approach and often experience an uphill challenge to improve things before the end of the school year. Consider the following strategies:

• Maintain good parent-teacher communication: Teachers have a very demanding job addressing the needs of many students in their classroom. While they would enjoy ongoing communication with every parent, it easier said than done. As a parent you want to be respectful of this while still letting the teacher know that you want to support his/her efforts with your child and would appreciate occasional feedback (both positive and negative) regarding your child’s classroom performance. The teacher will then guide you in terms of the preferred communication method (e.g. email, phone, etc.). If you run into any challenges with this method, respectfully let the teacher know ASAP.
• Increase Parent-Child Communication about School: We typically screw this up by having primarily negatively generated conversations led by the ever popular: “Did you do your homework yet?” Create opportunities for family members to talk about their day, sharing their ups and downs. Parents should model this behavior, being thoughtful about what is appropriate to share based on your child’s age. Try to be more of a compassionate listener first and an advisor second. Encourage your child to express their positive and negative feelings about their daily experiences. Let your children know that you appreciate their sharing their school day with you.
• Help Your Child Be Motivated for Success: As individuals we vary in terms of achievement motivation. For children who have challenges learning, this can be even more problematic. As parents we often “expect” our children to do well and offer little praise and positive feedback. For elementary-age children your greatest reward is not things, money, or food, but your time and attention. Try to connect school effort with fun interaction together (e.g. playing a game, doing an art project, going for a walk, etc.).
• Make the Shift from Dependent to Independent Learner: By the time your child graduates from elementary school, it is ideal if he/she is taking ownership of their schoolwork and requiring less parental oversight. This process should be an evolving one, sensitive to your child’s unique learning issues and personality. Too often parents are fighting with their children about homework and other school issues well into high school. It should be their concern not yours. Otherwise their success in college and to some degree in life will be in jeopardy.

By maintaining ongoing open communication between you and your child as well as their teachers and nurturing your child’s motivation and responsibility, you will be setting your child up for success.