I’m always fascinated to hear the stories of ultra-competitive preschool and grammar school admissions in New York City’s private schools. Parents jockey for a spot on a waiting list while pregnant, pay consultants to prepare their preschooler for the “interview,” pay untold amounts of tuition, and act as if getting into the right school is a matter of life or death.
A March 2013 study published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility found that parental involvement and attitudes toward education have a greater bearing on academic achievement than school-controlled factors like teacher morale and programming. So what kinds of things can you do as a parent to help your child achieve more?
1. Cultivate trust with your child. The study showed that those children who felt trusted by their parents performed better than those who did not. Why measure the child’s perception of trust? Because it’s a good indicator of the quality of the parent-child bond and overall relationship. Kids who enjoy a close relationship with their parents operate with more confidence in the outside world and are able to succeed.
2. Demonstrate that you value education. Children whose parents asked more frequently about school assignments and activities, checked homework more regularly, and participated in parent meetings had kids who excelled. What’s so magical about going to PTA meetings and checking math problems? It signals to the child that you think these things are important, increasing the chances that they’ll also care enough to give their best effort.
3. Be a life-long learner yourself. Kids who grow up in a household where parents are excited about learning something new or checking out a great book from the library are conditioned to think of learning as a privilege and a natural part of life rather than the burdensome work of childhood. Create a culture in your home where learning is for everyone and being smart is cool.
4. Help your child develop self-discipline. Even from the toddler years, parents have an opportunity to train their children to be attentive to instruction and to follow through on tasks. So helping them learn to clean up the bedroom or finish the dinner dishes isn’t just about getting the housework done—it’s about helping them learn to take care of business in all areas of life, including the classroom.
5. Communicate respect for your child’s teachers and school leaders. If you speak about your child’s teachers or principals in a negative or derogatory way, you’ll make it much more difficult for your child respect and learn from them. Even if you have concerns about your school’s staff, be wise about how you discuss it—if at all—around your child. On the flip side, if you express confidence in your child’s teachers, you encourage your child to view them positively and to want to perform well in their class.