Posted by: Deborah Drezon Carroll | May 3, 2011

Help Your Child Do Better in School. Expert Advice

Let’s face it, it might be harder to excel in school than ever before. Case in point, the father of my amazing daughters recently came across his elementary school report card. Under comments, his teacher wrote that she was “looking forward to the day when Ned would remember to bring a hankie to school.” Really? I suspect that most teachers today would give up several paychecks in order to have “hankie-less-ness” be a student’s worst problem.

Your kid is competing with those kids of “tiger” moms, and the kids who have been headed to Harvard since being en utero, and on top of that, school budgets are being decimated, class size is growing, and resources are shrinking. What’s a parent to do?

First, relax. Your kid will be fine. Just the fact that you care is a huge boost to her success. But, to help you along a bit, here are three simple things you can do every day that will matter. You can do all three each day and the whole thing will take less than five minutes.

1. Let her see you reading something– a book, a magazine, a website, anything that can be read is okay. The point is, she needs to see you read. It doesn’t have to be for a long time, but the impact of Mom’s daily reading cannot be overstated.

2. Look at her homework. I’m not saying you must check it (although that’s okay) and I’m certainly not saying you should do it (because you should definitely not do your child’s homework), I’m just saying look at it. She’ll know you care about it and that will matter to her.

3. Ask your daughter to tell you one thing she learned or observed that day. Tell her one thing you learned or observed. This doesn’t have to be a brilliant insight. Maybe you saw an ant carrying a huge crumb across your kitchen floor. Maybe you learned that the term “in utero” is Latin and that’s why spell check doesn’t recognize it. (Okay, those are two things I learned today and that’s without leaving the home.) The point of this is simple. Your daughter learns from you that absorbing knowledge is ongoing, it’s fun, and it’s lifelong.

What do you all think about the best and most practical ways parents can help their kids do better in school? These don’t have to be daily things, just important things.

Alexis Writes: 1. I think parents should make sure they talk to their children. Your kids have a voice and they need to feel heard. Learning  is no longer just spitting a concept back verbatim, it’s understanding how what you’ve learned applies to you. Ask your kids why they like Sponge Bob or what is so cool about Justin Bieber? They really need to be able to think for themselves. Part of that is understanding why you think the way you do.

2. Give your child the gift of independence. Let them pack their book bag, help pick out their clothes, even contribute to making their own lunch. Allowing children to take ownership of themselves is important. Why should you have to do all the work all the time? The earlier they feel comfortable taking responsibility, the more likely they will want to do be responsible for what they learn. It will build their confidence. They will blossom.

3. Encourage your daughter to write at home. Writing is the hardest area to teach because it is usually only addressed in school. Parents are always reading to their kids but often their kids are not writing at home. Encourage your child to keep a journal, it’s great exercise for their brain. It doesn’t have to be something you read or correct (in fact, please don’t correct it) but just provide an opportunity for your girls to put their thoughts down in writing. Don’t read it, that’s not cool. Unless there’s a serious issue, let your daughter have some privacy. She deserves a place in writing where everything is accepted.

Tamra Writes: 1. Read to your daughter. Kids love to be read to. They work hard all day, and it is nice for them to be able to sit back and listen to a story. If you pick a good chapter book, you can read a chapter a night and keep them on the edge of their seats to hear more later. They might even want to read to you. Not only will it help with their reading, but it’s a nice way to bond.

2. Teach them some manners and patience. There is nothing I like better in my class than a polite and patient child. I think being nice is just as important (if not more so) than being able to spell all your spelling words. A little manners go a long way.

3. Give them an opportunity to problem solve for themselves. Don’t solve all their problems for them. Help them solve their problems, don’t just do it without them being a part of the solution. Too often children aren’t sure how to solve their own problems (even if it’s something as small as knowing what to do when a pencil breaks). It is never too early to start learning to solve problems. Forgot to bring their homework home?? Hmm…how can we fix this? Call a friend, do some practice math problems, write all the spelling words you remember, read a story and write what it was about. I think we forget to teach children to be resourceful. Aren’t children supposed to be some of the most imaginative people out there? Let them use that imagination for good.

Shira writes: 1. Listen to music. Music is one of the greatest educational tools there is, and most of the work has already been done for you. Simply putting on music in the car or at dinner can teach your kids about politics, to love themselves for who they are, and can help them develop creativity.

2. Ask them about their day. Kids want to know that people care about what is going on in their lives. Make sure they know that they are important. The kids in my class are constantly trying to share little anecdotes about their lives with me (usually at the most inappropriate time, like in the middle of math class). They just want to know that the adults in their lives care about what they have to say.

3. Communicate with the teacher. Make sure the people at school know that you are involved and care about how your child is doing. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you should become a helicopter parent. But as a teacher, I know how frustrating it is to try to reach a parent about their child’s grades or behavior and get no response at all. Not only does it not help me, but it’s really bad for the child. If kids know that their parents and their teacher talk to each other, there’s a chance they will be motivated to try harder in school.



  1. Tamra, I agree with your insight on reading to your children. I read to and with my dyslexic daughter Catherine for years. We read the entire Harry Potter series together. She was a young adult when the series ended, and we both cried – she because it was the end of the series, me – because I was fairly certain we would never read together like that again. (Which sadly, we haven’t).

    On a happy note, she’s successfully completed her Associates Degree with honors and still enjoys reading when she has time.

    • Well, clearly all that reading together paid big dividends! I loved reading with the girls. We tried to do it as a group and also one on one whenever possible so that each girl could have private moments with Mom or Dad. It’s one of the things I miss most about them being grown ups.

      • My 20 year old son just the other day asked me to read an old kid’s book that he LOVED as a child to him outloud! I happily did it, an thought it was so incredibly sweet that he asked me to do that! WOW, is what I was thinking!!!!!

        I love all of these ideas, and try to do most of them on a daily basis with my kids. One more to add…LISTEN to your children. I have one very talkative son, and sometime have a tendancy to tune him out…and having 4 kids, I have to remember to give them all a chance to speak and be heard!!!!!

  2. 1. Attend as many school functions as possible. Your child will know that you think what she is doing is important.
    2. Meet your child’s teacher(s). OK, meeting teachers past the elementary level might be uncool. I can’t count how many students I had and never met the parents.
    3. Summertime is NOT an excuse to stop learning.

  3. Three incredibly valuable suggestions. And again, this stuff isn’t hard to do, it doesn’t involve advanced degrees, it just takes a bit of time like so much of the most important aspects of parenting. Thanks so much for taking the time to share these.

  4. Great advice from all of you!! You should pass this along as an article in a parenting magazine.

  5. I’m still laughing about the hankies! My mum used to iron them (she ironed everything, including underwear and socks, not to mention bedsheets.) Now I have some antique ones on a little ladder, but they’re not for people to blow their noses on! Anyway, great write. My children are all grown, but I can still learn and occasionally offer something maybe. I wanted to let you know I have a poem up for One Stop Wednesday today (as you requested I let you know about new posts), and the post before that was about a man I met in a Psychiatric Hospital, which people have really related to. Anyway, keep writing and love this girls! Blessings, Elizabeth.

    • Your mom ironed socks? Wow, what a legacy to have to live up to! 🙂
      I’m off to check your poem. Thanks for checking in on us.

  6. Great advice! I have 2 boys and 1 daughter and I have found I’ve employed several of these strategies… although sometimes there are subtle differences in the message and medium between girls and boys.
    On another note, speaking of Tiger’s mom, I’m off soon to see a screening of a documentary called Race to Nowhere all about pressures on school kids today. Should be interesting!
    Thanks for this – and I agree – send it to a parenting magazine!

  7. I so want to see Race to Nowhere. It seems to sum up what I’ve been saying for years. Our educational system is broken. The pressure to score high on tests without any thought to teaching kids how to think, solve problems and be imaginative, creative and articulate is taking a toll on us. Let us know how the movie resonates with you. Maybe that will be our next discussion.

  8. Great advice. As we are a bilingual family, I am trying to keep up with French as well, which requires more effort than I thought. Tough. That being said, my elder daughter is very disciplined and works hard, whereas my younger one is bright ..but lazy. I try to bring them up in a similar way. Kids are different I suppose!

    • They are different. Sometimes it’s incredible that they’re raised by the same people. Guess some traits are just inborn. Hopefully, your lazy one will find things that ignite her interest and she’ll be more motivated. The bi-lingual life isn’t easy but you are doing a wonderful thing for your children raising them that way. Félicitations!

  9. Incredibly sound advice! I taught in an incredibly academically-competitive high school. I will tell you that the kids that had the most success were avid readers, supported and guided positively (but not pushed) by their parents, and they had a clear sense of their own responsibility for their education. It is not easy to know your kids well enough to support each of them in the unique way they should be supported, but it is the best gift parents can give their kids.

  10. I love what you say about guided positively but not pushed being important. And I couldn’t agree more about the need for parents to teach kids how to be responsible for their own success. Finally, you’re right, support is the best gift. Sense of humor is also good. 🙂

  11. What a lovely subject! I agree that communication between parent and child is key (in education as with everything else), as is giving children the opportunity to explore their strengths and weaknesses. Some years, they may struggle in a particular subject and it’s important to learn not to give up when the going gets a bit tough. That’s when a bit of tutoring can make all the difference. It doesn’t have to be too expensive either, there may be a grad student on recent graduate in the community who would be happy to help a couple times a week in return for getting their laundry done or having access to a home cooked meal! There are also some good online tutoring options.

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