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Raising a Successful Student: The Parental Role Re-Defined

Parenting a student in today’s cultural and educational landscape can be overwhelming at best.  Knowing how to support our children as “students” is the cause of stress and anxiety for parents, caregivers and families in all walks of life.

As both a parent of 4 and an educator for over a decade, I understand the struggle well.

We want to give our kids the best chance at success in school that we can.  So we stress, we deliberate, we seek counsel, we possibly even intervene, all in the hopes that we can somehow ensure they thrive and launch successfully into adulthood. 

All of this is well-meaning but it is overwhelming, stressful and anxiety-causing both for adults and kids.

On the other side of the coin, teachers spend countless hours preparing and delivering lessons, assessing students and offering results, mentoring and guidance to help launch kids forward in their education. It would seem that both parents and teachers are working tirelessly to try and support kids in successfully finishing school, so why are students still struggling and parents still feeling frustrated and hopeless? 

The problem often lies in that, although a teacher’s role may be more clearly defined, the parental role (and how they interact with their child as a student) can be unclear and confusing.

Teachers would likely agree that they can best perform their jobs when they have “teachable” students. This seems obvious at the outset, but has some elusive aspects that are often unknown or miscommunicated to parents. Generally, as parents, we think a “teachable student” is one who comes to school with a solid handle on the skills and abilities needed to master the curriculum (i.e. letters, sight words, writing, math skills, vocabulary, etc.)

Unfortunately this is not always the case.

A teachable spirit is far more about attitude, mindset, resiliency, courage and confidence.

The truth is, if students showed up to school well-loved, confident in themselves as a learner, willing to risk and try new things and resilient to mistakes, a teacher’s job would be manageable and success levels would be high. 

Classroom management would be, well, manageable and teachers could provide support and remediation of skills where necessary. 

Note that none of these things are related to ability or aptitude or intellect.  They are ALL related to attitude and mindset. 

For kids, school can be challenging, complex and most days, completely exhausting.  Every year students are expected to encounter and process larger volumes of information.

They are also interacting with an array of different people, both adults and peers throughout their day.

The expectations (social, emotional and academic) vary widely.  From homeroom teachers, to aides, to office staff to friends and classmates, kids are constantly changing “hats”.  This constant assessment and re-alignment to expectations is exhausting and not always intuitive for students (especially in elementary and earlier grade levels).

When they come home from school, kids need space to deflate.  To find comfort and rest in a predictable and safe space, where their identity and mannerisms and personality are known and understood.

Do you ever notice that when they get home they’re miserable or irritable or even pick a fight?  I want you to consider something: Is it possible that this is actually a good sign?

Remember, our kids have been “on” all day and if home is a safe and loving place, they may abruptly shift to “off”.  Our job as parents is to model and coach them through this space of deflation, showing them how to navigate their own emotional offload without hurting anyone else.

Our kids crave authentic and loving human connection.  A sense of belonging and comfort and mutual presence and engagement. They crave understanding and empathy and unconditional love.

Often times, few of these needs are filled at school, on their phone, on social media or even with peers or teachers.  When our kids come home from school, they likely do not need homework reminders or study buddies or tutors.  They can find these easily at school or online.

What they need is probably very similar to what you need when you come home from a hard or stressful day:  

  • A soft place to land.  
  • A consistent base where the adults are predictably available for conversation or connection.
  • Someone to model emotional regulation and hold space for their big feelings.

Again, none of these suggestions includes monitoring homework, drill spelling or math facts, or forcing kids to practice more. When it comes to the parental role in a child’s educational journey, strong, loving relationships and the fostering of curiosity are key.

What students most need from parents is a safe place for their bodies and emotions, and the fostering of excitement over finding facts and creative play. When faced with the question “Why would I EVER need to know this anyways?” parents must dig in, resist resonating or “buying in” to this lament, and instead embark on an inquisitive journey of discovery.

Teachers often struggle when kids come to school seemingly “unprepared” to learn. This unpreparedness is more of a mindset issue though, than a “skillset” issue.  If a student has the right mindset, the teacher can support skill development.

Parents, in turn, struggle when these same kids come home from a long and exhausting day at school unwilling to do MORE school work.

This cycle of increasing frustration requires a shift in ideology, and often parents and caregivers are in the best position to make this shift in the home.  This new ideology is one that views learning as an adventure and quality time spent together, and views failures as the catalyst for more investigation and creative opportunity.  Teachers play an important role here as well, supporting parents in this endeavor and encouraging activities at home that allow students to return to school rested, refreshed and well-loved.

It’s really quite simple. NOT EASY, but simple.

By fostering this type of growth mindset in our homes, we can raise kids who show up excited, participate willingly and then launch off independently.

A quick note here:

PERFECTION is not required.

If all of this seems overwhelming or unattainable, PLEASE remember … it is okay to be a work in progress. It is EVEN BETTER if our kids see our work in progress.  

This means admitting when we’re struggling.  It means sharing our humanity and our challenges with them.  It also means apologizing when we’ve had a bad day or things run right off the tracks, and believe me, it WILL happen.   The most important things is that we use all of these experiences to connect, and not to shut down or disengage.  

I will leave you with the words of Stixrud and Johnson in their book, “The Self Driven Child” 1:

“Teachers can teach, coaches can coach, guidance counselors can outline graduation requirements, but there’s one thing only parents can do:

Love their kids unconditionally and provide them with a safe base at home.

For children who are stressed at school or in other parts of their lives, home should be a safe haven, a place to rest and recover.

When kids feel that they are deeply loved even when they’re struggling, it builds resilience.”

You do not need to be another teacher, coach or counselor to your child, and you most certainly don’t need to be perfect.

Your kids do not need you perfect. They just need YOU.

Author: Jacquie Ganton, B.Sc., B.Ed. (Founder and Owner, Evolve Education Consulting)

1Stixrud, S. and Johnson, N.  (2018). The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives. New York, New York: Penguin Random House LLC.

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