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Setting the stage for academic success

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Expectations and consistency

Your teenager has always done well in school, but suddenly is losing homework assignments and is moody. Your middle schooler can’t seem to get pre-algebra. Your elementary aged child is always leaving homework in weird places and seems to be a scatterbrain. When and how do you begin to address these issues? How do you set expectations for effort and success and the doing of schoolwork so you can figure out what’s a real problem to be addressed with the help of professionals -- and what can be solved with simple solutions?

girl doing homework

Setting the stage for our children's academic success is a first step to helping them succeed academically and understand the work ethic we hope to instill in them for life. The stage is about expectation and emotional signals and organization -- so much more than a desk and a dictionary! More than one family has found that by instituting and continuing to insist on regular schoolwork routines at home, that academic confidence and success isn't far behind.

Setting expectations

Setting expectations for your child -- even high expectations -- doesn't mean you are a tiger mom. It means you communicate what is important to you in terms of effort and results. Your expectation may well be straight A's, but communicating that you expect best effort at all times is just as high an expectation -- and may be more realistic if your child is more of a B student. If your expectation is that your child earn medium grades and have a lot of fun, that's valid, too. Regular communication about these expectations from the earliest school years is key to your child understanding what they need to do in terms of academics.

Setting up the environment

You may have dismissed it when you were in school, but as a parent I bet you can see it now. A consistent physical place to do homework helps with not just the actual homework but overall organization. Your child knows where his or her books will be, and sitting in that spot is a conscious and unconscious signal that now is the time for school work. This physical space can be a desk in your child's room or the dining room table, just as long as it is consistent. Even if, in the past, your child has done "just fine" doing homework on the couch in front of the TV, a move to a more conducive environment could step up the "fine" to "fantastic." And maybe he'll be less likely to lose that homework under the couch.

Setting up tools

Make sure your child has the tools he or she needs to do his or her work. Pencils, a pencil sharpener, rulers, paper and even ink cartridges for the printer. When your child sits down to do schoolwork, he or she needs tools at the ready, not to waste another 15 minutes looking for a pencil, then a pen and then something else. Do a regular check of the homework environment -- and ask proactive questions about what might be needed in the future -- to make sure your child has what he or she needs.

Maintaining consistency

Now that you've gone to the effort to set expectations and set up the environment, stick to it. Yes, it's easy if he starts doing better academically to slack off a bit, but don't. Maintaining a consistent message and a consistent environment is important for continued success -- and helps you to see quickly and clearly if there is something else going on that needs other intervention. Your child may not like it and may complain, but stick to it.

Know when to get help

Sometimes, even if you've done all this "right," your child may reach a stage where academics are an issue. Whether it's a drop in grades or an increase in frustration or anger, you may need to reach outside of this environment you have created for academic success and get some help. It doesn't mean anyone has "failed," it just means you and your child need some help. We all do sometimes! It could be a simple fix -- like an adjustment in class load -- or something resolvable with a few tutoring sessions.

Start with your child's guidance office for a discussion about the issues you are seeing. The education professionals should be able to direct you to tutors or other professionals that can help you address the issues -- academic and maybe personal -- that your child is facing. Your child's pediatrician may also be able to help guide you to services that would be appropriate.

More about helping your child succeed academically

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