How to help your young children thrive

All parents want their children to do well academically, socially and emotionally, to develop life-skills and become confident, happy and successful adults. How can parents facilitate their children’s ability to achieve these goals confidently and well?

The common belief that parental involvement in supervising their children’s homework is essential to the youngsters’ academic success has been dispelled by a recently published study. Researchers Keith Robinson of the University of Texas and Angel Harris of Duke University found that it is not the help and supervision that mattered most in enhancing children’s success but instilling and reinforcing the value of learning that carries the greatest promise for academic success.

Robinson and Harris suggest six effective tools parents can use to help their children thrive at school: 1. Promote learning as an interesting, enjoyable and exciting activity and show curiosity and interest in their schoolwork. 2. Model a good diet, exercise and sleep patterns and enforce them in your children. 3. Teach youngsters positive “self-talk”, good manners, thoughtfulness and consideration of others. 4. Instruct children about making good choices, assessing outcomes and evaluating short and long-term benefits. 5. Model and teach youngster effective organizational skills

To facilitate children’s self-motivated learning Dr. Eva Pomerantz of the University of Illinois recommends: 1. Talk to your child about what he/she is learning. 2. Help your youngster feel that he/she is in charge of acquiring knowledge. 3. Keep a positive attitude about your child’s ability to do homework well. 4. Correct your youngster’s errors and provide information about avoiding them in the future. 5. Be sensitive to your child’s idiosyncrasies.

All these points are valid, research-backed and helpful. I would add that psychological validation and supportive endorsement of the child’s aptitude must accompany all the above recommendations. Children must feel approved of, respected, enthusiastically affirmed and trusted to do the assignments well in order to develop the self-propelling motivation for leaning. Psychologically, children who receive appreciative comments from their parents and know that they please their parents are provided with the best incentive to use their curiosity and potential to advance their learning efforts.

Conversely, threats, punitive warnings, parental words of disappointment or frustration are profoundly deflating and discouraging to the child. Children are anxious to please their parents, teachers, coaches and all adults in authority. Receiving the needed words of support and encouragement motivates children to try harder and do better and it also helps them develop a healthy sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Even when their work or conduct is not up to par, lovingly letting them know that they can do better helps youngsters develop a more accurate sense of their potential and propels them to do their best.

To help your child do well:

  • Remember that your youngster’s self esteem is dependent upon your assessment of him/her.
  • Know that every word of praise supports your child’s healthier self-view and confidence.
  • Minimize the gravity of errors and maximize the child’s aptitude, competence and potential for his/her lifelong wellbeing.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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