Supporting your child’s education without becoming a helicopter parent

Supporting your child’s education without becoming a helicopter parent

by Carly Williams
Stripes Europe

It’s a fine line to maneuver between being involved in your child’s school education and smothering them by trying to smooth over every little problem they encounter or pushing them to excel at every academic endeavor. There’s no doubt that all parents want the best for their children; they want them to reach their potential, and generally be happy and well adjusted. In fact, we’d give them the world if we could. And research has shown time after time that children who have parents who take an interest in their education and cultivate parent-school relationships tend to have better academic outcomes than children who don’t.

However, taking your support to the next level and becoming a “helicopter” parent can mean your “help” becomes stifling for your child and an irritation for their teacher. Often, it can do more damage than good, preventing your child to build resiliency, or becoming too dependent on their parent to solve all their problems, school or life-related.

Luckily there is a middle ground, where you can be involved in your child’s life, support them through school and build a productive partnership with your child’s teacher. At the center of this approach is open communication between yourself and your child. Ensure that you make time to chat to them about school everyday without distractions, and take care that you are asking questions and allowing them time to respond. Don’t focus entirely on academics and behavior, but ensure that you ask them about relationships with peers, their favorite and worst part of the day, or what they feel like they accomplished. Try to be positive about school even if your own experiences have tainted your opinion somewhat. Allowing yourself to be available will help to build up a bond of trust, and will show your child that you are in their corner and are happy to listen to what they have to say, no matter how trivial. Another benefit of having daily talks with your child is that you can determine if they are happy with other areas of their lives, which could be negatively affecting their concentration in class.

At home, find out about any homework they have and ask them if they need advice before they begin. Be clear that you won’t be thinking for them throughout the task, and encourage them to do the bulk of it unaided. Allow them to make mistakes, urge them to recheck the work and let them hand those mistakes in if they haven’t been corrected. Sometimes it’s difficult for parents to let their child submit papers full of mistakes, but teachers are interested in real work and are much more able to pick up signs that your child is struggling when the work is completed by the child and not the parent.

Some parents will notice that their child’s work is sub-standard due to laziness or time constraints. Giving honest feedback and advice on how they could improve the homework may be enough to encourage your child to improve it, but if not, hold your tongue and allow them to face the consequences.

Being aware of the assignments due and assessing your child’s effort will also allow you to assess whether or not there is actually a problem, and if your child is in fact struggling with a certain subject or concept. You will be the best judge of whether or not your child needs more help and if you can provide it yourself. If your child is becoming increasingly frustrated or upset then help them if you can but attempt to keep things in perspective and assure them that no learning takes place without mistakes. Should your child get to this stage over a piece of homework then it is definitely worth notifying their teacher.

Fostering effective relationships with your children’s teachers will undoubtedly benefit your child during the school year as both adults ultimately want the best for the child. Try to retain objectivity when conversing with your child’s teacher and avoid taking every statement and opinion from your child as gospel. Every teacher is different, so view the teacher not as an enemy, but as a person whose primary aim is for every child they encounter to learn.

Each teacher has a preferred method of keeping in contact with parents and will usually give out at least an e-mail address for parents to use when needed. Keep the emails short, but if there is something specific about your child, let the teacher know. Some teachers may make themselves more available for parents on a regular basis and will be happy to discuss pertinent issues if the parent wishes.   

Additionally, do not be afraid to ask for help if you feel unable to help your child at all. Many parents assert that they can’t help their children because they don’t teach things the way that they were taught them in school, or alternatively, they’ve genuinely forgotten how to! Good teachers recognize that this can be true and will help parents to help their children in any way that they can. Not only can teachers help parents personally, but they are likely to have access to or knowledge of other useful resources that can help your child succeed, especially in the subjects where they are making less progress.

Supporting your child’s education doesn’t mean that you need to know every single detail about every learning opportunity. Maintaining an open dialogue with both your child and their teacher and offering support where it may be needed will be adequate to ensure that your child is successful.

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