- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

As this school year began, several teachers asked if I would reprint a column containing my five top back-to-school tips for parents, which first appeared about 10 years ago.

Before you read, be informed that when I use the term “best students,” I am not necessarily referring to those children who make the best grades. Rather, I mean those students who come to school prepared to pay attention, accept assignment and do their best, whatever their best may be. Here, then, are those tips:

• Make it clear to your child that disobedience is not an option. Teachers consistently report that the best students are almost always among the most well-behaved. Good behavior begins in the home, not at school and not even the best teacher can discipline a child who comes from home not already respectful of adult authority. Make the rules of proper behavior clear to your child, and when the rules are broken, enforce with a firm, even hand. New research finds that a child’s level of self-control is positively associated with school achievement.

• Assign your child a fair share of day-to-day housework. Again, teachers tell me the best students usually are those who have daily chores at home. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that a child who comes to school already accustomed to accepting adult assignment will have fewer problems accepting assignment from teachers? The more responsible a child is within his or her family, the more responsibility the child will demonstrate at school.

• Limit electronic entertainment to nonschool days only, and even then allow no more than five total hours per week. The research is increasingly unequivocal: Screen time of any sort decreases attention span. Learning from a real-life, flesh-and-blood teacher requires being ready to ask questions, being ready to answer questions, memorizing, conducting independent inquiry, transferring what you’ve learned to paper, listening to the teacher’s feedback concerning your work and correcting your mistakes. As for television alone, a researcher once found that truly gifted children tended to watch no more than five hours of television a week. The national average is 25 hours per week per child, which is simply to say if you want your child to be average, let him watch a lot of television.

• Always be interested in what and how your child is doing in school, but take care not to get involved in doing his work for him. There is a difference between interest and involvement. The interested parent says to the child, in effect, “I am concerned about your education, but it is ultimately your responsibility.” The involved parent says, “Your education is my responsibility.” Unfortunately, too many well-intentioned parents have unwittingly accepted/appropriated responsibility for their children’s schoolwork. The result of this parental benevolence is a child who has difficulty taking the proverbial bull by the horns. New research supports this low-involvement parenting model.

• If and when your child’s teacher reports a problem, give the teacher — not your child! — the benefit of the doubt. As a rule, teachers are more committed to bettering the welfare of children than any other class of professional. When a teacher says your child has a problem, academic or behavioral, it is with your child’s best interest in mind. Curb the tendency to become defensive and listen with an open mind and an open heart. You may learn something that will help you become a better parent.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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