One of the top recommendations you will receive as a parent from every teacher that your child has throughout his or her education is to stay involved. When your child is younger, staying involved means helping your child with homework, encouraging him or her to become more organized and a strong time manager, and generally keeping him or her on track. As your child becomes more independent, your duties will become less hands on. Your child will take the lead on his or her education while you step into a support role.
While your parent role will certainly evolve over time, there is one aspect that should always be important: you must always advocate for your child as a student. How can you best support your child? Here are several tips:
Make sure your child’s needs are being met. There may come times in your child’s educational career when he or she needs additional help or support. Your child might struggle in a subject and require one-on-one help outside the classroom. Perhaps your child will encounter anxiety problems that require the expertise of the school guidance counselor. Or maybe you’ll notice that your child might benefit from an instructional approach that is different than the one preferred by his or her teacher and will want to discuss how best to help your child flourish. Whatever the situation, if you ever sense that your child’s needs are not being met in the classroom, talk with his or her teacher. He or she will likely welcome your ideas and insight.
Establish a working relationship with the teacher. It goes without saying that your child’s teacher should be your first point of contact at school and you should reach out early in the school year to lay the foundation for a positive, cooperative, mutually respectful partnership. Let the teacher know that you are always available should he or she have questions about your child’s needs or school performance. Make clear your intentions of helpful collaboration for the benefit of your child.
Identify and nurture your child’s strengths. Help your child take notice of his or her strengths and build upon them. Reach out to his or her teacher and ask for suggestions on how to give your child opportunities to build on those strengths through academic enrichment opportunities or extracurricular activities. He or she may have suggestions as simple as giving your child additional fun projects that he or she may enjoy.
Educate yourself about your child. Get to know your child as a student and do your own homework on how he or she learns. Once you better understand your child’s learning preferences and styles, personality, strengths and weaknesses, you can do a little research on the most effective role for you as a parent. Your child’s teacher will certainly have insight as well. The better you understand your child as a student, the more you can help him or her flourish—and the better you can support him or her when challenges arise.
Let your child know that you are always there for support. Often, children fear that their parents will be upset about school problems, but it is important for your child to understand that part of your job as a parent is being available for support when he or she needs it. If he or she is struggling and doesn’t know how to turn things around, explain that you want him or her to come to you for guidance—no matter the circumstances. Together, you can come up with a plan to tackle big problems.
Ask questions. Many parents assume that their presence as a classroom volunteer or PTA parent is the best way to show their child that school is important. However, making school a priority at home and asking questions about your child’s school work and learning have an even greater impact on student educational outcomes. Although it may seem like a subtle form of advocacy, your attitude toward your child’s education is highly influential. Ask your child about school and about his or her favorite subjects as well as those that cause him or her the most stress.
Being an advocate for your child is about supporting his or her learning, working effectively with his or her teachers and other school staff, and letting your child know that he or she is supported. Remember that one of the most important things you can do as your child’s advocate is to be a good influence—teach your child to advocate for him or herself, too. In doing so you will arm your child with the confidence to speak up when he or she needs help and communicate with teachers and peers to his or her benefit.