Questions From You

Parenting questions submitted by our community members and answered by a YOU Program facilitator.
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Building a Leader

February 17, 2014

By Jessica Vician

A young girl flexes her muscles in superhero garb.

Today is Presidents’ Day, during which we celebrate George Washington’s birthday and honor all United States presidents. Regardless of political affiliations, most of us can agree that each president we elect is a leader. While you might not aspire for your child to become president one day, teaching your child leadership skills will help him or her on the playground, in the classroom, in college, and throughout a career.

Here are three important leadership qualities and skills you can help your child develop.

  1. Listening. Teach your child to be a better listener. When someone speaks or shares an opinion, your child should listen to what that person is saying. Teach him or her to consider the speaker’s opinions before responding.

    Each of us learns more by listening than by speaking. By practicing listening, your child will learn more about people and the topic discussed and can apply that knowledge to future conversations.

  2. Assertiveness. While your child learns to listen to others, he or she should also learn to effectively communicate with others. Teach your child to be politely assertive so that he or she can communicate his or her needs and opinions with others. Being assertive will help your child with his or her own self-respect while also helping manage others.
  3. Set goals. A leader accomplishes many things. In order to do that, he or she must be organized to set and achieve goals. Help younger children set goals like completing five chores a week to teach them time management and the reward of accomplishment. Help teens set longer-term goals like getting four A’s in a term. This type of goal requires longer planning and dedication, but the reward is greater and can positively impact your teen’s future.

As your child develops and practices these skills, he or she will build knowledge, confidence, and self-respect, which are all qualities of a leader.

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7 Outcomes of Effective Parent Engagement

January 27, 2014

By Sunny P. Chico

How time is spent from birth through high school. Because 92 percent of a child's life is spent at home, parental engagement is critical. It starts with you.

For a long time schools have focused their energies on parent involvement, measuring how often and how many parents show up to events and parent-teacher conferences. The higher the numbers, the more schools think they have high parent engagement. But parent involvement and parent engagement are two very different things.

An effectively engaged parent not only supports education at school, but also supports it at home. Such a parent engages in quality communication with teachers and school officials as well as with their own child. An engaged parent attends to the needs of the child while building the foundation for academic success. After all, 92 percent of a child’s life from birth through high school is spent at home while only eight percent is spent at school.

How do you know when you have effective parent engagement? Look for the following seven outcomes that are clear indicators that parents are effectively engaged at your school:

  1. Higher Attendance Rates – when parents make education a known value at home, they make school attendance a priority. Engaged parents insist their students show up to class ready to learn.
  2. Higher Graduation Rates – when parents have high expectations of their children, children thrive and succeed. Engaged parents encourage their students to persevere.
  3. Lower Teacher Turnover – a school culture that is built on family engagement and participation reduces the burden on teachers and allows them to get back to what they love: teaching. Engaged parents help to keep teachers from burning out.
  4. Lower Rates of Bullying – children learn morality, kindness, and compassion most effectively at home. Engaged parents focus on their child’s citizenship and personal value system.
  5. Higher Self-Control – parents provide necessary structure in a child’s life. Engaged parents set boundaries that students thrive within.
  6. Better Nutrition Choices – the habits that are developed at home are habits that a child will carry with him or her into adulthood. Engaged parents make health and well-being a priority.
  7. Higher Scores – decades of research have shown that one of the prominent components in children who succeed is having parents who are fully and effectively engaged in their education and their life. Engaged parents lay the foundation for success.

Parents will always bear the burden of a child’s growth and development, so when schools make parent engagement a priority, they are making their students’ success a priority.

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Respect Your Child’s Teacher

January 6, 2014

By Jessica Vician

Respect your child's teacher

While your child’s educational success starts at home, as soon as your child starts school, his or her teachers will be sharing that responsibility with you. By giving your child’s teacher the proper respect and receiving respect in return, you will start to build the kind of partnership that will promote your child’s academic success. Sarah Cripe, a pre-kindergarten teacher in Kalamazoo, Michigan, offers these tips on how to work with your child’s teacher:

  • Get to know your child’s teacher. Introduce yourself at the beginning of the school year and tell the teacher that you want to know how your child is doing throughout the year. This gesture shows the teacher that you are an involved parent and they will try to help you.
  • Ask the teacher what you can do to help your child succeed. You are both working toward giving your child a bright future. Share your goal for your child so they can help him or her achieve it.
  • Don’t judge a teacher based on a bad previous experience. Unfortunately, sometimes your child will have a teacher who is not as invested or effective as you might want. However, don’t bring that negative experience into a new school year. Give the new teacher a chance to work with you and help your child succeed in the classroom.
  • Be involved. Make sure your child finishes his or her homework every night. Ask your child about his or her day at school. By being involved in your child’s education at home, you can monitor his or her success and address concerns as soon as they come up. If there is a concern, discuss it with your child’s teacher.
  • Speak directly with the teacher. Don’t express teacher concerns in front of your child. These actions could hurt his or her relationship with the teacher. Schedule a meeting to discuss the concern with your child’s teacher first, and if necessary the principal, rather than involving your child or saying something in the heat of the moment that you might regret later.

By establishing a relationship and keeping the lines of communication open with your child’s teacher, both of you can work toward the common goal of helping your child succeed in school. For more tips on helping your child succeed in school, see the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books.

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How to Talk to Your College Student About Life on Campus

December 17, 2013

By Jessica Vician

How to talk to your college student about life on campus

Your college freshman is back home after completing his or her first term. You’re so happy to have your child home, but what do you do now? As you have probably learned, your job as a parent didn’t stop when your child went away to school. He or she might have been homesick and called crying, or maybe didn’t call at all because he or she was so busy and having fun. Regardless of how your child coped while at school, you should use this break as an opportunity to talk about this new life and find out how things are going. 

When children leave home and live on their own for the first time, even in a dormitory, they need to learn how to take care of responsibilities without the help of mom or dad. You should check in on how your child is handling several big changes. Too often, those students who are overwhelmed by college life, end up dropping out over the holidays. Be as supportive as possible to help motivate your child to keep going or even just to reaffirm that your love and support is still there and still unconditional.

  • School. How are your child’s grades? Has he or she found an effective studying routine? Ask about most and least favorite classes, and find out why. If you also went to college, you can bond with your child over similar likes and dislikes. It is also important to address any concerns you might have about your child’s grades or courses at this time. If he or she is performing poorly, offer tips on improving study habits and focusing on academics.
  • Career. When you are asking your child about courses he or she likes, watch your child’s facial expressions. If your child’s eyes light up when talking about a certain class, he or she is clearly passionate about the subject. If your child has not yet declared a major, suggest exploring career options related to the subjects that he or she is passionate about. Even if your child has declared a major and is happy with that choice, talk about a double major or a minor in the other subject for extra experience.
  • Health. Has your child gained or lost a significant amount of weight since being away? Has he or she been sick frequently? These are signs that your child might be having trouble managing stress or taking care of him or herself without parents there to help. Ask your child what types of food he or she is eating. Make sure it is a balanced diet with protein, vegetables, fruits, and enough water. While weight gain or loss can be a touchy subject, focus the conversation on nutrition and exercise, as getting the proper nutrition will help your child focus better when studying, perform better at school, get sick less frequently, and be happier and healthier. Exercise is a great stress reliever and boosts endorphins, which help put us in a better mood. This lesson will be important for the rest of your child’s life. 

It’s important to check in with your child regularly, even when he or she has moved out of your home. Your child is going through many changes and learning how to be an independent adult, which is more difficult than it sounds. Asking specific questions about how your child is doing not only helps you learn how to help him or her but also communicates that you still care.

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Parents as Involved Partners

November 11, 2013

By Dr. Bruce Marchiafava

Parents as Involved Partners

Parent involvement is an essential element in a contemporary, up-to-date school today. In all kinds of schools, from public to private and in between, principals, teachers and administrators devote much time and energy to involving parents in their children’s schools. Parents are recruited to help in classrooms, to lend a hand in the front office, to organize fundraisers, and to chaperone field trips and prom dances. Some parents serve on school committees and on the PTA.

These parents are clearly involved. The problem is that they are involved in helping the school but not their own children. A recent book by journalist Amanda Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, looks at the implications of this kind of parent involvement. She spent a year studying schooling in several countries and found that the results of a 2009 study in 13 countries were true: the children of parents who volunteered in their school performed worse in reading than children whose parents did not.

The explanation is fairly simple: most parents today have limited free time. The hours parents devote to helping the school operate could be better spent helping their children at home.

Dr. Herbert J. Walberg has calculated that from birth to age 19, the average child spends 8 percent of his or her time in school and 92 percent at home. Whether we choose to or not, our children will learn from us. This learning begins at birth and continues right up to kindergarten. During these years children acquire an amazing amount of knowledge. They learn to walk, run, and play games and sports. They acquire a language (sometimes two), they learn to read, and they develop social skills. They explore their world, starting with what they see in their cribs and continuing through their home and neighborhood. 

This is quite a curriculum. It can be very challenging for many parents. Unfortunately, most schools don’t become involved with these children until they are officially enrolled in school. So parents need to seek help in being the first teachers from social agencies, formal and informal groups of parents, family members and whatever help books and videos they can find.

Once the child enters school, the parent is largely relieved of the responsibility for formal education; the professional teachers take over. The parent’s role shifts to two major responsibilities: supporting the child in learning what is taught at school and advocating for the child with the school.

Supporting learning at home involves such activities as:

Readiness
Insuring good health, seeing that the child eats properly and sleeps enough, making sure the backpack has the required books, pencils, assignments due, etc.

An Environment for Learning
This environment can be a room or a desk in a corner or the kitchen table. It must be free from TV, music, phones, and other distractions. Multitasking rarely works for studying.

Homework
Parents should guide and supervise a child’s homework but not do it. Know the assignment and the due date and check to see what grade the teacher gives.

Communicate
Speak with the teacher on a regular basis, not just when there’s a problem. Advocating for one’s child may require intervening when grades are suffering or if a behavior problem has occurred. This doesn’t mean a confrontation with the teacher or the principal. Most issues can be resolved if the parent and the teacher or principal work together.

Parental involvement shouldn’t be about parents helping the school. Rather, the parents should be helping their children succeed in school as involved partners.

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