How to raise kids who excel in school (and in life)
Updated: Jun 10, 2019
I know from the title you are probably expecting a post on how to make sure your kids get straight A’s, are on the honor roll, become valedictorians of their class, go to ivy league universities and become the world’s top brain surgeons or rocket scientists.
Well, this is not that kind of post.
From the moment our children are born, our kids are competing. Whether they know it or not, they are.
Think back to when you were a new mother, and you met up with other new mothers and that inevitable, loaded question was asked:
“So, what is insert baby name doing now?”
I refer to it as loaded because the person asking the question typically doesn’t really want to know what your baby is doing. They want to compare and, if it so happens that their baby is doing, what they consider, “more” than your baby, brag.
Fast forward to the school years and the competition continues.
In this case, instead of comparing whether or not our kids are saying mama or dada or have taken their first steps we are comparing what grades they received at the end of the school year and what universities they get into.
Without even realizing it, our need to compete with other parents and our skewed ideas of what success means puts so much pressure on our kids. They begin to feel that to make us proud they need to be the best, the smartest, the most athletic, the funniest. We push them towards careers that we think are acceptable (in other words careers that will make them rich or give them a level of prestige); doctors, lawyers, Presidents; not necessarily for their happiness, but for our uncontrollable need to brag.
While there is nothing wrong with having dreams for our kids (I mean I already have my dress picked out for my son’s inauguration), we parents need to, firstly, stop comparing our children, because they are all unique and have their own individual strengths and talents. And secondly, we need to change the narrative that we have with our kids about what it means to excel and be successful in life.
Always give your best effort
I am not going to pretend that I don’t ever brag about my own kids because that would be a flat out lie and besides, I’m a mom. My sons are both very intelligent and the way their brains work will always continue to amaze me.
However, in our home, rather than focusing on the grades that my elder son brings home (my second son is only 1 so he isn’t bringing home report cards just yet), we focus on whether or not he tried his best.
There have been days when my son brought home work in which he got all his answers correct but everything was scrappy and rushed. And there have been days when his work was well written and you could tell that he took his time, but out of ten questions, he probably got three or four answers correct. Even with three answers correct, on these days, we may still find a note from his teacher letting us know that he did make an excellent effort and tried his best.
This makes us very proud.
In our family, the expectation is that every thing we do we must do it properly and, while we do commend our son when he gets good grades, we never allow him to get away with giving less than 100% of effort, especially when we know what he is truly capable of doing.
It is OK to make mistakes and to admit when you don’t know
Part of the reason my husband and I do not only focus on letter grades is to let our son know that it is OK to make mistakes and to admit when he doesn’t know or understand something.
Too many people walk around pretending to know everything because in their minds, not knowing is a sign of weakness and breaks whatever persona they are trying to portray.
What we teach our son is that no-one knows everything and the only way you can truly open your mind to learning is to first admit when you don’t know and then take the necessary steps towards enlightenment.
Never give up
Life can be “poopy” sometimes. There are good times and there are difficult times. There are times when you win and times when you fail.
For our kids, these lessons should start from now. When faced with difficulties or failures; a math problem they can’t wrap your head around, not making whatever team they had their hearts set on, learning to ride a bike or even when they just can’t seem to get the hang of tying their shoe laces (looping those bunny ears is difficult); it is important for our children to understand commitment, how to just keep trying and to never let anyone discourage them from achieving what they want to achieve.
Don’t be a bully and look out for those who are being bullied
Bullying is one of those hot topics that everyone advocates against. It is heartbreaking when you hear some of the things children go through as a result of bullying and the feeling that there is no one they could turn to for support.
Although many parents may focus on teaching their kids about dealing with bullies, we hardly ever think about the alternate reality, one in which our children are the bullies.
My husband and I have noticed that sometimes our elder son may bully our younger son. He doesn’t bully in the sense of hitting him or causing pain or anything on that level, but he does sometimes find humor in watching him struggle to reach things rather than help him or he might do something to annoy him just to hear that glass breaking, eight octave scream of anger that only babies could make, which he also thinks is very funny.
Even though he is not necessarily inflicting harm on his little brother, it is bullying in the sense that he is taking advantage of someone who is smaller and weaker than he is and that is not OK.
Apart from not being a bully, we also teach him to look out for those who are being bullied. We always stress the importance of being kind to others and helping others when you can. You never know, a simple act of kindness could change the course of someone else’s life.
Do what makes you happy and work hard to achieve your dreams
Even though my inauguration dress is already picked out, all jokes aside, I don’t actually force any future career expectations on my children.
Growing up, my parents only had two requests of me, to get an education and to do what makes me happy. They never forced me in the direction of one career or one lifestyle over another and were always proud of my achievements.
My husband and I try to raise our sons in a similar manner. If my son wants to be a doctor, a chef, a firefighter and a ninja (which he does by the way), we say go for it. As long as he is willing to work hard for what he wants to achieve and is happy with his decisions, who are we to stop him.
My father always had a saying, “the only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary.” As corny and as much of a dad joke as that line is, it is true. To achieve anything in life you must remain focused on what you want and work towards it.
The true definition of success
Yes, of course, my husband and I want our sons to excel in life, to be well educated and to be financially stable so that they are never in need of anything. We wouldn’t be parents if we didn’t think this way. However, we acknowledge that excelling does not necessarily mean earning two undergraduate degrees, three masters and a doctorate.
Everyone’s path in life does not always take them to university and not everyone could be doctors or lawyers with million dollar cars and houses on every continent.
All we wish for our sons is that their lives are filled with happiness and that all of these lessons that we are trying to teach them now, will continue to guide the choices that they make when they are adults.
This post was featured on Blunt Moms.