3 x ? = Help your kids do well at school

back-to-schoolMany of us are sending our kids back to school sometime soon. Do I hear celebratory cheers? I’m aware not all children will be thrilled about this. Happy and excited preppies may feature in the media currently, but I know plenty of kids who’ll last less than a week before they’re ready for a change! Since the unfortunate reality is that ten years of schooling is the minimum in our country, as parents don’t just breathe a sigh of relief as you hand them over to someone else. You have a part in making their schooling a success – and I don’t mean by paying for books, uniforms or fees. Whilst the teachers will be pouring information into our darling’s heads, your interest at home can shape their attitudes and expectations in either helpful or unhelpful ways. Here are three questions you can ask regularly to help your kids do well at school this year:

1. Tell me something good/funny/awful that happened today.

The reason you ask questions like this is to engage your child in conversation. Teachers at school won’t have time to build this skill in your kid, yet the ability to interact with other people well is critical for success in life. You’re going to have to teach it! This question also invites story telling. Some kids are great at this, but others of us need practice. Draw good stories out of your children by asking further questions. What did that feel like? What did everyone else say? What happened next? Learning to tell verbal stories sets a good base for writing them, and also encourages children to be aware of what’s happening in their day rather than just being passive. An alternate question to this is ‘What was your favourite moment in the day?’

2. Who did you enjoy hanging out with today? Which person did something good for you? What was the best thing you did to help someone else?

Life is an interactive experience, so the people around us matter. Out of this question you can monitor the social world of your child at school. This can lead to further interactions about the nature of friends and socialising, without you needing to sit down and ‘have a talk.’ Asking the third question listed will also help your children learn they can (and should) contribute in a positive way to other people’s wellbeing. On top of all this, focusing on positives helps all of us feel better and more optimistic.

3. What was the hardest thing they taught you today?

Ok, it is school, so you should probably keep some focus on the education stuff. Regularly asking about the learning edge of what’s happening in the classroom gives you insight into what’s being taught and your kid’s handling of both new concepts and their attitude to schooling. If school’s not their favourite place, here you can encourage them to put in constant effort and make good out of it. In most instances, success at school is about 80% effort and 20% talent so you don’t have to have natural ability to do well at school.

If the new thing is easy for your child, celebrate with them. It feels good to be capable. I remember being well into the second term of my daughter’s first year when she looked up and told me with a grin, “Mum, I haven’t learned anything new yet!” Second kids!  Yet the look on her face was worth sharing, even if the learning wasn’t.

Some parents will doubtless say these questions are all well and good but won’t help their child do well at school because they’re a boy or an introvert or ….. . My answer is that you need to train them. Training is different to teaching in that it happens progressively over time. Introverts need to learn to get words out of their own heads and extroverts need to learn not to bore everyone, by putting some pauses in for others to have a turn. Boys need to learn how to talk as much as girls, regardless of whether they show a natural inclination or not. Mothers, if this thought pains you just think about how horrible it is to talk with adults who lack conversational skills! Do you want your kid to be one of them?

The same is true for parents who think they’ve already tried this and all they’ve ever got in return is a grunt or a “Nuthin.” You have to be persistent, and allow time for kids to get the hang of the questions and build their skill. This is especially true if you’re kids are already above Year 2. Some kids will want to get away with the minimum – the question is, are you going to let them? If after asking good questions for a week or two you’re still getting non responses, and you’ve tried feeding back similar answers about your own day, it might be time to offer some feedback:  “Actually, as your parent I’m interested in your world. I’d like you to do well at school and learn to give me better answers.”

Make sure you’re treating this like a conversation and not an interrogation or moralising opportunity. You wouldn’t do that with your friends! (I hope!) And include some of your own stories in, both about the day you’ve just had and any similar experiences you may have had at school. It won’t hurt for your kids to hear about some of your disasters, especially if you can add a bit of healthy long term perspective: “I always came bottom in the spelling bees. Thank goodness for spell checkers on computers!” Even if you hated school, you’ll still have useful contributions to make. Though if you want your kids to do well at school, remember they’ll need a good attitude….

So there you are: three questions to help your kids do well at school this year. Tell me something good/funny awful that happened, who did you enjoy hanging out with, and what was the hardest thing they taught you? If you want to add a few more, how about these: If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be? What did you do well today? Or, anything you need help with?

Here’s to a year of successful learning for both you and your kids at school.