Are you a parent or educator looking for tips and advice on helping your child or students become college-bound?
Even if you currently have a toddler, it is never too early to start good parenting habits that will foster a mentally healthy and academically prepared child that is on the right track to higher education. It is also not too late to start new habits that will facilitate a more focused, independent, and self-disciplined child if you have an older or high school aged child.
Before getting into the tips, please know that I believe that it is never to late to get higher education of any kind. There are many paths in life. Not all are the traditional high school to four-year university route. In my experience as a school psychologist, mother of three, and adult life experience, sometimes even the most intelligent of children need time to mature and be ready for higher education that is career driven. Sometimes it’s better to wait, explore, and try out things before committing to a college or university degree program, as this may be a waste of time and money if the child is not truely ready.
But this article is not about going easy on your child for years, so that they are not ready to get their college degree. It is about how to prepare your child, so that they are mature, independent, self-motivated, academically prepared, and financially prepared enough to attend a college or university! It is about being an engaged parent and not falling for some of the obstacles that might hinder your child’s potential success.
Just to warn you…I might be a tougher parent than you, but I might also be easier on my kids. Parenting is about balancing it all. Like a juggling act that is part marathon. These tips and recommendations are based in my own experiences as a school psychologist, personal and professional research, and as my experience as a mother of three (currently ages 4, 9, and 11).
This is one of my first tips because it is so important to foster a sense of independence in your child, which can be done from an early age. Having independence at an early age builds self-esteem and a sense of confidence that will translate to school success. Start with developmentally appropriate activities, such as getting dressed and personal hygiene for toddlers, and work up to chores. You might hear complaints to start, as its always easier to have mommy brush your teeth, but with a little incentive (nothing pricey) your child will learn that it feels to be independent.
By the end of Elementary School children should be able to:
Make a meal, put away their laundry, bathe independently, brush their teeth, use money, ride a bike, swim, tie their shoes, use a map, take out the trash, care for a pet, and clean… without the expectation of earning a reward. Sure there’s a little bribery at times, such as pick up your room and you can have desert, but I’m not sure if experts recommend chores for an allowance these days. I mean, do you get a dollar every time they wash the dishes or do the laundry? You wish, right?
Academic Independence is important as well, of course.
Academically, kids should be able to attempt, not complete necessarily, their homework starting at least by the second grade. If they finish without any assistance, definitely check for completeness and effort. So many children will rush through their homework to get it done, even if it’s not correct. That is especially true if they know that you, the parent, will not be checking it. They’re no dummies. Fast homework completion means more free time.
When correcting homework, it is fine to help them with challenging problems or tasks. However, don’t correct and do everything for them! If you are correcting lots of errors, write a note to their teacher on the page, so that their teacher is aware that they needed your help in order to complete the assignments. This way, their teacher will know that they need additional instruction and support on the skill that was challenging.
The Importance of Extracurricular Activities
Building non-academic interests and talents, such as an instrument, sport, club, or other non-academic skill can help build confidence in kids while helping them to build social skills. Social skills are the skills that people use when interacting with others. They include using manners, showing respect, having good sportsmanship, and working cooperatively with others. These skills are important and will be tested in academic settings as your children progress through school.
Social skills are important because that are a necessity in most “real world” careers. Can you think of a work colleague with poor social skills? I can. And those folks are no fun to work with and often struggle to keep employment in my experience.
Parent Discipline builds Self-discipline:
As your child becomes older, it is important to continue to maintain rules and expectations for your child, and have consistent consequences for breaking the rules.
Example of rules and expectations:
Clean your room
Make your bed daily
No use of profanity
Be home by curfew
Examples of appropriate consequences for not following your rules:
•No TV/Video games/Phone
•No going to a friends house
•Extra Chores or Academic work (reading, practice math facts, etc.)
Show concern for the importance of School and Homework:
The need for Homework is hotly debated in recent years. One benefit of homework is that it does teach responsibility and can reinforce what your child has learned for the day, so….Try to show interest in what they are learning and what they have to do for homework.
Show interest in their school-day:
Ask open ended questions about their school day and show interest in learning, friends, subjects, not just grades. This creates too much pressure.
What is there is not homework or very little?
If there is no homework, having your student do a little extra reading time or computer math activity (Prodigy, iReady, ST Math, Extra Math, FACT Dash) is a good idea to keep them in the habit of having daily “school time” at home. Some of these websites are free. Others are the computer intervention programs that your district may have. If your not sure what district programs your child can access at home, ask your child’s teacher how to access the program and for any log-in information.
Creating a positive HOME-Learning Environment
Creating a clean space with minimal distractions and moderate supervision is another idea for academic success. There are several options. You can have your child do their homework at the kitchen table, desk, home office, or other clean space in the house. Even their bedroom floor is alright with good lighting and a clipboard or other hard surface to write on. Avoid letting them sit on their bed, however, as this could lead to napping.
Another option is the public library. Even if you have a good space in your home for schoolwork, bringing your child to a library to do their work can help them see what studying looks like. This is because there will be plenty of older students and adults modeling for them all around them in the library. Plus, when they are done with their work, they can check out books.
What will you do while they are doing their homework in the library and don’t need your help? I know that you may have limited time and going to the library takes away your time for chores and cooking dinner, but try to use the time for your own me-time, such as reading a book, playing on social media, reading a blog, or streaming Netflix on your phone. While it’s not the best modeling of how you spend your time, when you go home you will feel less of a need to do these things and can be more present for your child.
Homework Time Recommendations:
Have your child start their homework before dinner. They will be tired by 7pm, and will not be as awake or motivated if they start homework this late in the evening. Sometimes this will happen on days with extracurricular, but try not to make it part of their routine. A break between school and starting homework is probably needed, but delaying the inevitable will only make it that much more difficult for your child to be alert and start their work.
Other recommendations for homework time is to have a designated “quiet hour” or “school time”, where everyone of every age in the home is quiet for academic time after school. This will help your older children and facilitate an expected “no-TV/technology” time for your younger children. Even little ones that haven’t started school should be encouraged to play independently with toys, color, or do puzzles during afternoon “school time” in order to reduce distractions while your student does their homework and in order to increase their own cognitive development.
Turn the TV off. They will not learn the information that they are studying and it will take twice as long for them to complete their homework with the TV on. This probably seems obvious, but my own children beg me constantly to let them do their homework with the TV on. Yes, I cave sometimes. However, I usually cave only after I see what it is they they have to do and judge if it’s something very easy for them.
Bed time for Elementary School Children should be NO LATER than 9:00pm! This is because children’s brains need sleep in order to function well for learning in the day. When we sleep, our brains are still working on storing all of the information learned that day, and store information better when they are allowed to get the sleep that they need (about 9 hours for ages 7-14). I can tell you that I have had to talk to parents on numerous occasions as a school psychologist about improving their child’s sleep habits.
Click HERE for ideas and products to help improve your child’s or student’s sleep habits.
The Importance of “Family Time”
A survey from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) reported that the more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use substances,. It also indicates that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children. Also, the more the kids feel connected to you, their parent, the more likely they are to come to talk to you…and not just their friends when they have a problem, including peer pressure.
Talk About Their Future…NOW!
Talk to your child regularly about your hopes and dreams for their future. Does it include graduating from a University, having a family, buying a car or house, having a job? Then… Do research on colleges together and go visit local college campuses. I’m in Orange County, so I’ve taken my girls to basketball games at Cal State Long Beach and walked around Orange Coast College once. You can also take them to see larger universities or your own alma mater. Make it a road trip and go to a show or event. The good news is that they are usually pretty inexpensive to attend and a lot of fun to route for your team as an alumni.
Planning for Future Career Ideas:
Do research on careers together online. Have your child think about their interests (beyond professional YouTuber or athlete) when considering a possible career.
How technology may hinder their success…
TV in the bedroom? NOPE!
“But please mom…Everyone else has one!!!” Research suggests that Children with televisions in their bedrooms score lower on school tests and are more likely to have sleep problems. Also, having a television in the bedroom is strongly associated with being overweight and a higher risk for smoking.
Does your child need a cell phone in Elementary or Middle School?
Nope again! “But please mom! Everyone else has one!” Although the convenience of contacting your child may tempt you as they become older, there are many negatives to having young children have their own cell phone.
I went out to dinner with a few families for my daughter’s sailing team a few months ago and it was ridiculous. All of the twelve and thirteen year-olds were playing on their phones. Their parents were then making comments to me about how they want to limit their child’s phone use, especially when out with other kids. Um…Just don’t get them one? My girls (9 and 11) were perfectly fine talking to the other kids that didn’t have phones…just like we had to do when we were kids. Heaven forbid they feel an ounce of boredom and are forced to engage in socialization. Remember my discussion above on social skills? Very important to practice.
Other Risks of Cell Phones:
Research suggests that cell phones can be (for both children and adults): Addictive, problematic use linked to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
In addition, it provides a platform for Cyberbullies to access your child and torment victims through text messaging or Social Media platforms. I have been part of administrative and disciplinary teams for years that deal with the consequences, sometimes life-threatening, related to cyberbullying. If your child does not have a phone, they are significantly less likely to be involved in this type of drama at best, pathway to depression and suicidal attempts at worst.
Less severe, but still educationally impactful consequences of cell phone use in children and teens can include eye strain and “digital thumb” resulting from continual focusing on small screen and use small buttons. Google any Occupational Therapist’s opinion on cell phones and “digital thumb” and I am sure you will find similar opinions and data.
Social Media and the Not-so College Bound Child
You can guess by now what my suggestion is on social media and it’s relation to mental health, college readiness, and academic success might be. It’s a hard “pass.”
Reasons why your Elementary or Middle School child should not be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snap Chat, etc. if you want them to be college-bound.
•Use of Facebook decreases time that students should be spending on academics and extracurricular activities to help their grades, cognitive development, physical development, and self-esteem.
•By being on-line constantly, student’s spend less time doing activities that are fun, encourage social interactions, and could better help them get into college. That’s why you’re here, right?
Video Games and the College Bound Child?
The research on video games
Poor Schoolwork and Argumentativeness: According to a study in 2003, it seems that video game addicts tend to achieve poor grade scores and fight a great deal with their teachers and friends more than non-gaming peers. I can attest that when I occasionally let my own kids play games on their laptops or our home Wii, they will literally change personalities when I ask them to turn it off or take a break.
Poor Concentration: A 2012 paper published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that games can improve our ability to concentrate in the short term but damage long-term concentration…increasing characteristics of ADHD. Have I evaluated children who appear to have ADHD, but are actually just over stimulated from years of too many hours playing video games? Yes. But it’s a chick and egg situation because many children who have ADHD love video games because of the high stimulation that they provide.
MONEY and COLLEGE…It Costs A LOT, Unfortunately, So…
- Do research on how to pay for college starting now. Factors like parent income, sports, ethnicity, and having good grades could all factor into getting free money, grants, and scholarships to help pay for college.
- Seek out guidance from a financial advisor on saving for your child’s college education.
- Look into starting a 529 College Savings Pan.
- Be realistic, but not discouraged about the costs. Your child will likely earn more money as a college graduate than with a High School diploma alone. But options such as work-study, joining the military, attending a Community College (some are free) can also help your child reach the same destination with less or no debt in the end.
The Future is Sooner Than You Think!
Start planning for the future NOW with your child now to help them set academic goals, encourage academic (and non-academic) success.
• Focus on the “big picture” of life and how good (or bad) habits learned in Elementary and Middle School can impact their future of college and career success.