It’s the start of the new year – a time of stress for many parents. Around this time, we commonly get asked by parents what they can actually do to support their child’s learning.
Thankfully, a wealth of research allows us to help answer this. So, here are 10 top ways to help your child learn and feel better this academic year…
Set high academic expectations
Having high expectations is everything. In one of the most comprehensive reviews of parenting behaviour, researchers analysed 37 studies including over 80,000 students and their families. They found that the most influential thing a parent can do to help their child improve their grades is to have high expectations of their academic success.
But what does this actually mean? Well, these expectations are based on the importance of school, their attitude towards teachers and their value of education. All of these factors play a role in encouraging students to take school seriously and motivates them to work harder.
Have regular communication
In that same study, researchers found developing and maintaining communication with their child about their school life to be a particularly important factor. This matters even more at the start of the academic year, as it helps parents solve any potential problems before they spiral into bigger issues.
Some useful ways to improve communication include asking your child open ended questions about their day, how they are finding school as well as their short-term and long-term goals. Having a positive and solution-focused thinking style allows students to be more equipped in developing a growth mindset.
Develop good reading habits
The third factor that the researchers found to be important is developing good reading habits, including reading frequently and regularly with their children. But why is this so important? Well, some benefits of reading include:
- Improved cognitive development
- A better understanding of the world around them
- Greater concentration
- Improved academic success
Often, life gets in the way. And despite wanting to read with your child, it might not feel like you have the time. However, it is important to try and develop this habit by implementing this into your daily life. By setting aside 30 minutes to an hour of reading a day, it can help your child get into this routine. This can even be during their commute to school, or before bedtime.
If the issue is that your child is not motivated to read, then it can be useful to implement a reward system. For example, for every 10 books your child reads, they can get a small reward such as picking out a treat from the shop. Having something to look forward to can bring more excitement to reading, and before you know it, your child genuinely starts enjoying it.
Set clear homework rules
The final factor outlined by the researchers in the above study is setting clear homework rules. These should help your child better divide their homework and leisure time.
Some ways to help your child with their homework include:
- Setting a routine
- Having a designated homework space
- Promoting independence
- Helping your child organise their own time
Encourage physical exercise
On average, children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. However, a recent survey found a 40% drop in the number of children meeting this requirement. Despite the physical problems this can lead to, it also has an impact on students’ academic performance.
For example, too little exercise can result in:
- Reduced memory capabilities
- Worsened concentration levels
- Feeling more stressed
So, what strategies can you use to encourage your child to exercise more?
Well, one effective method is to expose them to a wide range of sports activities, to encourage them to be more interested and motivated to exercise. But it also happens through daily habits – for example, if possible, you could start walking to and from school with your child instead of taking the car.
Eat dinner together
In this fascinating study, researchers surveyed almost 100,000 students from over 213 cities to find out about the impact that eating dinner as a family has on students.
Surprisingly, they found that just over half of younger teenagers had dinner with their family 5-7 times a week, with this dropping to just over a third for older teenagers. But why is it important to eat dinner together?
Well, the researchers found an association between having dinner together and:
- Improved communication
- Increased motivational levels
- Being more optimistic about their future
- Improved self-esteem
- Reduced alcohol, tobacco and drug use
However, it is important to note that this study only investigated the correlation between these influences, not their causation. Therefore, although there is an association between these factors, it doesn’t necessarily mean that having dinner together directly leads to these benefits – but it can’t hurt to try.
Reduce mobile phone usage
With around 80.69% of the population currently having a phone, it comes as no surprise that phone use is hard to manage and can cause a lot of damage for students’ academic performance. In one recent study, researchers found that for every 100 minutes that students spend using their phone, they drop 6.3 places in terms of their academic school ranking.
It is therefore important to manage phone use at home. But how can you do this? Well, some strategies include:
- Setting aside phone-free time each day
- Putting the phone away when your child needs to focus
- Limiting notifications
By allowing your child to have more control over their phone use, it can help improve their well-being and academic performance.
Develop good sleeping habits
The National Sleep Foundation recommend GCSE and A-Level students get up to 10 hours of sleep a night. However, many report sleeping less than 7 hours per night, causing them to miss out on the benefits of sleep which include improved concentration, memory and creativity.
Therefore, it is important to implement good sleeping habits from the start of the year. Some ways to do this include:
- Starting the routine a few hours before bedtime
- Encouraging exercise throughout the day
- Asking them to turn off their phones
- Avoiding any caffeinated drinks
View failure as an opportunity to learn
In this study, researchers found that the way parents react to failure has a big influence on their child’s mindset. When failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn, children are likely to develop a growth mindset. However, if failure is viewed as a source of shame or negativity, then children are more likely to have a fixed mindset.
As research has constantly shown that having a growth mindset improves student learning, it is important to develop a supportive yet challenging environment. This helps students develop their resilience, whilst assuring them that they can improve.
Provide good feedback
When done right, feedback is one of the most effective ways to help someone improve their learning. However, the emphasis is on doing this right, as research suggests that 38% of feedback interventions do more harm than good.
So, how can you give encouraging yet constructive feedback? Well, some ways to do this include:
- Don’t delay it too much
- Focus the feedback on their effort, not the outcome
- Be specific with the feedback given
- Suggest clear action points to help them move forward
The start of the academic year can be a challenging time for many parents. It can be hard to know what to do to support your child, and can leave you feeling powerless. Hopefully, the above 10 tips should provide great guidance to be your child’s best supporter this year.