Tempering Expectations for Your Child’s Academic Success

We want our kids to do well in school. But maybe results-focused parents are getting carried away. How can we manage our expectations for their performance?

My friend and I were talking about our sons. Each of them is traveling through their teenage years at a different pace, passing the signs along life’s road without reading some of them at all, or understanding their importance fully.

What do you expect? They are boys. Each boy can only do his best. Yet, we still expect excellence. Sometimes we want academic success for them before they realize that they need it for their future. As a father, that can really hurt because disappointment from our children is our Achilles’ heel. We see their abilities, but their minds still lack focus and wisdom.

For a father, wisdom is hindsight. It is a burning reality that if you could just slow your child’s pace and persuade him to read the signs sooner, he would make the right decisions now! If your child knew what you know, she would apply herself relentlessly during the first two years of high school. They would practice in their areas of God-given talent. They would use their athletic ability that time will steal from them in the blink of an eye. They would pursue a 4.0 above all else.

So, what can we do?

1. Remember that your mistakes made you the man you are today

Chances are that you turned out fine. If you were a 4.0 scholar athlete and accomplished musician, I am honored that you are reading my advice. For the rest of us, hope for the best and parent to make it happen. Life is a marathon and youth is a sprint. Your child is being measured from the first day of high school to determine if he is “college material” – but he doesn’t understand that. You probably didn’t either, but you must tell him.

You should also tell your child about your high school experiences and how they lead you to where you are. We are all on different paths but your child will see the truth in your advice if you share the truth of your successes and shortcomings. You’re a good father and someday he will be too. If the early years of high school are not her time to shine, make sure you help her find his way on that path and the college that will be right for him. Detroit has some excellent choices.

2. Wait with patient guidance

Just as some parents put their child in harm’s way, you can put your child on a path to their academic excellence. That does not mean that you demand excellence and it happens. It means helping them achieve a solid academic foundation. If that requires sitting next to them while they do homework until they are able to do it without you, so be it.

It also means exposing your child to events and activities that mirror the use of their talents so they can understand how to pursue their interests through school and other outlets. However, you should not wait until they want it for themselves. It is your responsibility to nurture a child and his abilities until he sees their value on his own. But don’t just stand there with a new punishment or restriction when the grades are not stellar, get in the game and help him with his studies now.

3. Learn how your child learns

Every child has a way of learning the things that interest them. Once you identify that process, it is time to apply it to academic subjects. Flash cards, mnemonic devices, and note taking are basic methods. However, reading the subject matter to your child or discussing the topics may help more. Quite frankly, you may need to learn what they are learning in order to demonstrate the importance of academics. Once you have developed a successful array of learning tools together, your child will have what she needs to build academic excellence.

4. Let him learn from his mistakes

It may be the case that once your child becomes aware of the importance of academic success, his prior mediocrity will motivate him to work harder. No one wants to be measured by their performance when they didn’t realize they were actually competing. So, tell him. I met with a very brilliant young man recently who is very disappointed about his freshmen year of high school. Now, two years later, he is motivated with burning intensity to achieve admittance to a top tier college. The glory of the situation is that he will realize his goal. It just might not be his first choice. This is a painful life lesson but only a minor setback. Every boy has to learn that he is measured by what he does and not what he meant to do. Teach that lesson before the consequences become significant.

Most people don’t respond well to blame or shame. These are not the parenting tools that work well when you want to combine self-esteem with doing one’s best in school. Everyone is not intended to ace high school, college or life. With that said, learn to encourage your child to value education and to expect and accept only their best work because that is what the world requires.


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