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Back-to-school tips for parents

Several teachers asked if I would reprint a column that first appeared about 10 years ago. The subject is my five top back-to-school tips for parents.

Before you read, be informed that when I use the term “best students,” I'm not necessarily referring to those who make the best grades. Rather, I mean those students who come to school prepared to pay attention, accept assignments and do their best, whatever their best may be. Here, then, are those tips, which are also supported by research.

1. Make it clear that disobedience is not an option. Teachers say that the best students are almost always among the most well behaved. Good behavior begins in the home. Not even the best teacher can discipline a child who comes from a home disrespectful of adult authority. Make the rules of proper behavior clear to your child, and when the rules are broken, enforce with a firm, even hand.

2. Assign your child a fair share of day-to-day housework. Again, teachers tell me that the best students are usually those who have daily chores. It makes sense, doesn't it? The more responsible a child is within his or her family, the more responsibility the child will demonstrate at school.

3. Limit electronic entertainment to nonschool days only. The research is increasingly unequivocal: Screen time of any sort decreases attention span. Learning from a flesh-and-blood teacher requires asking and answering questions, memorizing, conducting independent inquiry, transferring what you've learned to paper, listening to the teacher's feedback concerning your work and correcting mistakes. Bottom line: If you want your child to be average, let him watch lots of television.

4. Be interested in what and how your child is doing in school, but don't get involved in doing his work for him. The interested parent says to the child, in effect, “I am concerned about your education, but it is ultimately your responsibility.” The involved parent says, “Your education is my responsibility.”

Unfortunately, too many well-intentioned parents have taken responsibility for their children's schoolwork. The result of this parental benevolence is a child who has difficulty taking the proverbial bull by the horns.

5. If your child's teacher reports a problem, give the teacher – not your child – the benefit of the doubt. When a teacher says your child has a problem, academic or behavioral, it is with your child's best interest in mind. Curb the tendency to become defensive and listen with an open mind. You may learn something that will help you become a better parent.

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