The research is clear: it’s not just about class sizes, the state of the school buildings or whether you’re born on the right side of the tracks. The biggest factor in whether students succeed in school is the attitude of their parents. So when parents are told they hold the key, what does that mean? What role do they need to play and what steps can they take to give their child the best chance of shining? Elisabeth Tarica asked the experts.


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Words are like brain food for babies, says Parenting Research Centre chief executive Warren Cann, and it’s never too early to start reading to them.

“One of the most practical things a parent can do is introduce their children to reading, as there is quite a lot of evidence that early exposure to books and written material is important for development of reading skills,” he says.

Reading to your child should continue well into primary school, says Melbourne University early childhood expert Kay Margetts.

“It should become part of everyday regular routine and shouldn’t be limited to just books — it could be catalogues, recipes and so on,” she says.

Setting aside a relaxed, quiet time to read stories together, to talk about what’s on the pages, and to look for words and letters is invaluable.

Choosing stories beyond the children’s reading level allows them to focus on the magic of the story rather than having to struggle to understand every word.


Confidence, says Andrew Fuller, family psychologist and author of the book Help Your Child Succeed at School, is one of the most powerful, and one of the most elusive, qualities behind success in life.

Confident children with well-developed organisational skills, resilience, independence and social skills will thrive in the classroom.

Mr Fuller, who specialises in the wellbeing of young people, says families that work well seem to praise one another a lot — compliments are made and positive efforts are commented on.

Parents should also try to treat mistakes as opportunities to learn and look for the best in themselves and their children by focusing on success, skills and abilities. Encouragement is a powerful confidence-building tool.

“When children make comments like ‘I’m no good at maths’, acknowledge their feelings and help them to express them. Ask them what makes them feel that way. Accept their fears or insecurities as genuine but don’t agree with their self-assessment. You might say, ‘I get it that you are struggling at maths, how can we work on it to make it easier?‘ “

Building social and emotional skills in young children is also vital, says Associate Professor Margetts, whose research has shown that preschool children without such skills find it difficult to cope with the general demands of school.


A successful academic journey starts in the child’s home and is built on a number of factors, says psychologist and bullying expert Evelyn Field.

Parents who value education, set expectations and encourage learning at home are the most effective advocates for their child.

Her views are supported by new research showing that students start engaging with the idea of going to university in primary school, far earlier than first thought.

An Australian Council for Educational Research survey — of 55,000 students at 55 tertiary institutions — found about 40 per cent of the students first considered university study while in primary school.


Academic success is as much about fostering a dedicated partnership between children and parents as providing the basics of good food, enough sleep and exercise, says Ms Field.

“When parents value education, they encourage their children to do well. Pay for them to have coaching, the equipment needed, a nice desk, and children know they are being supported at school,” she says.

Parents also need to stay in tune with their children’s friends, interests and activities.

“Children need to be part of an involved family where they are not only going shopping together and driving in the car together, but they are talking, laughing, arguing, so the family is engaged and connected with what the children are doing.”

Family rituals, however mundane, help build self-esteem. These simple things contribute to academic achievement by helping children build inner strength to cope with the ups and downs of life. “The best way to build self-esteem is to have a good social support network — to have friends at home, friends at school, to go to sleepovers — because the child who is isolated is not going to get the same self-confidence and support.”


Create a homework routine and organise a quiet study space for your child.

It is also important not to nag children about doing their homework or to compare their results with siblings, says clinical and educational psychologist Vanda Brink.

“Be accepting of your child’s best efforts and encourage them not to be deterred with a result they may feel disappointed in. Never allow your child to feel that their efforts are not good enough.”

Developing effective research skills and good study habits in the early years will also help later.

Dr Brink says the environment needed for success at school is both physical and emotional.

“The emotional environment needs to be positive and encouraging, and emotionally safe so that your child feels at ease to explore their academic potential.”

Children depend on their parents to enable them to achieve their best, particularly in the early years of schooling. “As the child progresses through to year 12, the responsibility takes a subtle shift from parents driving their child’s success to children being in charge of their own academic [progress],” she says. “How this shift is attained can greatly influence a child’s success at school as parents no longer have the role of being the primary ‘building blocks’ that determine a child’s success, but rather take on the role of scaffolding, where their role is to support their children to succeed.”


Education is most successful when parents and schools work together. One of the strongest predictors of how well children will do at primary school is the extent to which parents become engaged, says Warren Cann. “Evidence shows that parenting is the single most important influence on a child’s early learning and development,” he says.

“Parents are the first and most important teachers that children will have and the quality of the home learning environment has the biggest single impact on how well children will do academically at school, especially in the early years.”

This is why it is vital that parents are seen as partners in their children’s education and welcomed into the school. “When we recognise them as such and engage them, not by trying to turn them into teachers but as genuine partners, we will improve educational outcomes for all children, because children stand to gain the most when they have an enriched home environment combined with stimulating education.”

It is important to stay connected to your child’s school by reading newsletters, volunteering and forming a relationship with teachers.


Education experts agree one of the most valuable ways to become involved in your child’s education is to provide a rich learning environment at home by finding ways to turn everyday experiences into learning opportunities.

“The first three years of a child’s life are a time of enormous learning and development — during this time the way that parents interact with their child and the stimulation they provide in the home environment are crucial to shaping the child’s early learning, especially the development of language,” says Warren Cann.

It is the quality of everyday interactions — when feeding, dressing or bathing — that promote learning. For older children, learning can happen and be supported at home even if it doesn’t seem like what’s being done at school.

A stimulating home learning environment includes access to books, shared reading, rhymes and songs. Things as simple as frequent conversation, tuning in to and responding to the child’s needs, and following their interests can have huge benefits on development.


When nana said “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” she wasn’t far off the mark. Researchers have found solid proof linking a good night’s sleep to progress in school.

In a study of children starting school, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute found that the more severe the sleep problem, the worse the child’s health, behaviour and learning. It shows the link between rest and school success is apparent from the day children first walk through the school gates — as children with sleep problems were poorer in their communication skills, language and literacy, and mathematical thinking.

Andrew Fuller says teenagers need more than nine hours’ sleep a night, as much as young children, partly because their brains are in development overdrive. He says a minimum of eight hours’ sleep is essential for optimal brain functioning at school.

Those who don’t get enough sleep have to work harder to do well at school and are more prone to feelings of sadness, which can seem so obvious to parents dealing with teenagers’ chaotic sleep patterns.


Here is another bugbear for parents — the time teenagers spend watching television, playing computer games and on social networking sites.

Forget the threat of becoming square-eyed; there are more serious issues at play when it comes to television. According to a University of Bristol study, children who spend more than two hours a day at a screen have a 60 per cent higher risk of psychological problems than children who clock up fewer viewing hours.

While there is growing evidence to suggest that any TV viewing for children under the age of two impairs their ability to concentrate, Andrew Fuller says that, as children develop, a small amount of television viewing can be positively associated with academic achievement.

He recommends a limit of 90 minutes for a nine-year-old, while a 13-year-old shouldn’t watch more than an hour a day.

“At 17 years of age the optimal amount of TV viewing is half an hour per day,” he says.

If your child is having trouble falling asleep, turn off electronics at least an hour before bed. Computer screens at close range are telling the body clock that it is not yet dark.

Melbourne University educational psychologist Erica Frydenberg warns older students not to waste valuable study time by getting sucked into the social networking vortex. “Students entering years 11 and 12 may feel particularly anxious about the workload ahead,” she says. “While it’s important to have activities you enjoy, such as listening to music or outings, students should be cautious about social networking, as this can often ‘suck’ time and increase stress through the pressure to reply to messages.”

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Source: The Age –