32 Things To Teach Your Children so They’re Successful in School: Part 1

Education Reformation Blog

Education Reformation Illustration by Kwang Choi

As part of my Education Reformation, The Never-Give-Up Initiative, I have mentioned the equal balance of responsibility among students, teachers, and parents. The greatest obstacle children face in their achievement of educational success is the misconception that teachers will teach them everything they need to know. Teachers must teach their content area, but they cannot just pour that information into students’ brains. Students have to be prepared to receive the knowledge, and they must have the desire to apply that information.

That’s where parents’ roles are crucial. Instead of expecting that teachers can somehow miraculously get a child to listen, when he hasn’t listened to his parents for 5-10 years, parents can be proactive in creating the best scenario for all involved. It’s never too late to teach and enforce these necessary skills/traits.

Let me start by saying I’m not the perfect parent, by any means. This list comes more from my experiences as a teacher and what my students have told me, shown me, and not shown me, than from my “perfect” parenting skills. As a matter of fact, I used to be one of those parents who had a hard time saying no to my children. I was a parent who didn’t follow through on directives, who felt guilty for taking away a beloved toy or privilege when my child was disrespectful. But I’m not that parent any longer. I have seen the characteristics of successful students, and the mistakes I was making as a parent were going to cripple my children academically. I have been making changes as a parent, and I invite and encourage other parents to do the same.

I’ve broken up the list into easier, more digestible posts: The first post concentrates on what to teach for learning-ready behavior (academic and social).

In order for students to be successful in school, here are some characteristics parents can teach their children to improve their odds for success:

  1. Teach them to listen: We have so many children in school who are not really listening to their teachers or peers. They are the students who say to their teachers, “You didn’t tell us to do that.” Or “You never went over that.” Granted, there are times when teachers do indeed forget to announce an assignment or go over information, but when other students did get the information, it’s a sure indication that it’s the listener’s error, not the teacher’s. Teaching them to listen, to focus on the speaker’s words, will guarantee that students will get the information they need.
  2. Teach them to follow directions: The common denominator of successful students is their ability to follow directions. This skill goes hand in hand with listening. If a student does not listen, he will not know how to complete the task. When teaching children to follow directions, make sure they can follow oral and written directions. Some children listen better than they read, or vice versa, but they should be able to do both well.
  3. Teach them how to talk to adults: Children who cannot talk to adults will have a hard time in school. These are the students who cannot ask their teachers for help because they are too shy or feel weird talking to adults. Teachers are not mind readers; they don’t know if a student is struggling until the student says something.
  4. Teach them to respect adults: There are so many students who are disrespectful to adults; it’s truly shocking. Students who cannot use polite words, who yell or snap at adults as if they are peers, or who play the “whatever” card with their teachers will not get far. Teachers generally don’t tolerate that kind of disrespect, which makes it harder for those students to get the attention they need.
  5. Teach them to respect peers: Having positive relationships in school impacts students’ ability to function in school. Drama is caused by lack of respect, plain and simple. Honestly, students who are nasty to other students may appear like they have control, but no one really likes them. Teaching children how to respect peers will get those children to school, help them to have great relationships, and help them benefit from collaboration, a necessary learning tool. I tell my children they don’t have to be friends with everyone, but they must be respectful to everyone. Life in school is much easier when students have respect for each other.
  6. Teach them to be kind without being pushovers: Doing this right can be tricky, but it is absolutely necessary that children are kind, without being an easy target for abuse. Students who can be kind to others without being “used” by less studious students have a strength and maturity that will serve them well, which will then extend beyond high school.
  7. Teach them to apologize sincerely: A heart-felt apology goes a long way. And let’s face it, everyone makes errors in judgment every once in a while. Students who know how to apologize to teachers and their peers have better relationships with them. It may be hard to apologize, but students who can do it sincerely are trusted, even after an error in judgment. Students who avoid apologies are not trusted. Students who are not trusted start to feel defeated and hopeless, which leads to worse decisions. A sincere apology can stop the descent before it starts.
  8. Teach them to tell the truth: If there is one thing that can destroy a student’s standing with teachers and peers, it is being a liar. Children start out lying because they don’t want to lose their parents’ love; if not corrected—with love—it will quickly escalate to lying to friends and teachers to get approval. Sadly, once a student is marked as a liar, he or she will lose trust and respect, which leads down the same path as a student who can’t apologize sincerely.
  9. Teach them to stand up for themselves: Obviously, not all children will be respectful and kind to each other; it will be necessary, at some point, for a child to stand his or her ground. Parents need to have conversations with their children about when it will be necessary to stand up to a bully, and then give them the tools, words, and confidence to say enough is enough.
  10. Teach them to stand up for others: Teaching this can be tricky as well. How do we teach our children to stand up for someone else without turning into bullies themselves? There is a fine line, but it’s necessary to know where that line is. Students who are not afraid to protect a weaker person have the makings of true leaders. We want our children to be leaders, not followers, and this skill will ensure they stay on that path.

Part 2 concentrates on the ethical characteristics of successful students.

Part 3 concentrates on knowledge and skills students may or may not receive in school, so it is essential that parents make sure children have a solid foundation in these categories.

What do you think of this list so far? Do you have any strategies to teach these skills/traits in your children?

6 thoughts on “32 Things To Teach Your Children so They’re Successful in School: Part 1

  1. My seven year old will be going to second grade this year. As he is growing he is learning new things from his peers and elder kids. Not all are good things and sometimes we wonder how we can help him stay on good path. This post is certainly helpful as it addresses many of the issues heads on. I specifically liked the “being respectful” point. It is important to teach it at a young age. Thanks much for sharing it. I look forward to the next part.


    1. Thanks, Rohit! My son is the same age. We definitely have to stay connected with who their friends are. Let me know if there are techniques you use with your son that work well. It’s always nice to share ideas!

      1. We realized that having an open communication channel helps. He loves to talk when we are having fun or ask him interesting questions about his day at the camp or school. He will say all the silly things that they did at school laughing out loud . It tells us who he is hanging out with and what those kids are doing/saying. We also found that small things/activities at home that make them realize the importance of doing right things work. It could be as trivial as organizing your room, speak softly [gets you what you want :)], and sharing is more fun etc. Parenting is a learning experience. We are also graduating to second grade and look to share/learn from other parents :). Thats where your blog helps!

  2. I like the kind without being a push over one. I remember in high school once I asked someone to copy their homework and she was just like “I don’t do that” but she looked really scared. I just smiled and said “it’s ok, you have values, I respect your spunk, its cool. I admire that.” and I copied off someone else. Kids just want to be accepted, but I think most people don’t mind being politely declined when they are asking you to do something you shouldn’t do.

    Telling the truth is tricky territory though. I mean for little things like “I did skip” its not so bad . But in school, you do know that you get the SAME punishment whether you tell the truth or lie. And if you lie you might not get caught at all. Also schools have a strange discipline system that really bugs me. There are no tolerance and rules set in place so that the actual situation doesn’t matter at all. For example: My first month after moving to Colorado, I drew a bad picture of my math teacher making fun of her and passed it to the kid up front and the teacher intercepted it. I got called into the assistant principals office and they said “Do you know what you are here for” and I admitted to the note and I fessed up and broke into tears and explained that I had just moved from across the country and I was just trying to make friends because I was so lonely and I hated that I moved. That I had never gotten into trouble before and I was always a really good student, that I didn’t even dislike that teacher, I thought she was awesome I was just trying to make friends. The assistant principal told me she felt bad for me, and that she was originally going to suspend me for 3 days but she was only going to suspend me for one. I guess that was her “lighter” sentence. Suspended for drawing a stick figure picture of my teacher with a big butt- apparently that made it “sexual harassment.” They said they were tied and had to suspend me. My parents grounded me for a month. I was cut from contact with the few friends I had made. I was forced to sit alone in my room and think about what my life had become. I became suicidal in that time, I stopped caring about school, my grades dropped, I got a reputation as being a “bad kid” among my classmates because word had got out that I was suspended. So I stuck with it, I ran with it, because if I was going to get into that much trouble over a picture that I was honest about then I was going to lie. I admit that what I did was wrong but I do not believe that the punishment fit the situation in that moment. Later on I had spit on a kid and only got lunch detentions. A picture I drew in an attempt to make friends got me suspended. I felt like such a failure, it was traumatizing. I look foward to seeing what you think schools should change.

    1. Jessie,
      I’m sorry you had such a difficult time when you moved. There are so many layers to your story that I’m not sure where I can help the most, so I’ll stick with what I do know. Discipline in schools has to change. I don’t know if there is a perfect solution out there, but I do know that many of the changes I would like to make in public education will change the culture of the school, which will in turn change the behavior issues. I have so much more to say on the subject of education and discipline. I’m getting my posts out as quickly as I can 🙂
      As always, thank you for reading and for your thought provoking comments.

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