10 Things Parents Can Do to Foster Happy, Healthy & High-Achieving Children

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“Help!  My child is moody, stressed and not doing well in school! What can I do to help?”

As an educator, I often hear this sentiment as it is a common and frustrating phenomenon.  There is good news; there are many things parents can do to support their child’s social, emotional and academic success during the school years.

A young brain is very different than a mature brain and sometimes we treat children as though they were mini-adults and we get frustrated when they don't act like adults.  The problem is the pre-frontal cortex in the young brain is not functioning at full capacity until a child is in his early twenties and that can pose major obstacles when it comes to analyzing emotions and situations, concentrating, understanding cause and effect, retaining information, focusing and controlling impulses. 

For more information about adolescent neuroscience, read my blog titled: "10 Adolescent Brain Facts Educators Should Know."

Here is my “TOP 10 List” of things parents can do to increase their child’s happiness and potential for success:

5 Critical Thinking & Comprehension Ideas to Boost Achievement:

1. Predict

Have your child predict what will happen next while reading, watching a show or discussing an event and then analyze whether it was accurate.

2. Retell (first, next, finally)

Ask your student to stop periodically while reading and explain what happened first, next, and finally.

3. Summarize

Encourage your child to explain the who, what, when, where, why and how of an event or reading.

4. Re-read

Get your student into the habit of re-reading portions of text, especially if the text is difficult or confusing.

5. Practice the 3-2-1

After reading or watching an educational program, have your child share 3 ideas he learned, 2 personal connections he can make to the content and 1 comment or question he has about the topic and then you do the same.


5 Ways to Establish an Environment Conducive to Healthy & Happy Brain Development:


6. Establish healthy sleep, nutrition and exercise rituals as a family

Children ages 5-19 need 9-13 hours of sleep every night for healthy brain and body development. If your child has difficulty meeting his/her sleep needs, consider these tips: after dinner, have your child take a warm bath or shower, turn down the lights, turn off the technology and get them into bed and read.  These practices encourage the brain to release melatonin to signal the body to get sleepy.  Also, cut out caffeine, excess sugar and fat (as a family, for best results) and make sure your child is vigorously active for 1-2 hours daily.

7. Implement routines and check-off lists

The young brain is not naturally organized, in fact it is very chaotic! To increase your child's success, implement routines for doing homework, feeding the dog, getting ready for school, doing the dishes, etc. Create check-off lists for kids when they are young so they know exactly what to do each day (without having to yell at them).  

Kids develop a sense of accomplishment when they can check things off their lists.  When my daughters were in elementary school, I had a morning “To-Do” list for my them that included making their beds, eating breakfast, feeding the dogs, and brushing their teeth and hair.  They would have to have all items checked off and be ready by 7:40 each morning and when they had succeeded in doing so all week, we went to the park on Saturday as a reward.

8. Ask open-ended questions

Many times adults ask kids yes or no questions and then we wonder why kids often provide only mono-syllabic responses.  To increase communication and critical thinking, incorporate these phrases into your conversations: how, why, what do you think, or tell me more about…

9. Model explicitly what you want your child to do

Don’t “assumicide” that kids know how to effectively complete a task such as: cleaning their room, organizing their binders, answering the phone or loading the dishwasher.  Explain how to do something, why it should be done that way, model it, have them show you and then provide constructive and encouraging feedback.  

As a parent, we can sometimes become exasperated because something wasn’t done the way we wanted. The developing brain needs explicit modeling and explanation as to why a task needs to be completed a certain way because it does not process cause and effect the way a mature brain does.

10. Read and listen to your child

Make reading to and with your child, even if he is a teenager, a consistent routine.  He learns fluency and inflection from hearing you read and he even wants you to listen to him read.  If he makes a mistake, don't correct unless it affects the comprehension.  Reading is a wonderful bonding experience so take turns reading sections and discuss/question/predict/summarize what is happening.

One last idea to consider: my grandmother told me that God gave us two ears to listen twice as much as our one mouth should talk.  Listen to what your child has to say, ask him what he thinks and don’t jump in to interrupt.  The young brain will communicate extensively when given the opportunity to do so.

There are many things we can do as parents to increase our children's social, emotional and academic confidence and competence; pick a few of these ideas and put them into practice and you will see your student’s attitude and aptitude improve quickly. Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com