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How to Help Your Child Succeed at School

At KoKo’s HQ, we just loved this piece of writing from Jessica Lahey in the NY Times on what it takes to help your child succeed at school. If the word “grades” has remotely popped into your mind, sweep it away.

Jessica writes, “In the high-pressure, high-stakes game of school, it can be difficult to know which parenting strategies really promote learning. A successful experience in school is not only about report cards. Ideally your child will learn how to learn, retain information, think independently, ask questions and develop an increasing sense of competence.”

To keep the momentum and enthusiasm high throughout the school year, Jessica believes in establishing a value set to remind us, the parents, of what is important and to help cut out the noise. FOMO or the Fear Of Missing Out can get the better of us all, when we let it! Jessica suggests these simple rules can help you focus on what’s important for school success.



Focus on the process, not the product.


Encourage kids to self-advocate.

Worship grades.

Keep a long-term perspective.

Encourage helplessness.

Maintain a healthy sleep schedule.

Compare kids to one another.

Love the child you have, not the child you wish you had.

Love kids based on their performance.

Value the Process Over the End Product

Ever noticed how our little ones are like sponges, soaking up knowledge and exploring the world with boundless curiosity? As they stumble, stand up again, and conquer challenges, they're not just learning – they're becoming confident champions of their own abilities.

But somewhere around the kindergarten phase, we inadvertently throw a curveball into this amazing process. We start valuing results over the joy of learning itself. Suddenly, those awesome internal sparks like curiosity and self-assurance take a back seat to flashy external rewards like stickers, points, and grades.

Here's the kicker: these outside motivators can actually put a damper on kids' long-term excitement for learning. Imagine if our goal is to make school a snooze-fest – then, by all means, pay your kiddos for those A's and obsess solely over grades. But hey, if you're all about nurturing that hunger for mastery and that insatiable curiosity, here's the scoop on how to tweak things from Jessica’s playbook:

Nurturing Genuine Learning: Beyond Report Card Glitz

We can talk about cherishing learning all day, but when we celebrate grades with fridge magnets and Facebook posts, it sends another message. It's like we're saying, "Grades first, learning second." And let's be honest, grades aren't the full picture – they're just one piece of a complex puzzle.

Sure, most parents deal with grades, even though they're not the ultimate measure of learning. They're what experts call "extrinsic motivators" – cool in the short term, but not so great for the long run. They can zap motivation, stifle creativity, and even nudge toward cheating. Some schools are shaking things up, shifting to mastery-based assessments that spotlight actual learning. No matter the report, bragging about grades only fuels competition, ups the stress, and ties love to grades. Let's step back, focus on the real stuff, and foster a love for learning that goes way beyond the report card hype!

Embrace the Journey Behind the Grade

When we ease up on the numbers, we can chat with our kids about their strategies: "How'd you nab this grade? What worked? What's the plan for next round?" Helping them shift their focus back to the process can alleviate that anxiety, particularly when we help them prioritize the aspects of learning they can control, notes Jessica.

Share your life lessons with your kids: Be real about your ups and downs. When you open up about your journey and mistakes, you show that learning matters to you. If you're kind to yourself after slips, they'll learn to bounce back too, fueled by your courage to grow from blunders.

Value Goals Over Grades

A fun way to embrace the learning journey - goal setting. No pressure, just a cool way to support each other's growth. It's not about grades, but about celebrating progress as a team.

Yep, everyone's in – including parents! Each of you picks three achievable short-term goals, focusing on tasks and improvements you can control. Skip the broad "All A's" and try gems like "Asking for more math help" or "Doing extra multiplication practice."

Here's the kicker: one goal should be a daring challenge. We can't expect bravery from our kids if they don't see it in us. So, let's tackle guitar lessons, dance moves, or new hobbies.

Jessica recounts, “a few years ago, one of my sons’ goals was to make a few new friends, a goal that was both challenging and important to him.”

Before setting new goals, peek at how you did with old ones. Monthly or each semester, chat about wins and setbacks. Missed a goal? No sweat, discuss why and plan better. Nailed it? High-fives all around!

Jessica notes a key takeaway, “Watching a parent set a scary, ambitious goal and talk about the process of achieving it is the most direct way to teach children that learning and striving to be better are human goals, not just school goals.”.

Maintain a Long-Term Perspective

Think of education and parenting as long road trips – changes don't pop up every day. We're in it for the journey, not just quick stops! Don't get stuck in the daily homework hustle or test frenzy. Picture where you want your kiddo to shine in a year or five – skills and all. What matters more: rescuing forgotten math homework today, or helping her figure out a memory trick for tomorrow? Your call!

When life throws you curveballs, share the story. Keep your eyes on the "getting better" prize and the big picture. For instance, if work gets wobbly, say, "My project hit a bump, but I'm still excited about my career in five years. Here's how I'll learn and grow from this."

Jessica Lahey writes about education, parenting, and child welfare for The Atlantic, The Washington Post and the New York Times and is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.


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