Resilience in Children

Can your children be taught to succeed at school?

Published: 13 Jun 2016
Can your children be taught to succeed at school?

Research shows that children who are expected to succeed at school, do just that. But how much is too much? And is there a point when high expectations have the opposite effect?

Did you know that if you want your children to succeed at school, simply telling them about your high expectations can have a positive impact on their academic achievement?

Researchers have discovered that students who achieve highly generally come from homes where parents expect that their children will “get off their butts, work hard, and do well at school” and they tell them so. In fact, this idea is nearly beyond question. When it comes to our children’s school results, our expectations are critical.

Is tough love the answer?

So is some tough love around our children’s education the magic bullet? Will harassing our nine-year-old about his NAPLAN score, or our 17-year-old about her HSC preparation get the job done? Will high expectations translate into high academic outcomes? Is “tiger-parenting” the way to go?

While the evidence suggests that the simple answer is yes, the reality is that it is not that simple.

Too-high expectations lead to poor results

For example, a recent study involving over 3500 students in grades 5-10 found that parents who had high aspirations for their children’s maths achievement usually had high-performing children. But when parental aspiration was higher than the children’s expectations for performance, things went pear-shaped. In short, the results indicated that once we become unrealistic (or once our children feel that they can’t perform to the standards we expect), those high aspirations become lead-weights that actually pull achievement lower.

It seems like we, as parents, are damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t. How do we get the balance right?

Ellen Amatea is a leading education researcher. She argues that families with the following four qualities seem to balance the expectations they have with a well-rounded approach to promoting positive academic achievement:

Family beliefs and expectations

Children who do well academically tend to come from homes where parents believe their children can do well, and share those expectations clearly but kindly. They focus on setting goals with their children, building on successes and learning from failures. And they promote the idea that life is about more than doing well at school. It’s about purposeful living, but that education can be important to help us live purposeful lives.

Family emotional connectedness

One of the most crucial contributors to our children’s school success is the quality of our relationships with them. Children from emotionally warm and caring homes perform better academically than those from homes that are cold, harsh, or indifferent. In families where individuals enjoy being together, feel respected, and share a sense of belonging, children flourish academically as well as emotionally.

Family organisational patterns

When children succeed at school, they seem to come from homes where there is strong leadership and clear expectations. In the home there are expectations around who will do what and when - responsibilities. Parents have clear expectations for how their children will behave. Importantly, they actively monitor their children - at home and at school.

Family learning opportunities

The final group of behaviours that parents focus on in homes where children do well at school are relating to having routines in the home that support achievement (such as monitoring school assignments and school performance, doing enriching learning activities, and talking a lot about school), and explicitly teaching children (meaning that they are involved in their children’s learning, recognise their strengths and weaknesses, and get excited about their children’s progress).

In short, if we want our children to succeed at school, we should focus on these 10 tips:

  1. Let them know what we expect - and why
  2. Invite their input into their goals and expectations
  3. Provide a positive and optimistic environment
  4. Be interested in their learning, mastery, and development and build on their strengths
  5. Give them enriching extracurricular activities
  6. Develop their social networks and supports
  7. Establish flexible but clear routines
  8. Provide solid leadership in the home
  9. Create a STRONG relationship with the school. Too often parents and teachers are on different pages, or parents blame school teachers rather than working with them
  10. And most importantly, develop strong, loving, trusting relationships with them.

Will these 10 things solve all of our educational challenges and ensure great academic outcomes? No. Not always. But the research suggests that when we do these things, outcomes will typically be far better than they might be if we do nothing instead.

What do you do at home to support your child's learning?


Get helpful parenting news & tips delivered weekly

Weekly parenting news & tips

Stay up to date with our latest resources by signing up to our newsletter, you’ll receive weekly updates, free resources, guides, downloadables, and content to help you create a happier home.