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Five Key Skills for Academic Success

It’s never too early or too late to help your child develop the skills for academic success. Learn how to build these skills and stay on track all year long.

It takes a combination of skills – organization, time management, prioritization, concentration and motivation – to achieve academic success. Here are some tips to help get your child on the right track.

Talk to your Child

To find out which of these skills your child has and which he can develop further, start a simple conversation that focuses on his goals. Ask him about his favorite subjects, classes he dreads and whether he’s satisfied with his latest progress report.


Listen for Clues

Incorporate your own observations with your child’s self-assessment. Is your child overwhelmed by assignments? She may have trouble organizing time. Does your child have difficulty completing her work? She may get distracted too easily. Is your child simply not interested in school? She may need help getting motivated.

Identify Problem Areas

Start here to help your child identify which of the five skill areas are trouble spots.

1. Organization

Whether it’s keeping track of research materials or remembering to bring home a lunch box, children need to be organized to succeed in school. For many students, academic challenges are related more to a lack of organization than to a lack of intellectual ability.

Tips to help your child get organized:

  • Make a checklist of things your child needs to bring to and from school every day. Put a copy by the door at home and one in his backpack. Try to check with him each day to see if he remembers the items on the list.
  • Find out how your child keeps track of his homework and how he organizes his notebooks. Then work together to develop a system he will want to use.
  • Shop with your child for tools that will help him stay organized, such as binders, folders or an assignment book.

2. Time Management

Learning to schedule enough time to complete an assignment may be difficult for your student. Even when students have a week to do a project, many won’t start until the night before it’s due. Learning to organize time into productive blocks takes practice and experience.

Tips to help your child manage time:

  • Track assignments on a monthly calendar. Work backward from the due date of larger assignments and break them into nightly tasks.
  • Help your child record how much time she spends on homework each week so she can figure out how to divide this time into manageable chunks.
  • Together, designate a time for nightly homework and help your child stick to this schedule.
  • If evenings aren’t enough, help your child find other times for schoolwork, such as early mornings, study halls or weekends.

3. Prioritization

Sometimes children fall behind in school and fail to hand in assignments because they simply don’t know where to begin. Prioritizing tasks is a skill your child will need throughout life, so it’s never too soon to get started.

Tips to help your child prioritize:

  • Ask your child to write down all the things he needs to do, including non-school-related activities.
  • Ask him to label each task from 1 to 3, with 1 being most important.
  • Ask about each task, so that you understand your child’s priorities. If he labels all his social activities as 1, then you know where his attention is focused.
  • Help your child change some of the labels to better prioritize for academic success. Then suggest he rewrite the list so all the 1s are at the top.
  • Check in frequently to see how the list is evolving and how your child is prioritizing new tasks.

4. Concentration

Whether your child is practicing her second-grade spelling words or studying for a trigonometry test, it’s important that she works on schoolwork in an area with limited distractions and interruptions.

Tips to help your child concentrate:

  • Turn off access to email and games when your child works on the computer.
  • Declare the phone and TV off-limits during homework time.
  • Find space that fits the assignment. If your child is working on a science project, she may need lots of space; if she’s studying for a Spanish test, she will need a well-lit desk.
  • Help your child concentrate during homework time by separating her from her siblings.

5. Motivation

Most children say they want to do well in school, yet many still fail to complete the level of work necessary to succeed academically. The reason is often motivation. Tapping into your child’s interests is a great way to get him geared to do well in school.

Tips to help motivate your child:

  • Link school lessons to your child’s life. If he’s learning percentages, ask him to figure out the price of a discounted item next time you shop.
  • Link your child’s interests to academics. If he’s passionate about music, give him books about musicians and show how music and foreign languages are connected.
  • Give your child control and choices. With guidance, let him determine his study hours, organizing system or school project topics.
  • Encourage your child to share his expertise. Regularly ask him about what he’s learning in school.
  • Congratulate your child, encourage him and celebrate all his successes.

Often what holds children back from trying is the fear of failure or the memory of a time they didn’t do well. You can help break this cycle by celebrating your child’s successes, no matter how small, and by giving him opportunities to succeed academically.

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Scream at Your Own Risk (and Your Children’s)

Mom-yell-boy-ears-300x204By BONNIE ROTHMAN MORRIS

Published: November 9, 2004

The thing about children is that sometimes they misbehave.

They disobey. They talk back. They ignore their chores and fight with their siblings.

Even the most patient parent can end up hollering. Indeed, yelling at children is so common in American households that most parents view it as an inevitable part of childrearing.

But in some cases, researchers say, yelling can become a form of emotional abuse. And children whose parents consistently raise their voices or combine yelling with insults, criticism, ridicule or humiliation may suffer from depression, dips in self-esteem or demonstrate more aggression themselves.

While physical abuse of children has been widely studied, child development specialists have in recent years begun to focus more attention on emotional abuse, which studies suggest can be equally harmful. In 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged pediatricians to be aware of the risk factors of psychological maltreatment of children.

The academy’s report, based on numerous studies, said that “a chronic pattern of psychological maltreatment destroys a child’s sense of self and personal safety.”

Almost every parent yells at one time or another. A 2003 study by Dr. Murray A. Straus and Carolyn J. Field, published in The Journal of Marriage and Family, found that 88 percent of the 991 families interviewed reported shouting, yelling or screaming at their children in the previous year. Of the families with 7-year-old children, 98 percent reported having yelled.

In another study, not yet published, Dr. George Holden at the University of Texas and his colleagues followed 132 parents and their newborn infants over four years. Thirty-five percent of the parents reported yelling at their children before they were 1. By the time the children were 4, 93 percent said they had.

Not all children suffer as a result. Researchers say that content and context matter. The tone, what is said and the frequency can mitigate or exacerbate its effects.

“The difference comes in how the yelling is used,” said Bonnie Harris, a parent educator in Peterborough, N.H., and author of “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons: And What You Can Do About It.” “Is it blaming and shaming?” she asked. “If the child is being held responsible for the parent’s feelings and behavior, then the yelling can have a deleterious effect.

“But not if the parent is just venting without blame, saying, ‘I am really angry, I can’t stand this anymore,’ ” Mrs. Harris said. “You have just as much right to your emotions as your children do.”

Researchers are trying to codify the definition of emotional abuse while, at the same time, understanding more about its effects. A study in the July 2001 issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry that compared 49 subjects with depersonalization disorder with 26 emotionally healthy subjects, found that emotional abuse was the most significant predictor of mental illness, more so than sexual and physical abuse.

Dr. Straus, director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, said yelling could set a bad example for children that affects the way they handle social interactions later on.

“Yelling sets the tone for family relationships that carry over for dating relationships where you get a lot of psychological aggression,” Dr. Straus said.

Still, in the context of a supportive family environment, raised voices do not necessarily signal trouble, a study published last summer in The Journal of Emotional Abuse says.

“Other familial factors (particularly, having an emotionally warm and close relationship with at least one parent) appear to ameliorate the potential negative effects and also, to play a greater role in long-term psychological outcomes than yelling or other forms of aggressive acts,” Dr. Anupama Sharma, assistant professor of psychology at Eastern Illinois University and a co-author of the study, said in an e-mail message.

Some experts even say that yelling can be useful, teaching children about failures in a safe environment.

“Children have to understand that we as parents are not perfect and every once in a while we lose it,” said Dr. Bennett Leventhal, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Chicago. “It’s far better to understand at home that sometimes people get beyond their limit.”

But as most parents can testify, screaming at children is often not effective.

“Yelling overpowers children, it makes them feel frustrated and angry, and what can happen is that after a while kids become immune to being yelled at. They tune it out,” said Dr. Myrna B. Shure, a professor of psychology at Drexel University, who conducted a five-year study, financed by the National Institute of Mental Health, of children from kindergarten to fourth grade.

The yelling can also make parents feel worse.

Jen Sayre, a mother of three from Rockingham County, N.H., said she hated yelling at her children.

“I feel so sad and out of control when I’m yelling and I’m mad at myself,” she said.

Mrs. Sayre does not yell often, she said, because she and her husband took workshops with Mrs. Harris to help them be more effective parents.

That was four years ago. Today, on the rare occasion that Mrs. Harris raises her voice, a child pipes up and puts her in her place.

“My kids will look at me now and say, ‘Mommy, this is your issue, you need to work on that,” Mrs. Sayre said. “I try everything I can do not to yell, but when I do yell, I apologize.”