Children and adults define success in school differently. For a child, success is measured by whether they have friends, whether they are doing well academically, and how they are perceived by their peers. The class clown will feel success every time he cracks a joke in a class and the entire room bursts into laughter. Of course, the teacher won’t think that was a successful lesson, but the child will feel success.
To ensure both children and parents are using the same definition of success, parents need to be explicit when describing success for their children. When parents sit down with their children, they need to review the expectations they have and be clear about the ways they will measure success. Clear expectations about good behavior and academic achievement should be explained. If parents do not provide these explicit expectations, they should not expect the children to know how success is defined. It is also important to have conversations with the children throughout the year to measure success based on those expectations.
Teachers who receive phone calls from parents who are not pleased with their child’s progress should ask the parent what expectations were set at home. If the parent reveals that no targeted conversation about school success has occurred, the teacher should encourage the parent to have this conversation.
Having friends at school is also part of being successful. This is critical. Parents’ expectations of who their children’s friends are important because some friends help a child be more successful than other friends. Children need to be told how to recognize a good friend and how to recognize someone who is not a good friend. One way to explain this is to tell children that a good friend is someone who will help them excel and meet the expectations of their parents. If their friend is taking them in the opposite direction of those expectations, then they know this is not a good friend.
Children need to be told, starting at a young age, that good, true friends will help them study and not ignore the academic side of school. Children should learn that a friend who asks about their homework, cares about them, and helps them academically as well as socially is a good friend. They should learn to see peers who do not care about school, grades, or the expectations set at home, as undesirable friends. Being explicit about how to recognize good friends will help children identify those peers early.
For children to experience complete success in school, it is critical for parents to share with their children not only academic expectations, but also the social and emotional expectations of friendship. Setting this foundation will help children be successful through their school years and into adulthood.
(Interview with Dr. Shimon Waronker, Ed.D for Operation Survival’s Prevention101 series)