6 Scientifically Proven Ways to Raise a Star Student
From tiger moms to snowplow parents to free-rangers, all parenting philosophies seem to have one common endgame: straight As, MBAs and, OK, fine, we’ll settle for a CPA. But what if we did away with all the labels and instead focused our parenting on a few reasonable priorities? Here, the science-backed factors that count the most if you want your little stars to shine in school. (Hint: It all starts with giving them As for effort.)
Set high expectations
In response to Yale Law professor Amy Chua’s controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, two University of California scholars specifically studied Asian families with successful children, but focused solely on those at a socioeconomic disadvantage. Their findings are applicable to all ethnicities and cultural groups. “Young Asian Americans have all kinds of good role models to emulate. Their communities and families make sure they get extra help when they need it. Their families, even on limited resources, manage to seek out and move to neighborhoods with good schools. And they aspire to success with specific goals in mind: medicine, law, engineering and pharmacy. And they aim for the best schools,” summarizes The Washington Post. “It’s not about coercion or some mysterious ethnic gift... It’s about the way they view their horizons, with extraordinarily high expectations.”
Encourage kids to work on paper, not on a screen
According to one survey, a whopping 88.5 percent of millennial parents believe their kids remember assignments better when they write them down on paper. And conversely, nearly as many “have seen their child have trouble staying focused on homework on a computer or tablet” thanks to the inescapable temptation of social media. Science supports these observations. “When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can," Princeton researcher Pam A. Mueller told NPR. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective—because you can't write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them."
In early childhood, support social skills > academics
A recent study by researchers from Penn State and Duke, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found a strong correlation between kids’ social skills in kindergarten and their success in early adulthood. “Children who were more likely to ‘share’ or ‘be helpful’ in kindergarten were also more likely to obtain higher education and hold full-time jobs nearly two decades later.” Said senior researcher Damon Jones: “It is clear that helping children develop these [social, emotional] skills increases their chances of success in school, work and life.”
Family time is about quality, not quantity
A much-discussed study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that “the sheer amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 and 11 has virtually no relationship to how children turn out,” in terms of academic achievement and emotional well-being. Moreover, when mothers in particular are obviously stressed, it can hinder a child’s success. "Mothers' stress, especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, that may actually be affecting their kids poorly," co-author Kei Nomaguchi told The Washington Post. The upshot? Even a little quality one-on-one time (spent reading, playing or just generally connecting) goes a long way toward raising successful students.
Do a nightly check-in
“You need to be aware of what your children’s worries and fears are and constantly reassure them,” Luz Towns-Miranda, clinical psychologist and mother of Wesleyan grad turned musical superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells People. “I would sit by [Lin-Manuel’s] bed and we would do relaxation exercises and breathing exercises, constant reassuring. I would ask [my two kids], ‘What was the best thing that happened at school today? What was the worst thing that happened at school today?’ So I could keep my finger on the pulse of what’s good, what’s bad, what’s worrying them. The importance of shoring up a child’s sense of confidence…My kids were just plagued with insecurities and anxieties that are just naturally part of childhood. To not be available or be indifferent is almost the equivalent of tearing them down. Because neglect and indifference is tantamount to rejecting your children…If you’re not even supporting and bolstering your child, why would anybody else?”
Praise effort over intelligence
In a definitive study on how kids respond to praise, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team of Ivy league researchers worked with New York City fifth-graders. Through a series of exercises, they found that 90 percent of kids praised for their hard work chose to challenge themselves academically, and improved upon initial test scores. Kids told they were naturally smart opted for easier assignments, and did worse on subsequent tests. Her conclusion? “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”