Helping Your Child Love Learning

Written by Dr. Dave Currie

It’s September, and you can feel the anticipation in the air.

As you drive by your neighbourhood school over the next couple of weeks, take a good look at the kids’ faces. Note the smiles; listen to the laughter. Even the most reluctant student is excited to be back in school…for a few days, anyway. The thrill of seeing friends again and sharing tales of summertime adventures actually makes the first week or two – dare I say it – fun.

But as the last rays of summer fade away, as September slips into October and the reality of homework hits home once again, many of those kids will trade in their smiles and laughter for the all-too familiar refrain: “I hate school!”

Whether they like it or not, our kids will be in school for at least 12 years of their lives, and most of them longer than that – so they might as well like it! The benefits are obvious: better grades, good habits, less likelihood of rebellion and more fun along the way. But what do you do if your child sincerely hates school? Is there any hope that their perspective can change?

There is. And like most other aspects of parenting, it starts with you.

Parents: Do your homework

If we want our kids to become good students, we need to become students of them. We need to do our homework by getting to know each one of our kids and understanding what makes them tick.

Each child is uniquely wired and uniquely gifted. As parents, it’s easy to slip into the familiar routines and patterns and to treat all our kids the same. We treat them as if they’re all cookie-cut from the same dough. We ask questions like, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” We wonder why the methods we used with the first child don’t work with the second.

God makes all our kids different, both in their temperament and in their learning styles. The first child is often quite compliant because they want to really impress Mom and Dad, and so they fall into step quite early. The second one, on the other hand, can throw you for a loop with their free-spiritedness.

I look at my own four kids and they really are unique in and of themselves: in their interests, their aptitudes, and their gifts and abilities. Their learning styles are very different. So as parents we would be wise to try to understand their learning styles and work to their strengths, rather than trying to squeeze them all into the same mould. That will only lead to frustration, both for you and your kids.

Let your kids know that it’s okay to be different. They don’t have to be like their sister. Celebrate who they are, and don’t play the comparison game. That can be so damaging. You don’t want your child thinking, “I’m not as good as my brother or my sister, because she gets straight A’s.” That kind of thinking not only snuffs out a desire to learn, but it damages their psyche in a deep and lasting way. So don’t go there.

Foster a thirst for learning early

If we can help our children experience at an early age that learning is fun, it will make a big difference in their attitude towards school throughout their formative years.

You may not realize it, but kids likely learn more in their first five years of life than in the next twelve years of school. Those early years are a great opportunity to instil in them the value of learning and the joy of discovery.

Kids will feel good about learning if they believe they can do it. If they can go into school with a sense of confidence, they will look forward to it with anticipation, instead of being intimidated or overwhelmed by the newness of it all.

Rather than waiting till your kids begin their formal education, you can prepare them by reading to them when they’re young. By age four or five, you can help them learn the basics. Teach them to recognize the alphabet, how to print their letters, and how to write their name. Before long, they’ll start to recognize some words, and that will encourage them. They’ll begin to experience success in the learning environment, which will make it more attractive and comfortable. Children will be much more inclined to like learning if you build them up as they discover things.

It’s also important to help your kids develop a thirst for learning about God and His Word. You can encourage them in that direction in a fun way by reminding them of Psalm 119:99: “I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on all Your statutes.” What kid wouldn’t want to be wiser than his teachers?

Define success carefully

We live in a culture that is driven to achieve. There is nothing wrong with desiring to excel, but it can be taken too far. Nothing will obliterate a kid’s interest in school faster than a parent’s unrealistic expectations.

Too many parents tie their own sense of worth to the performance of their child, whether it’s in school, sports or the arts. If their kid doesn’t meet their standards, they rake them over the coals, because they are embarrassed about how it reflects on them. The child that comes home with some B’s and C’s is chastised: “What’s wrong with you? How come it’s not better?”

Now, there are times when a child is capable of more and is guilty of not putting in enough effort. That needs to be addressed. But examine your expectations as well. Many times, the real problem is that the parent has expectations that don’t fit in line with the child. Too often, the expectations crush the kid; if they can’t live up to them, why bother trying? School becomes a place where the child only experiences failure.

Instead of tying your son or daughter’s worth to the scores on their report card, emphasize the value of simply doing their best. That is what you can reasonably expect of them, and they need to know that you are proud of them when they try their hardest – regardless of the results.

Remember: there are more important things in life than straight A’s. It’s ironic that in the workplace, many people are affirmed for their social skills and their ability to talk to people and “network” – the very things they got in trouble for at school!

Affirmation builds, criticism destroys

You will never get the best out of your kids by driving them, by criticizing, by burying them. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that for every negative comment a child receives, it takes 4-6 times as much positive reinforcement to get their self-worth back to a state of equilibrium. If kids are going to make it in this world, they have to be confident, they have to be strong, they have to be believed in. And that starts at home.

Your kids have to know that Mom and Dad are their biggest fans. They need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, “Even if I mess up, Dad will accept me,” or “Even though I made a mistake on my exam, I’m still going to make it.”

Parental affirmation builds kids up and gives them courage to keep going. Criticism destroys and takes away that desire to grow and to become all that they can be. No one in this world is able to puff up your child’s chest like you can; when you praise them, it goes so much farther than anyone else saying something good to them. But it goes the other way, too: no one on earth can demoralize your child more than you can with constant criticism. So stand behind your kids and give them the strength they need to face the world with confidence.

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