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Helping your child succeed in school.

by Liz Walker

On the second day of first grade, my son, Eric was suddenly feeling ill. I received a call from the school nurse at about 10 a.m. Eric was in tears. He said his throat hurt and the nurse wanted to know if I would pick him up. I felt sure he couldn't be coming down with anything serious. After all, it's hard to get tonsillitis when you have no tonsils. And I knew that strep is usually accompanied by a fever or a runny nose, which he didn't have. But I rescued him anyway. He wasn't going to be doing much learning if he felt bad, physically or emotionally. Over the next few school days, we talked off and on. In bits and pieces we worked through his fears. He had been nervous and hungry and he felt the tension in his throat. His success for that week required a simple recipe, a little encouragement, a little understanding and a morning snack tucked into his back pack. If only it were all so easy.

Dr. Sylvia Rimm knows that helping your child succeed in school isn't always an easy task. She is a frequent guest on the Today Show for their segment, "Parenting in the 90's" and the author of several books on parenting, but on a daily basis, she is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic at the Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. I spoke with her about helping children achieve success in school.

She said, "The most important thing is that both parents support and respect each other. It can be a problem when one says, 'Do your best,' and the other says, 'Your working too hard.' The definition of hard work is not the same for all parents. Parents need to be on the same page. " On that page, Dr. Rimm says you need to: prioritize activities, place learning first, get involved in schools and communicate with your child and their teachers.

Dr. Rimm also believes, "High expectations make a great deal of difference, regardless of the child's abilities." In her work with children she discovered a problem she calls, "under achievement syndrome". While it is often used to describe gifted children who aren't working up to their ability it is also applicable to children of average intelligence.

In her book, "The Under achievement Syndrome: Causes and Cures, she defines it : "Millions of children who are very capable of learning - children with average, above average and even gifted abilities, including those from middle class homes where education is supposed to be valued - are simply not performing up to their capabilities. These children suffer from Under achievement Syndrome. Their true capabilities are obvious to both their teachers and their parents...despite their gifts they do not do well in school."

In addition to having high exceptions, she talks about children having power. "Have you ever heard the mother of a two year old ask, 'Do you want to take a nap?' Yes, most of us have," Dr. Rimm says, "You don't want to give a child that kind of power. You don't ask them if they are hungry, but you might give them a choice between two different kinds of cereal." Parents need to assume the leadership position. Dr. Rimm says that single parent homes are often more child directed than families with two parents, because the single parent may be feeling guilty or be too tired or busy to change things. Children should be given choices in small increments. Dr. Rimm talks about the V of love. At the point of the V, little kids get little choices, as they get older the choices increase and they have room for growth.

I asked her about the issue of praise and rewards, techniques that are often used in our schools and by parents to get results from children. She said that ideally we want children to realize natural consequences but , "Some praise and rewards are an absolute necessity." As far as praise goes, she says, "It's all right to say you're a hard worker, a good thinker, or you look nice today. But try to stay away from, you're the best or you're brilliant, because they become disappointed if they can't live up to that." As far as stickers and points, she says, "Your attention is a reward." Too much of the other kind of rewards makes them dependent. "If everything is geared to that, then they expect it," she says.

Most parents love their children and want to see them succeed, but when they're caught up in the day to day practice of parenting it's easy to let things slip. If you can establish good habits early, place education first, avoid power struggles as much as possible, and teach natural consequences then the going can be a bit smoother.

I hope I did the right thing with my son. I let him know his concerns were important to me. But by sending him back to school the next day, I showed him that school was important, too. I can hardly wait for the next crisis.

RIMM'S LAWS OF ACHIEVEMENT -- From: Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades, and what you can do about it.

RIMM'S LAW #1 Children are more likely to be achievers if their parents join together to give the same clear and positive message about school effort and expectations.

RIMM'S LAW #2 Children can learn appropriate behaviors more easily if they have effective models to imitate.

RIMM'S LAW #3 What adults say to each other about a child within his or her hearing dramatically affects that child's behaviors and self perceptions.

RIMM'S LAW #4 If parents overreact to their children's successes and failures, the children are likely to feel either intense pressure to succeed or despair and discouragement in dealing with failure.

RIMM'S LAW #5 Children feel more tension when they are worrying about their work than when they are doing that work.

RIMM'S LAW #6 Children develop self-confidence through struggle.

RIMM'S LAW #7 Deprivation and excess frequently exhibit the same symptoms.

RIMM'S LAW # 8 Children develop confidence and an internal sense of control if they are given power, in gradually increasing increments, as they show maturity and responsibility.

RIMM'S LAW #9 Children become oppositional if one adult allies with them against a parent or a teacher, making them more powerful than an adult.

RIMM'S LAW #10 Adults should avoid confrontations with children unless they are reasonably sure they can control the outcomes.

RIMM'S LAW #11 Children will become achievers only if they learn to function in competition.

RIMM'S LAW #12 Children will continue to achieve if they usually see the relationship between the learning process and its outcomes.

Dr. Sylvia Rimm spoke in Tulsa October, 24 and 25 1996 at University of Tulsa School for the Gifted. Her appearance was part of the Parent Institute, a three day event sponsored by the National Association for Gifted Children. The title of Dr. Rimm's presentation was the same as that of her recent book, "Smart Parenting". Dr. Rimm describes her approach as "Moderate, not conservative or liberal."

This page was created by Liz Walker. Copyright 2000. Last updated 03/03/03
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