Education, Parenting

Family-Focused Efforts for School Success

A mom of a three year old wants to help her child stop hitting at preschool. A dad of an eight year old wants his son to focus during math class.

All parents of all upper school children want to help them do better on their various tests and assessments. Parents can certainly help by showing interest in the things children are learning and doing at school, practicing skills, encouraging improvement, and showing support. But there are some more family-focused efforts that will help your child have success at school.

Sleep. Lack of sleep affects everything from patience and self-control to performance, brain acuity and memory. Check out the National Sleep Foundation website,, to see about how much sleep your child should be getting. Then think about your child’s sleep habits and temperament. Does she do better with quiet or a noise machine? Does he sleep best in the dark or with a crack in the door to let in a little light? Adjust the sleep environment to meet those needs. Finally, no matter what your child’s age, plan for a relaxing bedtime. Young children need some calm time with you, reading books or singing or just rocking and talking, to transition from day to bedtime. Older children may want time in their rooms to read or draw or play quietly as they shut of the “busy-ness” of the day. And, remember, screens are not good sleep aids; TV and other technology disrupt sleep patterns. So shut them off at least 30-45 minutes before sleep-time.

Routines. Your routine should make you and your family feel stability and comfort, not rushed and stressed out; don’t overdo or over-plan your days. A little room for flexibility could give you time to stop and feed the ducks instead of running in to music class late and frazzled every day. One of our greatest enemies is the belief that we should do it all ourselves, trying to leave work or home at 3, pick up one child at 3:15 and deliver another at 3:20. Use your team—friends, other parents, sitters.

Children do best when their daily routines include a balance of structured activity and free time. If your child is in school all day, be sure to plan for some down time, to be outside or playing with friends or just relaxing with some toys or art materials; this is just as important as homework to your child’s success. Brain development and learning happen best when children have unstructured play to sort information and make connections.

Transitions. They’re the glue in your child’s day. When parents are rushed or take moments in the day for granted—like getting dressed and toileting for young children, drop off and pick up times, mealtimes—children may become more stressed. That stress will be expressed through challenging behavior, lack of focus and attention, or even tears or other outbursts. Be present and attentive, especially for arrivals and departures, so your child can carry the calm of knowing you care through their day at school and feel that all-important connection.

Relationships. Your most powerful tools as a parent, relationships and connections motivate children to do well and to do right. Rewards, consequences, praise, and discipline send temporary and only somewhat reliable messages compared to encouragement and expectations from a supportive and consistent parent or other caregiver. So use bedtime and transitions, mealtimes, and planned activities to connect with your child—not to talk, but to listen and get to know what makes them strong and resilient so that they are ready to meet the challenges of the school day, whatever they may be.

Jenni Watts Evans is a parent educator at the Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital. For information, call 504.896.9591, visit the, or email

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