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Find Ways to Help Your Child Excel In School

Perhaps because women are busier than ever before, men are venturing into what used to be "mom" territory. They're getting more involved in those aspects of their children's school days that don't involve goalposts or baseball diamonds.

"If you're a father, there are big benefits to becoming deeply entrenched in your children's academic lives," says Stephan Poulter, a licensed clinical psychologist and author ofFather Your Son: How to Become the Father You've Always Wanted to Be (McGraw-Hill, 2004). "First, it shows them that you care. Your involvement in such a major part of their lives builds their self-esteem and thus their success in school and, ultimately, adulthood. Second, it shows them that education matters to you. And when it matters to Dad, it usually matters to kids, too."

Poulter is not implying that a father's involvement is more important than a mother's. Indeed, he emphasizes the importance of both parents making an effort, especially in an era when school is more demanding than ever. He offers the following 14 suggestions:

1. Help your child get off to a good start. Whatever form your involvement may take, start doing it at the beginning of the school year. The first four weeks are the most critical because they set the tempo for the rest of the year.

"The first day of school and the first parent-teacher conference are important for Dad to be at, as this will set the tone for the school teacher and administrators of the level of involvement the child receives from his/her parents," says John Nixon, a father of three from Katy, Texas, and iParenting.com's 2003 Dad of the Year.

2. Share your expectations for the school year. Discuss upcoming big events with your child. He will not feel as overwhelmed if you discuss these events in advance.

Nixon says that a father should schedule out school events just as he does projects at work. "And just as with work, a weekend sit down to discuss upcoming events is crucial for the father to remain a resource to his children," he says.

3. Make sure you meet your child's teacher and stay in touch even if things are going well. The teacher tends to call you more quickly to elicit support and help with your child if she feels you are involved.

4. Don't be the dad who shows up only when there is a problem. If you ignore their education until there is a problem, they may learn that poor academic performance is the only way to get your attention.

"Even when I can't be there, I make an effort to show my kids that their schooling is important," says Todd Franco, a resident physician at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa., and a father of three. "As soon as I come through the door and give out hugs and kisses, I ask to see their folders from school."

5. Step foot in the school at least once a week. Take your child to school, eat lunch with her in the cafeteria, go on field trips, attend a sporting event and so forth. Show up unannounced from time to time. If you're a divorced dad, this is a great way to spend time with your children and to meet their friends.

"Because of my schedule, being at school on a regular, predictable basis is generally out of the question," Franco says. "When I am off, I make it a priority to walk my kids to or from school – both if I have the entire day off."

Nixon agrees. "What is more reasonable is that they ensure that scheduled school events are more important than the next 'boys night out' and that a father schedules a reasonable number of visits during the course of the fall and spring semesters to non-verbally reinforce with their children that they are important to you," he says.

6. Make time for your child to tell you about her day and also take the time to tell her about your day. If you can establish a good communication pattern and rapport with your child, she will be much more likely to talk to you about any problems she is having.

7. Remember that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are the heaviest "homework days." Take that into consideration when planning the family schedule. Monitor your child's homework assignments to make sure they are completed correctly and in a timely manner.

Nixon points out that a dad often gets home after homework is completed or started. "Keep it simple," he says. "When you get home, drop the briefcase ... do not turn on the TV or change clothes. Get in a relaxed mindset for a moment and then look over your child's shoulder to see what he is doing and to let them know you are a resource for [him] if [he needs] it."

8. If your child is elementary school age, read with her at least twice a week for 30 minutes. If you do this, she will likely be more willing to do her homework and participate more in class. Take her to the library once every week or two and let her choose her own reading material.

9. Suggest that your child's school implement a program that brings parents into the classroom to describe their careers. This is a great way to help kids realize the broad range of opportunities available to both men and women.

10. When helping with homework, don't take a "Dad to the rescue!" attitude. If your child needs help with a difficult assignment, work through it with him and help him understand how the process leads to the final answer. If you try to solve problems for your child, you will foster dependence rather than self-sufficiency and confidence.

11. It's OK if you can't answer a particular question. It shows your child that no one has "all the answers" but that it's possible to find them. Help her find the answer. Go to the encyclopedia or get online and, together, seek out the answer.

12. If your child isn't meeting your academic standards, let him know that you expect him to do better on future assignments. Just don't turn homework into a war zone. When you rely on positive encouragement rather than threats or punishment, he will try to meet your expectations.

13. If special tutoring is necessary, don't make your child feel ashamed. And don't make her forgo other commitments such as sports activities or dance lessons. Remember that her self-acceptance is far more important than her success in school. If she's truly doing her best, it's OK if she doesn't get straight A's.

14. Keep reading to your child even after he learns how. This may be especially critical for boys, who tend not to do as well in reading. When your son sees you reading books and magazines, he gets the message that reading is enjoyable and "manly."

"My career requires that I still read on a regular basis, so my children are used to seeing Dad reading," says Franco. "I do wish I read more for enjoyment, but at least I try not to complain about the reading I do."

"When children have the support of both parents, they take school more seriously," Poulter says. "Even a few small efforts can make a big difference in your child's future. And you will probably surprise yourself by enjoying the time you share."

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