This week marks the end of summer vacation and a return to school. Parents play a vital role in creating a successful school year for their children. Most children who excel in school do not do so independently; rather it is a function of parental support and environment. This applies to students at all levels of academic achievement. Over the years there are several things I have seen that sometimes parents may overlook and they’re worth pointing out.
It is crucial that parents develop a healthy, trusting relationship with the yeshiva their child attends. A good school attempts to create a partnership with parents in educating their child, and parents should take advantage of this. There are many opportunities to meet with teachers and administrators such as Back-to-School-Night and parent-teacher conferences. At least one parent should attend every one of these events. As their children get older, many parents assume that they have heard the information before and the meetings are unnecessary. This is a big mistake.
Develop a relationship with your child’s teachers, share with them what works best for your child, and stay in touch with them to track progress. Teachers are significantly more empowered to impact a child whose background they are familiar with, and when they have an accurate sense of their strengths and weaknesses. Even if you don’t gain much new information from a particular school event, your attendance still makes a tremendous impact on your child, as they see by your actions how much you care, and that their success is paramount in your eyes.
It is a natural and appropriate tendency to keep personal information private. However if there is some information regarding your child that is impacting their functioning and schooling it can be detrimental to not share this with their yeshiva. The more a school knows about your child, the better equipped they will be to guide and educate them. If there is a healthy parent/school partnership, parents should trust that this information will be respected and kept confidential.
Children are put in a compromised position when teachers treat them one way, not knowing that in reality they may need a different approach. Often teachers are left in the dark trying to solve a problem without knowing the root cause. Parents who are proactive and inform the school of their child’s needs, or of a special circumstance, give their children the best opportunity to succeed. Today, all of our yeshivas have guidance departments. Work with them during a difficult circumstance to provide the most support for your child.
Finally, when something does go wrong, don’t cover up for your child. The best way to deal with misconduct is to honestly confront it and find a solution. When parents make excuses for a student who misbehaves, they are actually reinforcing the inappropriate conduct. If the child is not disciplined they perceive that their actions are acceptable and continue on a negative path in the wrong direction.
Of equal importance as academics is a child’s overall happiness and mental health. Kids face many daily emotional and social challenges at every level. When a child is having difficulty adjusting, or is dealing with some form of personal crisis, their ability to learn and grow is significantly compromised. A happy child has the best opportunity to succeed in school and develop into a Ben or Bas Torah. If there is stress or ongoing friction, often academic support will not be sufficient. No matter how inspiring the Rebbe or teacher, the child will not connect. A relationship with a teacher or guidance counselor who your child trusts is essential to help address these issues as they arise. At times the problem may be beyond the scope of the school to deal with. It is crucial that parents refer to appropriate mental health professionals in these circumstances. Without the proper emotional support and guidance, it is very difficult for a child to succeed.
Experience has shown that the root cause behind many teens who begin to stray from Jewish observance is rarely a philosophical or religious rebellion. Rather, it is primarily due to instability in the family, or an unhappiness and negativity in their yeshiva experience. Parents and teachers need to do their best to focus on creating a positive and inspiring Chinuch experience for their children. Compliment your child as much as you can. This is especially true when they fail or don’t meet personal expectations. It is at those moments when you can make the difference and turn something negative into an opportunity for growth.
More than half a century ago the great tzaddik known as the Chazon Ish related that in today’s generation the key to success in education is positive encouragement. With the challenges our children face today, how much more so is that true in 2014. We all need to convey a love and excitement that speaks not only to student’s minds, but to their souls.
Rabbi Avraham Shulman is a Rebbe and Guidance Counselor at MTA. He is also an Associate Mental Health Counselor at EK Counseling in Teaneck. He can be reached at [email protected] or 973-271-3753.
By Rabbi Avraham Shulman, MS, LAC