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Supporting Children's Education

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Nurturing Early-Childhood Learning
How much of a child’s intelligence is locked in during early childhood?

Research has found that exposure to words, reading, and different types of stories has significant benefits for children, not just academically but socially, as reading aloud to children fosters bonding and security. However, the belief that a child’s intelligence is “locked in” during the first three years of life is not reflective of what’s been learned about neural plasticity in the brain. Neither intelligence nor personality is cemented during early childhood: Kids may eventually thrive even after a neglectful childhood, or grow to struggle after an indulgent one, for reasons not necessarily limited to their parents’ abilities.

Will early exposure to music set a child up for academic success?

There are proven cognitive benefits of learning to play an instrument that are apparent at a young age, including greater executive function and cognitive flexibility, as well as increased focus, working memory, and ability to shift between tasks. However, the belief that simple exposure to classical music, in the womb or in infancy, will boost a child’s intelligence—the so-called “Mozart Effect”—has been widely debunked by research.

Parental Involvement in School
What psychological traits lead to success in school?

The ability and desire to learn independently are crucial factors in anyone’s academic success, which is why it’s so important both for parents to model those traits and to manage their involvement in a child’s schoolwork. A child’s self-discipline, research has found, is at least as important to their academic success as intelligence. Intrinsic motivation—a child’s desire to learn for learning’s sake, instead of to please parents and teachers—is essential as well, but can be compromised when parents insist on good grades to satisfy their own standards and expectations.

What are the best ways to support a young learner?

Children whose parents take an active role in their education tend to perform better in school and on standardized tests than other kids, research has found. Such parents are most effective by creating a “scaffold” for academic achievement—conveying the importance of education, perhaps by talking with children regularly about their school days, communicating with teachers, volunteering in school buildings, and checking in on homework, without being intrusive or aggressively correcting it. In general, giving a child as much autonomy as possible, even as they occasionally stumble, will help them build confidence in their own abilities.

Success in High School and Beyond
How can parents help kids manage academic stress?

First, acknowledge the child’s stress without dismissing it. Encourage a child to talk about their stressors, and listen without judgment. Then, talk through how to manage the concern, step by step, including calling on sources of support such as peers, teachers, or the parents themselves. Encourage students who are stressed not to become paralyzed with inaction, and especially to maintain an exercise routine, practice mindfulness, and get sufficient sleep.

How can parents encourage leadership skills in children?

As kids enter high school and get more involved in extracurricular activities, they may begin to aspire to leadership positions among their peers, but many young people may not know where to begin. Parents can help through holding regular family meetings with agendas and goals set by their children, as research suggests that the ability to set goals can be a key factor in success in school or elsewhere.

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