Helping Your Child Develop Study Skills that Will Benefit Him for Life

In today's competitive academic world, it is crucial to help your child develop effective study skills. As the mother of two boys—one of whom just entered middle school—I know this can be a challenge, but starting early and encouraging a positive attitude toward school and homework helps. Of course, a good attitude always begins with you. Whether you realize it or not, your child will adopt your attitudes and coping styles. In order to teach study skills, you must examine your reactions and resistance to doing required work you may not want to do. (For more on this and the essential idea that parenting is as much about the parent's growth and development as it is about the child's, see my book, Keepers of the Children.

Following is my study skill lesson plan:

Encourage your child to have fun with homework. Although the concept of "fun with homework" may seem like an oxymoron, homework offers many opportunities for self-discovery. For instance, If a child applies himself to a challenging math problem, he will learn what he's made of as he struggles to figure out the answer. There is nothing more exciting in life than discovering your sense of competence.

In my house of boys—the Ramirez House of Testosterone—math is a favorite subject. It is English, in particular—writing—that causes all the groans and grumbling. The first day of school, my middle school child had an assignment to write about what he did during summer break. After listening to his complaints, I asked him what he had done this summer that had challenged him. He thought about it for a second and I knew I had him hooked. He replied that our weight workouts had been challenging. (During the summer, I had started taking him to the gym to workout with me. I taught him all the exercises and which muscle groups they worked.) I encouraged him to write about this experience and as he did, I guided him to do more than just reporting the bare minimum or just the facts.

I asked my son to consider how working out had helped him discover his inner and outer strengths. (My son didn't realize it yet, but just thinking about it—let alone writing about it—was also helping him discover more subtle inner and outer strengths!) To do this, I engaged him in conversation. I wasn't a parent—I wasn't a teacher—I was a guide who was pointing in a direction filled with possibilities. I didn't give my son the words—I taught him how to think.

My son is smart and was raised to self-reflect, so before he knew it, the pencil was flying across the page. Two pages later, when he finally lifted the pencil from the paper and looked up, he was astonished. Our eyes met and I didn't have to say a word—his sense of achievement was evident. By guiding your child to use homework as a means of self-discovery, you'll inspire him to do more than just the minimum because you tie homework to real life. When something is tangible and connected to his burgeoning sense of I-can-do-it, it becomes more than just a school assignment—it is a means of self-discovery.

Another important study skill is learning how to prepare for a test. When your child is studying, encourage him to tease out the concepts, rather than just memorizing facts. Although some tests are all about rote memorization, such as history tests that are full of dates, facts and figures, encourage your child to use the facts to develop a sense of perspective and tie this to current day events. Achieve this through conversation. Don't take a didactic tone and make the mistake of making your child feel as though you're always trying to teach a lesson.

For children who have trouble with memorization, teach them associative study skills. My middle school child had difficulty with memorization until I taught him some techniques that had worked for me in school. (As a former straight-A student, I am full of techniques.)

Encourage your child to work in his dominant modality. For instance, if he is visual, use visual cues. If he is hands-on, use something that makes a tactile impression. If your child is good at memorization, think up acronyms. This makes studying into a game of strategy and skill.

Make your expectations known. Tell your children that you expect them to do more than just the minimum because learning good study habits will make them a better person.

Make homework a priority. After school, give your children a healthy snack and have them finish their homework before they're allowed to watch t.v. or talk to their friends on the phone. Doing homework first is especially important if your child participates in after school sports. By the time my boys get home from baseball, it is usually 9 pm and they are too tired to focus on their homework. Although this homework-first rule works in my family, make sure it works in yours.

Avoid making homework into a punishment. If you do this, your child will hate school and everything associated with it. Since most kids aren't crazy about homework or developing study skills, this becomes a difficult perception to break.

When your child becomes frustrated with his homework, refrain from getting impatient or angry. Listen to what he has to say. Let him vent his frustration before offering to help. Help your child help himself by teaching him the foundation of good study skills. Help him learn to guide himself in figuring out how to approach a challenging problem or tackle a daunting homework task. Anything is doable when you outline a plan and then take it step by step. Encourage your child to look for the answer (rather than ask you), so he learns how to be resourceful.

Here's to helping your child develop effective study skills and creating a great relationship in the process!

If your child needs help with math and science, I highly recommend this study skills program that will help your child achieve confidence in his ability to learn tough subjects.

Laura Ramirez is the author of the award-winning book, Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting. The book uses ancient Native American concepts and teaching stories to show parents how to raise children to develop their strengths and lead uniquely purposeful and fulfilling lives. According to Ms. Ramirez, "Doing so, creates many perks for a parents—when parents take the time to look into their children's hearts, they see more deeply into their own."
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