Things all parents should teach their children - good learning habits

Success comes in different shapes, forms and sizes. There are those who believe finishing secondary school is success, others believe being a university graduate or Hollywood superstar is ultimate success while other parents believe that being one of the best football players or sportsmen is the only justifiable reason to say someone is successful. The truth is, no matter where you are or what you want your child to achieve, the road is usually the same. It's all about hard, systematic work. This leads us to one of my favourite topics in this parenting series of posts - forming good habits. The sooner you teach your child how to form lots of good habits, the better and easier it will be for them to reach their goals and achieve that all elusive ultimate success in life.

Are you doing the right thing when helping your child with homework?
Let us take doing homework as an example. A lot of parents do this wrong. They simply overdo it. Cases where parents even write in their children's copybooks are not unheard of. You don't believe me? You better believe. I am a teacher who is talking from experience here. I have witnessed such situations many a time in my teaching career. 
Teach children good learning habits
Whose homework is it?
Why is helping your child with every single homework question not a good thing, you ask? Well, let me explain. For starters, is it your home work in the first place? Besides, I believe parents are there to guide their children to get to the correct answers. Not to give them the answers on a silver plate. Homework is usually supposed to be revision and in my dictionary revision means something that your child has already done. All that is left is to consolidate the material learnt. The other problem is that if your child can't do his homework on his own, you are doing him a disservice by doing it for him. As the Chinese proverb says, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
Remember what your child needs is to have the material explained to him in a way he understands so that if he gets a similar question in the future, he will be able to solve it on his own. And besides, how is the teacher supposed to know what your child doesn't know when he comes back to school with everything correctly done in his copybook? The teacher will assume that your child understands everything and does not require further assistance. That's really bad news for you and your dear child. So try to remember that no one is perfect and let the results in your child's books reflect the level of his knowledge. Forgive me if this sounded like the words of an angry teacher. I do get emotional when it comes to topics that relate to school work. What's to be expected from a teacher, right? 
Need more evidence to prove my point? Here goes. Research conducted by psychologists, such as Professor Robert Bjork, has shown that facing difficulties and obstacles when learning results in better, deeper learning which leads to greater retention of knowledge. The conclusion here is that letting your child struggle a bit with his learning will only yield positive results. 
How to teach your child to learn
Here is how to make your children do their homework with the minimum possible assistance. The basic thing you need to do is to help your children to form good habits as early as possible. Instead of spending huge amounts of time and energy fighting over homework, you should teach your children to learn, solve problems and do their work by themselves as soon as they are able to read and follow instructions. I started doing the same thing with my first son when he was less than seven years old. If he comes across a word he doesn't know, give him a dictionary or something similar and let him find the meaning. It's also important to teach your child to plan their learning.
Let's say your child has three days to prepare for a spelling test. The mistake I often see parents making is that they try to make their child learn everything in one sitting, as if he is some kind of computer. The best approach here is to teach your child systematic work. In the case of the previously mentioned spelling test, the solution is to just let your child read those spelling words a few times everyday over those three days. You can also go a step further and teach him that the best way to learn is to write things down, unless of course he has photographic memory. So after reading the spelling words, he should try to write them down from memory, i.e. without looking at the spelling book. If you follow these simple steps, your child will soon be learning and doing his work without your assistance. 
The point is, systematic work is very important. The ability to put your head down and do your work day in, day out is a fundamental habit, even in adult life. It can determine success or failure. I used to wonder why parents send their children to lots of extra-curricular activities such as football, piano lessons, judo or whatever it is they find interesting at a particular stage of their life. That was until I read Charles Duhigg's book "The Power of Habit", which I highly recommend. In that book he explains that the reason why it's a good idea to do that is not to make our children football stars or professional piano players, which is highly unlikely, but to teach them systematic and consistence work, which is the key to forming good habits. Most parents don't even know that. As soon as something like doing homework becomes a habit, it becomes much easier and more pleasurable to do. You no longer require huge amounts of willpower to do something. You just do it automatically. That is the power of habit over discipline. 
How my uncle taught me how to learn
When I was young I would never have said something like this, but I am glad my uncle Edward helped me develop this habit at the age of 13. My parents had missed that one. When they sent me to live with my uncle, in a matter of months I progressed from being one of the worst pupils in the class to being one of the best in the school before finally finishing school with the best results in the whole school. Of course the beginning was not easy. There were times I used to cry and tell my parents that I hate my uncle. I remember the first time I went home for holidays I told my parents that I wasn't going back to live with uncle Edward, but my parents were wise enough to know that what my uncle was doing was all for my own good. He taught me how to think logically, solve problems, learn and to develop good habits. My life became much easier and a little more enjoyable when learning became a habit.
Forming good habits is the key. Help your child to do this, and you both won't regret. Your children may cry and tell you they don't love you or you don't love them and other similar things. If you weather through those early problems to forming good learning habits, the results will surprise you. I always tell my wife that the choice here is simple when it comes to instilling good habits in our kids. Crying is part of the process. Either your child cries and learns something that will help him conquer the difficulties of life or you listen to him and then you will cry later when he won't be prepared to overcome bigger problems. So either your child cries now or you cry later. Easy choice, if you ask me. 
Good habits are more important than talent or intelligence
To summarise this topic, let me repeat. Help your children to form good nutritional, exercise or learning habits and they will be on their way to achieve anything they want in life. There are many ways to do this, depending on the age of your children. I love applications so I will recommend iRewardChart. It's a great application for introducing a reward system. I am using it to help my children to develop good habits and I am very happy with their progress so far. Remember the earlier you start, the better. The person who said, "You can't teach old dogs new tricks" knew what he was talking about.
Do you think it's important for parents to help their children to form learning habits? Maybe you have got some tips and tricks for doing that? Leave a comment below.


Tue, 12 Feb 2013