Best advice ever on how to raise successful students. Thanks to my Get Schooled readers.

downeyart (Medium)A few weeks ago, I asked folks on the blog for advice on how to raise successful students for a presentation I was giving at a parenting event. I also cited many of their suggestions in my Nov. 19th AJC print column. (I edit the Monday education op-ed page and write a column for it.)

I didn’t post the column here as I figured that my readers knew all this stuff. But I’ve been getting a lot of requests for electronic versions of the column from principals, parents and PTAs — testimony to the wonderful suggestions offered by Get Schooled readers. I decided to post the column to make it easier for people to pass that great advice along.

So, here it is:

By Maureen Downey

I’ve dashed many a forgotten lunch, school report or permission slip to school.

Then one day, worn out from the frantic calls and even more frantic drives across town, I told my kids that they would have to go without lunch, take a lower grade on a late book report or miss a field trip if they failed to make the deadline.

And something miraculous happened. They started to remember.

It took four children, but I finally learned my lesson: Kids benefit at times when we do less for them, rather than more. Stop enabling them to shirk their responsibilities, and they will become more responsible.

My instincts were reconfirmed when, in preparation for a presentation at a parenting conference, I asked teachers recently on my AJC Get Schooled blog to share their best advice for helping kids succeed in life and in school.

Almost all had some version of this advice: Allow children to make mistakes. Stop being their buffer from all failure.

Here is other great advice from teachers and parents on the blog:

•Be involved in your child’s homework, but don’t do the homework. In elementary school, review what homework is required and help your child schedule the time to do it. Allow older children to manage their own homework load, but ask what subject they have every day. Offer to help your child study for tests. In general, be involved with your child’s school work.

•Allow your child to face the consequences of not doing homework or not studying for a test. Allow older children to be their own advocate with the teachers.

•When your children are frustrated with teachers or peers, ask them to think about how they contributed to the problem and think about ways to correct or prevent the problem in the future.

•Limit TV.

•For younger children, be near when they do take-home schoolwork, so that the experience is not isolating and (therefore) punishing for them. Wean them later on.

•Later on, cellphones should go on the shelf during study time. And the computer screen should always be visible to you.

•Encourage your child to start a study group during high school years. This is a success factor in college.

•Trust, but verify.

•Don’t browbeat your children or drive them. Let the expectation that they will be working for A’s linger heavily, but unspoken, in the air. Praise when they get them. Commiserate emotionally with lower grades (”I know you really wish that was a better grade”) but don’t encourage excuses.

•Get a library card — and use it.

•When your children do not do as well in school as you think they should, ask the teacher what you (and the children) need to do; don’t imply the teacher was wrong.

•Read. The more vocabulary, understanding and love of reading children have, the better they will do in all subjects.

•Speak to your children often — not just when you are angry. Focus on vocabulary development from a young age: The sky is blue, the grass is green, let’s count how many cookies.

•The most important thing is to show up and be present. Stay off your cellphone when you are with your kids. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen deflated spirits when a kid scores a goal, makes a basket or gets a good run … only to turn around and see that their parent was on the phone or texting while it happened.

•The evening meal should be a priority. Talk with your child, not at him/her. And talk about the work it takes to be successful, but also talk about the rewards of hard work. Talk about doing more and being better at choices than you were. Talk optimistically about his/her future.

•Provide a quiet place to study and sleep.

•Just because a teacher doesn’t assign homework doesn’t mean a child should do nothing academics-related at home. Talk about science, math and other interesting subjects with your children. Find their interests, and enroll them in camps or classes based on their interests. Buy books and DVDs related to their academic interests.

•Make sure children get plenty of sleep and nutritious meals. Sleepy and hungry children do not do well.

•Have your child’s eyes and hearing checked regularly. Your children will not do well if they can’t see or hear well.

•Ignore pressures for electronic games — even “educational” games. They suck up time and offer little value. Most video games turn kids into rude monsters who tune everything, and everyone, out.

•Encourage outside play.

•Worry about raising a good citizen as much as you do a good person.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

30 comments Add your comment

Fred ™

November 27th, 2012
4:56 pm

Great column Maureen.


November 27th, 2012
5:09 pm

One of the few times trademark Fred and I agreed.

Pride and Joy

November 27th, 2012
5:39 pm

Excellent advice.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

November 27th, 2012
6:29 pm

Children need to make mistakes, encounter failures and experience disappointments. Confronting these situations will help our kids become adept at avoiding and overcoming them in their later lives.


November 27th, 2012
6:36 pm

Going to link this to my class webpage!!!!

Sk8ing Momma

November 27th, 2012
7:27 pm

I don’t see something I think is indispensable to raising a good student/life-long learner: READ! READ! READ! Reading aloud to our children (K-12) is priceless. The benefits are countless. I highly recommend that all parents read Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook. His book will make you a believer if you’re not already part of the read-aloud choir!

Double Zero Eight

November 27th, 2012
7:27 pm

Great information for parents and educators.

Charles Douglas Edwards

November 27th, 2012
7:32 pm

THANKS THANKS THANKS for this wonderful and common sense advice.

Educating our children is one of the most important things that parents can do.

Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom (George Washington Carver).


November 27th, 2012
8:05 pm

Here’s one I forgot when I originally posted – Laugh at their jokes. They have either witnessed or heard something that they enjoyed and have brought it to you to share it, and repaying that with attention, positivity and shared joy is a huge ego boost for your child. It also proves that he or she can interact with an adult on a more even footing by accomplishing surprise and delight, and will encourage a child to find more ways to do so.


November 27th, 2012
8:17 pm

All I can say is a loud Amen!

I might add a banner to keep in the home, “No buts!”

NW GA Math/Science Teacher

November 27th, 2012
8:19 pm

Bravo Maureen

Ron F

November 27th, 2012
8:21 pm

Awesome column!! With your permission, I think I may share this with parents in conferences and at Open House. In my years teaching, I’ve sat through many a conference where the parents were frustrated and I realized that just because they have the child doesn’t mean they suddenly know everything about raising him or her. I could write a book on the mistakes I’ve made parenting for sure! I wish we had a way to get into our poorer communities with this message. Parents I meet every year are trying, but the struggles of being part of the working poor in this country cause them to put parenting aside too many times,and they need the encouragement to keep trying.

Not PC

November 27th, 2012
8:51 pm

Wiser words have seldom been written


November 27th, 2012
9:34 pm

I would add: Actually be interested in what your children are learning. Make their studies important and relevant to you.


November 27th, 2012
9:46 pm

good stuff. combined with outstanding teachers, this will yield incredible kids. combined w/ awful teachers, this will fail miserably.

Sally Sams

November 27th, 2012
9:55 pm

I told Robert and Peggy early on that I was not going to run to their school with things they’d forgotten; also, no frantic rummaging the night before a project was due. Worked very well. When Robert was in 6th grade his MILE teacher told me to quit hovering over his projects, period. I took that to give me permission never to worry about either of my children’s homework, and so never did!

Maureen Downey

November 27th, 2012
10:03 pm

@Sally, That is why your kids are so resourceful and independent.

The teacher

November 27th, 2012
10:34 pm

Wow – From my perspective as the teacher, I didn’t think there was anyone out there who believed any of these things anymore! Children are being set up for failure on a regular basis, and it’s NOT by the teachers…When parents defend their every movement – with their “not my child,” defense, your kids are also learning that if I complain loud enough, I will get what I want…I hope they’re prepared to call their bosses and offer excuses why their project is late, or why they are habitually late…undoubtedly it won’t be their childs’ fault…It’s easier to call or come in and throw a fit with a teacher or administrator than it is to actually parent your child – no worries, parenting is now part of a teacher’s responsibility…has been for a while… but, I have raised my two children, and I’M SICK OF RAISING YOURS! I became a teacher because I love to teach not to have to parent!


November 27th, 2012
10:40 pm

I’ve said many times if you keep bailing them out at school, you will be bailing them out of jail. I wanted my sons to mess up and suffer the consequences before they could be tried as an adult.


November 28th, 2012
6:05 am

The best advice I have ever read on this subject. ( I am back after being sidelined by a serious illness that had me in ICU for several weeks).


November 28th, 2012
6:19 am

That is sure some level-headed advice. I know why you are getting requests from parents and teachers for a copy of your presentation.


November 28th, 2012
6:47 am

Elizabeth, hope you are feeling much better! Nasty stuff out there!

Mountain Man

November 28th, 2012
7:45 am

Great advice about parenting. I especially liked the part about showing them responsibility. If you make them take responsibility for their actions, they will become responsible. If you constantly rescue them, they will forever be expecting that hand out.

Maureen Downey

November 28th, 2012
8:51 am

@Elizabeth, Welcome back and sorry to hear about your illness. Glad to see you posting again.


November 28th, 2012
10:54 am

I was with you until the “Ignore pressures for electronic games.” I don’t think they “turn children into rude monsters” more than anything else. I would put them along with the advice you gave for TV and simply say “limit screen time.” There are, in fact, some worthwhile games and research evidence showing some games improve problem-solving and collaboration, two important things we need more of in school. (I’m an educator as well.) I spend some happy times with my daughter not only reading, playing, watching movies but sometimes even playing games together (board and electronic). She’s taught me things in Minecraft I would have never considered, we love our occasional Wii battles and she’s a sweet pea, not a rude bone in her body.


November 28th, 2012
11:59 am

I needed to read this so badly. I have a 5 year old son and he’s my only child so I’m not exactly sure what’s best and have always been concerned about his education. This is wonderful advice! Printing and laminating this list to carry with me over the next 13 years or so!!

Private Citizen

November 28th, 2012
6:51 pm

These people are so dumb, providing coordinated public health care “entitlements” with no regard for caste or ability to pay. So backwards.

Kids with eyeglasses, families without medical debt. Zero health care culture of “executive compensation.” What can they possibly be thinking? They’ve just given up. That’s it.


November 30th, 2012
7:23 am

Thanks for all the welcome back comments. It has been a rough 3 months but I am much better and back at work to finish my next to the last year before retirement. I used a lot of sick leave so I am going to have to work a bit longer.

Amanda Frank

December 4th, 2012
9:29 am

This is such a great post, thank you for sharing! I think the scariest part about being a parent is knowing that it’s your responsibility to try to teach your children to be good people. I truly believe one of the greatest things we can teach our children is respect, which not only aids in raising them to be good people, but good students too. I see such a huge difference in the respect level students have for their teachers from when I was in school and then now that my kids are in school. As students, I feel that you need to respect the people who are trying to teach you. I just read a great book I’d like to share with other parents called “Teaching Kids to Be Good People” by Annie Fox, M.Ed. You can check her and the book out on the website It’s a wonderful read and I’d recommend it to anyone. Thanks again for the post!

ms teacher

December 14th, 2012
4:55 pm

Love this column! Thank you!