There are a million publications out there on how to raise kids successfully. The truth is, there is no one way that works. But there are a few things that you can do that will give your kids the best possible chance of achieving success–whatever “success” ends up meaning to them.
The best way to help your kids succeed, whether they are still in middle or high school, preparing to begin college, or well into their college years, is to help them develop good learning habits.
If you set your kids up with good learning habits, you are laying foundations that will help them build a successful future for themselves, and avoid a lot of stress and disappointment along the way.
What Are Good Learning Habits?
Good learning habits–the basics of how to study well, learn efficiently, and retain information–will help your kids get into the best university that they can. Not just because academic success is crucial in college admissions (it is), but also because those study habits will help them plan ahead and craft successful college applications too. Those same study habits will help your child succeed in college and succeed at whatever professional path they embark on afterwards.
So, if you’re tired of micromanaging their projects, checking in nightly on their homework load, and are worried about how they’ll manage in college–well, you’re probably “fishing” rather than “teaching how to fish.”
Here are the top tips for building successful learning habits, from the ground up:
1. Find or Create a Study Area for Your Child
Whether it is a space at the breakfast table, a nook at the kitchen island, a desk in a quiet study, or even a local library, having a dedicated space for work will help your child focus. When working in a specific space becomes a habit, it will help set a tone of concentration and productivity.
Keep in mind that this space will look different for everyone. Some kids (and some adults too) need a space where they can spread out. Others might work best in public, with a little ambient noise around them, and still, others will need a dedicated quiet zone with no distractions. Rather than impose what you think will work best on your child, work with them to figure out what makes a good workspace for them.
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
2. Alternate Periods of Uninterrupted Concentration with Short Breaks
Sometimes known as the Pomodoro method, it is well-documented that we work better when we are focused, but that we also need to take a break every now and then. The typical cycle will be 25 minutes of dedicated work time, with absolutely no distractions, followed by a 5-minute break. After three or four of those cycles, take a longer (roughly 15 minutes) break.
While your instinct may be to confiscate your child’s phone for the entirety of the evening study time, this will more likely land you in a never-ending battle and result in decreased productivity for your child. It is better to encourage them to focus completely for these moderate intervals of about 25 minutes, and then allow them five minutes of phone time. This will also enable them to work longer.
Anyone will get worn out after a couple of hours of intense focus with no break, but with shorter intervals and intermittent rewards and breaks, your child can keep up a steady pace of study for the length of the evening and get a lot more done. As a bonus, they are training their brains to focus longer and forming lifelong good habits of productivity.
3. Estimate Required Work Times, and Work on the Hardest Tasks First
The third foundational pillar of good learning habits is to help your child learn to plan ahead and manage their work time effectively. This is a skill that often isn’t learned until the young professional years, so if you are able to instill this in your child early, you will be giving them a huge head start.
For starters, help them develop a habit of assessing their workload–not just what they need to do, but how long each task will take. If possible, they should be doing this not just for each evening’s homework load, but for the week ahead, or at least the next few days. When this becomes a habit, and you will find that your child is able to constantly assess their workload, plan ahead, and manage their time more effectively.
When it comes to actually tackling that workload, encourage them to work on the hardest, most time-consuming tasks first. This way, they will be working on the tasks that require more mental effort and concentration early in the evening (or day) when they are still fresh, rather than late in the evening, when they are tired. They will feel the benefit of this when they are able to coast through the last few tasks of the evening.
“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” – Bruce Lee
Good Study Habits Will Help Them Choose What They Want to do!
When it comes to helping your kid choose a major in college and what they might want to do as a career, the best thing you can do is to have ensured that they have the foundations of good learning habits.
While the connection may not be clear at first, when your child is constantly struggling to focus and complete tasks, the material often becomes a background factor–it is all about simply “getting it done.”
However, when you create learning habits that empower them to be in control of their work, you free them up to consider–or realize–what they actually ENJOY. This will lead them to a more carefully considered choice of major or career, rather than one they choose because it’s “easy” or they already have some credits in that area.
The end goal of all of this is stepping out of your child’s way. Rather than micromanaging, give them space, time and be a resource for them. You’ve provided them with the tools so let them use them. The result will hopefully be that your child follows their interests and passions to a fulfilling career and success.