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“D” Is for Dad: Ten Ways Fathers Can Help Their Kids Excel in School
by Stephan B. Poulter, Ph.D.

Hang out at your local school and you’ll see it more and more: dads dropping their kids off in the mornings. Dads carrying trays of food in the cafeteria. Dads passing out cupcakes at classroom birthday parties. Perhaps because women are busier than ever before, men are venturing into what used to be “mom” territory’s school days that don’t involve goalposts or baseball diamonds.

If you’re a father, there are big benefits to becoming deeply entrenched in your children’s academic lives. I’m not implying that a father’s involvement is more important than a mother’s. Indeed, it’s important that both parents make an effort, especially in an era when school is more demanding than ever.

So how, specifically, can dads get more involved in their child’s learning life? Here are ten suggestions (that of course moms can use as well):

• Make sure you meet your child’s teacher and stay in touch even if things are going well. The teacher tends to call you more quickly to elicit support and help with your child if she feels you are involved.

• Don’t be the dad who shows up ONLY when there is a problem may learn that poor academic performance is the only way to get your attention.

• Step foot in the school at least once a week. Take your child to school, eat lunch with her in the cafeteria, go on field trips, and so forth. If you’re a divorced dad, this is a great way to spend time with your children and to meet their friends.

• Make time for your child to tell you about her day and also take the time to tell her about your day. If you can establish a good communication pattern and rapport with your child, she will be much more likely to talk to you about any problems she is having.

• Suggest that your child’s school implement a program that brings parents into the classroom to describe their careers. This is a great way to help kids realize the broad range of opportunities available to both men and women.

• When helping with homework, don’t take a “Dad to the rescue!” attitude. If your child needs help with a difficult assignment, work through it with him and help him understand how the process leads to the final answer. If you try to solve problems for your child, you will foster dependence rather than self-sufficiency and confidence.

• It’s okay if you can’t answer a particular question. It shows your child that no one has “all the answers” but that it’s possible to find them. Help her find the answer. Go to the encyclopedia or get online and, together, seek out the answer.

• If special tutoring is necessary, don’t make your child feel ashamed. And don’t make her forgo other commitments such as sports activities or dance lessons. Remember that her self-acceptance is far more important than her success in school.

• Keep reading to your child even after he learns how. This may be especially critical for boys, who tend not to do as well in reading. When your son sees you reading books and magazines, he gets the message that reading is enjoyable and “manly.”

• Don’t be a “math/science sexist.” It’s a common belief that boys have natural ability in math and science, so parents and teachers alike tend to encourage boys in these areas more than they do girls. Don’t fall into this trap. Realize that girls who excel in math and science usually have fathers who are supportive and rewarding of their efforts.

If the idea of being deeply involved in your child’s academic life seems alien to you, you’re not alone. Old habits die hard. But when you realize what’s at stake, you won’t mind shattering a few stereotypes. When you consider that children who have the support of both parents have higher test scores and GPAs and are more likely to go on to higher education, you won’t mind putting forth a little extra effort to make a big difference in your child’s future.

Dr. Stephan B. Poulter is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in West Los Angeles, California. He has worked in various settings with more than 2,200 fathers and sons in the last twenty-three years. In 1998 he co-authored Mending the Broken Bough: Restoring the Promise of The Mother and Daughter Relationship (Berkley Books) with Dr. Barbara Zax. His most recent book, Father Your Son: How to Become the Father You’ve Always Wanted to Be (McGraw-Hill, 2004) is available at bookstores nationwide and all major online booksellers or by visiting www.mcgraw-hill.com. For more information, please visit www.fatheryourson.com.

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