I am making a passionate plea to parents and teachers who believe that schooling is the alpha and omega of a child’s life.  Often, schools have convinced students and parents that a child’s focus must exclusively be centered on academic concerns during every waking hour.

This is not a question of whether a quality academic program plays an integral role in the life of our children.  However, do parents and teachers understand the necessity of creating a climate so that children are able to find balance in their lives?  Schooling, as important as it is, should not be the only focus of a child’s daily lifestyle.  There should be more to a child’s life than teaching, learning, and the reaction of parents to a child’s academic performance.

Ironically, children who have a well-balanced schedule of non-academic activities are more likely to experience school success.  Sometimes, the pressure that schools or parents apply in the pursuit of academic excellence can actually create a cycle of school failure. 

During my school counseling years, kids would come to visit me and share their horror stories about being consumed with homework, which took precedence over other meaningful activities such as dance, karate, sports, and family-time.  Their parents would be confused or angry at the school, but would keep their feelings to themselves.  Instead they would comply with the school’s request by policing their children as they plodded along in the process of completing an exhausting regime of homework.  School work became the primary priority at home.  To make matters worse, the parents felt obligated to remove social activities from the life of their children as a consequence for school performance problems.  This pattern has not changed since I left the school system. 

I believe that poor school performance should never be used to activate negative consequences which exclude youngsters from other valued activities.  Instead, positive reinforcement by parents and teachers, along with meaningful, reasonable goals for students, should be implemented as motivators to bolster student achievement.  Removing a child’s need for social outlets as a consequence for school failure should be eliminated.  An incredible number of power-struggles that emerge between a parent and child are waged over the issue of school performance.  Parents feel pressure to remove all other activities from a child’s life.  This self-defeating strategy further erodes the parent-child relationship and fosters more animosity as the child views his life as nothing more than a microcosm of the world of education.  Invariably, the child will offer the parents “pay-backs” in the form of poorly done or unfinished school work. 

How can schools and parents promote a sense of balance in the lives of our children while encouraging academic excellence?

  • Create involvement with children apart from the issue of schooling.
  • Ask children to make value judgments about the quality of their school performance rather than teachers and parents lecturing, moralizing and pontificating.
  • Separate the issue of school performance from other aspects of a child’s life. 
  • Use positive reinforcement techniques to foster better school performance.
  • Teachers can change their concept of homework, making it non-compulsory.  If homework is given, it should be meaningful, reasonable in length, and reflect quality. 
  • Maintaining a child’s social activities is important.  This may include hobbies, sports, club activities, family and social time.  Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, indicates that employers are looking for students who have been educated in social relationships, team loyalty, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.  These skills cannot be learned if a child is one-dimensional in his life activities and lacks balance. 
  • Schools need to re-think the manner in which they educate students.  Civility, moral education, volunteer service, affective education, and cooperative learning need to be stressed along with the 3R’s.
  • Parents need to encourage their children to involve themselves in a wide range of activities.  Such an emphasis will develop the “whole child” and make children more open to the responsibilities of schooling. 
Teachers and parents need to work together to assist our children in pursuing a well-balanced lifestyle.  The issue of school performance should be separated from a child’s other life activities.  If teachers and parents promote quality education, promote a strong sense of involvement with children, and encourage children’s performance with positive reinforcement, an appropriate lifestyle balance can be maintained.

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