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Who's Responsible for a Child's Success in School?

Helping children take ownership of their goals and choices.

Key points

  • Children develop self-confidence in part by recognizing their power to affect change in their lives.
  • Taking responsibility for their efforts can help children feel empowered when they succeed.
  • Children need to be able to fail at times to learn the importance of rising above challenges.

It used to be that when a child was doing poorly in school, parents had a meeting with the teacher to discuss how their child could improve. These days, the discussion might center on how the teacher can improve. It seems that more and more parents are seeing the school as the problem rather than their child’s efforts.

Parents want their children to succeed and be happy doing so. Unfortunately, those two desires may not always be congruous in the short term. Let’s face it: going to school year after year is not exactly the child’s ideal activity. It’s not meant to be fun all the time. School is designed to give children a basic education. This education includes socialization and understanding societal expectations as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic. This is all designed to help them understand the benefits of an education in helping them to become successful adults. When children are struggling with their ability to succeed in class, often parents turn their ire toward the teachers.

While some teachers are clearly better than others, the bottom line is that most of them want their students to do well and are interested in the child's success. It doesn’t help when the parents blame the teachers for their child’s difficulties, and the child starts to internalize that if they don’t do well, it’s not their fault.

Changes in Perspective

The change that has happened in our society is that parents have often shifted their focus from helping their children rise to the occasion so they can succeed and instead have blamed the teachers and school system for failing them. By shifting the responsibility from the child to the teachers, parents may not feel the need to challenge their children to work harder. If the reason they’re struggling is the “teacher’s fault,” then why would we expect them to do anything differently? After all, if it’s the teacher’s problem, not theirs, it’s the teacher that needs to alter their behavior. As a result, the child may learn that when they’re doing badly at something it’s not their problem because it’s someone else’s fault.

This can have a detrimental effect on a child because the child learns that others are responsible for their success or failure and that they are not in charge of it. It is important that children learn to be responsible for both their successes and failures. Of course, sometimes there are situations where someone else is at fault; however, if the child is mostly led to believe that others are the reason they haven’t succeeded, they may feel helpless actually to accomplish their goals. As a result, this can hinder their motivation and the “fire in their belly,” which can harm their ability to strive for the things that matter to them. How are they supposed to believe in their own ability to accomplish their goals if the things in their way are always somebody else’s fault?

Recognizing Their Own Abilities

It's important that kids develop ownership over their goals and aspirations. In this way, they can start to recognize that they have the power to sink or swim, as opposed to it being outside themselves. When they are able to work through challenges and actually come out the other side, then they gain confidence in their own power. They learn that they have the ability to rise above their struggles and actually succeed at what they’re trying to accomplish.

Children who learn that the things they want are worth working for and that their efforts matter are more likely to become successful adults. This awareness can help them face adversity and rise above it rather than shrink away from it. In this way they learn to see challenges as something to overcome, rather than be stopped by.

We all want to raise children who can navigate our society successfully. Part of their growth is making sure they understand they have the power to work toward what they want and can take ownership of their efforts. Setting goals, having expectations of them, and helping them see their own power are all stepping stones toward maturity and becoming successful adults.

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