Classroom success depends largely on children's academic resilience, or their perseverance when facing difficult academic tasks. What can you do to encourage an academically resilient mindset in your tween?
Can Classroom Success be Fostered?Before we discuss how to encourage classroom success, let's consider whether academic resilience can actually be fostered. Academic resilience depends on two factors: personality and self-beliefs. Although self-beliefs seem changeable, we tend to think of personality as set in stone. It may be natural, then, to believe that "my son gives up too easily" is an unchangeable fact of who he is. In fact, though, aspects of personality can be moderated with experience. For example, researchers have found evidence that peers and teachers can modify some elements of a child's inborn personality, which is called their temperament.
Personality Factors Related to Academic ResilienceTwo key personality factors contribute to academic resilience. One is children's ability to control their impulses. Psychologists call this "effortful control." The other is their ability to change their behavioral control to suit the context (e.g., to say less offensive things around grandma than they do around their friends). This is called "ego-resiliency."
Encouraging a Personality That Supports Classroom SuccessHow can you encourage your tweens' impulse control? In short, just like you always have. Parents naturally encourage children's impulse control starting in infancy (e.g., "do not touch the hot stove!"). During the tween years, though, parents often stop focusing on impulse control because new developmental issues - such as pubertal changes - appear to demand greater attention. In fact, though, your tween needs you to continue to encourage their appropriate use of behavioral control. If anything, their increasing tendency toward moodiness and risk taking makes monitoring of their impulse control more important than ever. Do not be afraid to call your tween out on their impulsive moments. This should not be done in anger, but rather as a calmly stated reminder of what is acceptable and what is not. At the same time, make sure you are modeling appropriate impulse control yourself - such as by not yelling at the jerk who just cut you off on the freeway!
Self-Beliefs Related to Academic ResilienceAs mentioned earlier, in addition to personality, the other major contributor to academic resilience and classroom success is a child's self-beliefs. Of particular importance is their self-efficacy, or belief that they can succeed at a task if they try. Children who have high self-efficacy tend to persist at a difficult task much longer than children with low self-efficacy. It makes perfect sense, then, that self-efficacy contributes to academic resilience.
Encouraging Self-Beliefs That Support Classroom SuccessOne of the best ways to support self-efficacy is to encourage your child to try a wide variety of tasks - academic, physical and social - on their own. Resist the urge to jump in if you see your tween struggling with these tasks; flirting with failure and eventually succeeding helps to build a sense of self-efficacy. On the other hand, though, avoid introducing activities or experiences that are well beyond your tween's current skill set. Such "overly difficult" tasks will just invite failure and may cause the opposite effect than intended. As your tween completes more tasks successfully, you may notice that he or she actually begins asking for help MORE often than in the past. This may seem counterintuitive but it's actually a great sign: children with high self-efficacy are more willing to ask for help when they need it because they realize that seeking assistance is one strategy for achieving success. Note that it's key for your child to seek you out rather than you offering unsolicited "help." The former boosts self-efficacy while the latter can undermine it.
McTigue, Erin M., Washburn, Erin K., & Liew, Jeffrey. Academic Resilience and Reading: Building Successful Readers. The Reading Teacher. 2009. 62: 422-432.