There’s a saying by Josh Billings that goes like this: “To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.” If you want your children to try hard, then try hard yourself. Children cannot do what they haven’t seen. Your children will naturally copy you, without you even having to consciously teach them achievement behavior–so long they have a secure attachment to you. How hard your child tries at school is also tied in with how dependent or independent they are of you, how warm, accepting, and quick you are to praise their accomplishments, and whether you provide guidance and control by setting standards for your children to live up to and monitor their progress. Some parents are warm and accepting, and set firm standards, but leave little room for freedom of thought in their children. These children usually have average to below-average academic achievement, and tend to be hesitant or unenthused about seeking new challenges. Permissive parents allow considerable autonomy–but the autonomy is misguided because they set few standards and rarely monitor their children’s progress or praise their accomplishments. Their children have little motivation to try at school. In a nutshell, warm, firm, but democratic parenting is the route to your child’s school achievement.
Studies also show that mothers of high-achieving boys are warmer and more encouraging. They foster early independence of thought and action, and generously reward their sons’ successful performance with affection and attention, without being overly critical of their son’s occasional failures. Fathers of low-achieving boys try to make their sons’ decisions for them, and became irritated when their sons have difficulty. Children who are reluctant to take on challenges tend to have parents who are slow to acknowledge their successes (or do so in a matter-of-fact way), and are inclined to punish their failures.
At as early as twelve months of age researchers can predict children’s academic achievement 5 to 9 years down the road. Seventy percent of children coming from unstimulated homes perform poorly in school. The variety of stimulation and age appropriateness of play materials are strong predictors of children’s school achievement. Children having many age-appropriate toys and experiences acquire a strong sense of mastery as they gain control over objects and events. On the other hand, toys and activities which are too complex frustrate children, and squelch their desire to take on new challenges.
Infants scoring high on achievement motivation also have parents who give them sensory stimulation designed to amuse them and arouse their curiosity, tickling and bouncing for example. In addition, a secure attachment to parents promotes mastery behavior. Secure children tend to have stronger curiosity, self-reliance, and eagerness to solve problems in kindergarten. It seems children need a secure base provided by loving, responsive parents before they feel comfortable about taking risks and seeking challenges.