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Esther Tyson: Good parenting essential to student success

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Jamaica’s Rhodes Scholar for 2014, Timar Jackson, is warmly embraced by his mother, Janet Powell, during a special assembly at Vauxhall High School in Kingston on December 2, 2013. Timar is an alumnus of Vauxhall.

"It doesn't matter where you start, it's your destination that counts," said Timar Jackson, the 2014 Rhodes Scholar, to students of Vauxhall High School. Timar came from a poor background and was the child of a single mother. One of the inputs into Timar's success was the constant presence of his mother to encourage him and to ensure that he was going to school and getting his work done.

What am I saying? Poverty is no excuse to be a bad parent. Many researchers have pointed to the importance of parents in determining the academic and social success of a child. There are some children who succeed in spite of neglectful parents, but, on the other hand, most students who succeed point to the involvement of the parent/s in their lives as a constant positive influence on their achievements.

There are some basic things that parents need to ensure that they do to assist their children to achieve success in life. Faith Linton and Barry Davidson, in their book, Answers to Questions Parents Ask, outline many of these.

1.The physical environment in which a child is raised is not the most important thing. A child may be born in poverty, may be deprived of good nutrition or a good education, but there is something even more necessary and important than any of these factors, and that is the quality of the parenting the child receives. We all know of persons who were born poor but grew up to have successful, happy lives because they were motivated by (i) the example set by their parents and (ii) the experience of being firmly and consistently loved, trained and cared for by their parents.

Timar had such a caring, loving mother who, although she was not educated, was able to encourage him to do well at school. No matter how poor you are or how difficult your life is, try to ensure that you give your child love, care, and support as they grow up.

2.The first five years of a child's life are very important. The first two years are particularly crucial for brain development in a person's life. The child needs to get the right quality and quantity of nourishment to develop emotionally, physically, and for brain growth. Even more important than nourishment, however, is a warm, close, encouraging relationship with at least one adult. When parents show their love to their young child regularly and consistently, ... this loving attention can do for the brain what food alone cannot do. In addition to these factors is the need for the child to receive stimulation.

Stimulation is the way we encourage, motivate, and give the young child the opportunity to develop their skills, gifts, and abilities. Therefore, we need to give our children loving touch. We also need to help them to explore their senses - touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.

This means that we need to allow our children to play, to explore the space in which they live. How many times do we hear some adults telling the children who are playing, "Unnu play too much." Children learn through play.

3.Most children in Jamaica learn to speak Jamaican creole (JC) before they learn to speak the language of instruction, Standard Jamaican English (SJE). Even though we have our children interacting in JC, we also need to prepare them to use the SJE so that when they go to school, they are not placed at a disadvantage. You can assist in doing this by reading to them or have an older sibling or relative read to them. Your child will become fluent in both languages. Children who find that they do not speak SJE comfortably might feel ostracised and left out in the classroom. This will, in turn, affect their involvement and performance in the class.

Furthermore, 'In Why Parenting Is More Important Than Schools', an article by Annie Murphy Paul in Time Magazine published on October 24, 2012, the writer points out that it is important that parents talk with their children; not talk to them, but with them. This means we allow our children to tell us their thoughts and we listen and respond to them.

The children, the writer says, who are involved in this type of dialogue with their parents regularly grow to feel that their thoughts and opinions are important and develop the ability to advocate for their own views. On the other hand, children who are not brought up in this type of environment avoid asking for help or fail to discuss matters with their teachers.

4.Building and shaping character - Character is made up of values, attitudes, principles, and beliefs. Values are things that come first in life, such are good health, family ties, friendships, money, wealth, and possessions, education, success in my career/business, serving and helping others, a good reputation, relationship with God. Attitudes - such as being encouraging or critical and judgemental, being appreciative and thankful or being complaining, self-centred, forgiving, kind, thoughtful of others, helpful, sympathetic, generous, cheerful, and good-humoured.

Principles and beliefs - such as honesty, justice, order and discipline, self-control, hard work, wisdom and sound judgement, being loyal, committed, faithful to marriage vows, trustworthy, reliable, having faith in God.

How do we shape a child's character? The most tried and true way is for the parent's life to be an example to the growing child. If parents or caregivers practise lying and stealing, the children will tend to develop these habits. If children grow up in an environment where they are surrounded by obscene language and violence as a way of handling conflict, they will handle conflict in that way, too.

In schools across Jamaica, the cry heard from teachers is that they need the parents to train their children in a positive way at home so that they do not have to spend almost 50 per cent of contact hours dealing with discipline. Parents who support their children will find that their children will produce a positive outcome at school and develop to become a productive citizen of our Jamaican society.

- Esther Tyson is former principal of Ardenne High School. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and esther.tyson@gmail.com.