Parenting experts: Measuring success in school—what is the true indicator?

From press release

Now that the kids are back in school, and first quarter is well under way…how is it going? And how would a parent know?

When trying to assess our children’s adjustment to and experience of school, we typically turn to the obvious indicators—grades, participation in extra-curricular activities, social involvement, moods—and these are all pertinent.

But what are some important indicators parents can look for that would inform them about how their children are really adjusting?

“One area that we may neglect as parents is our children’s attitude,” says Malcolm Gauld, parenting expert and president of Hyde Schools, who, along with his wife, Laura, authored the book The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have. “Attitude is the true barometer when measuring how the school year is going. But it requires some effort on our part to pin down. If our children’s grades are where they need to be, and they’re doing well on tests, it is easy to overlook what appears to be simply a prickly mood.”

Laura Gauld, head of Hyde School in Woodstock, Conn., adds: “Our kids are growing up in a culture where aptitude and achievement have become the main focus of education. Young students today are under extraordinary pressure and are learning to define themselves by test scores, grades and awards. However, these things will not define them in the end.”

The achievement culture complicates things for parents—parents value achievement and want their children to succeed because they know it reaps rewards. And while those rewards are important for hard work well done and often have the immediate effect of boosting self-esteem, the Gaulds remind parents it is a strong character that will carry their children through life’s challenges, as it will for them.

“Parents need to trust their instincts,” says Malcolm. “Most of us know there is so much more to our children—and real success—than grades. And an unchecked attitude can lead to trouble for children as they grow into adults, regardless of their academic prowess.”

Laura adds, “If our children are going to fulfill the potential of their aptitudes and live their lives to the fullest, they will need the right attitude.”

According to the Gaulds, there are things parents can do to ensure lasting benefits for their children’s futures—things that will stick around much longer than grades and test scores. They offer a few simple, effective tips for parents:

1. Challenge the off-track attitudes. Don’t ignore them. Ask your child about what’s really going on—even if he or she can’t articulate it. Allow your child time to think about it until he or she can put words to it, return and discuss. You will send the message that the attitude is a roadblock. Many children and adolescents will focus on surface issues as reasons for off-track attitudes, such as grades, busyness, or frustration over a challenge they are facing. Try to help your child identify the underlying issues, which is the attitude toward challenge. Use examples of how you may struggle similarly, and offer ways you work to overcome your own unproductive attitudes.

2. Celebrate the positive attitudes. Let your child know when you’re inspired by his or her attitude. If you have learned something by watching how your child handled something, say it. If your child handles something better than you believe you would or did at some point in your life, let your child know.

3. Work to improve the family attitudes. These are the everyday little ones that can get in our way—that we learn from one another—as well as the deeper attitudes that block our greatness—and they belong to everyone in the family. We owe it to ourselves and the ones we love to project the best attitudes we have. Parents, ask for help when you are struggling with an attitude. Be prepared to look at yourself. Many of the attitudes our children carry come from what they have learned at home. Ask yourself, “How can I expect my children to change their unproductive attitudes if I am not prepared to look at and change my own?” Modeling daily character for our children is what will inspire them to make positive change in their own lives.

In the end, it is our attitude that helps us to learn, to grow, to form healthy habits and to succeed in ways beyond material means.

“Nothing can help the person with the wrong attitude,” says Malcolm.“Nothing can stop the person with the right one. It’s an amazingly rewarding experience to watch the kids we work with embrace that concept and run with it, even the kids who were already performing in school at a high level. Many of them experience the kind of success that will carry them through life.”

For more information about the Gaulds, their work at Hyde Schools, or their book The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have, contact Rose Mulligan at (207) 837-9441 or by e-mail at

From the Dec. 16-22, 2009 issue

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