Student sitting on the floor with a laptop and doing homework, view from above

By Christine Thomas

Throughout every child’s educational journey, parents must adapt and grow with children as they become more confident, needing parents less in some ways yet more in others. Despite this ever-expanding landscape, parents remain important partners in learning all the way through high school. But how can parents best help kids thrive, and what is right at which ages and stages? Punahou faculty and deans offer grade-specific tips below, but while there is no easy panacea, there is a simple first step – staying engaged.

“Parental engagement and maintaining open lines of communication with the School is always really important,” says Middle School Dean Lori Komori ’91, who notes that this can also offer parents a key source of support as new issues and experiences arise. “Take advantage of opportunities to consult with us. We are here for the kids and also for the parents.”

Beyond that? While staying connected is important, parents also don’t want to do too much for their very capable kids. Move away from the role of corrector to one of listener and sounding board, and provide structure and coaching to help kids find strategies that work for them, but allow them to take responsibility for choices. “It’s a dance, and there’s no way to do it perfectly,” says Academy Dean Lisa Stewart. “It’s a gradual letting go process and each kid is different. You know your child best.”

There are many things parents cannot do for children, and shouldn’t (like bringing that forgotten lunch bag to school, Komori says). But while you may not be able to manage friendships or math tests, you can create an environment at home that prepares your child to embrace any challenges ahead. And remember, Stewart says, school is just one part of a child’s life – there’s something bigger, and that’s family.

What Can Parents Do at Home?

At Every Age:

  • Prioritize sleep and hold to bedtimes, even in high school.
  • Encourage reading. Discuss what you’re reading; read what they’re reading; read together; read for pleasure; and read to learn.
  • Talk and listen to your child, resisting the urge to focus on grades and performance.
  • Instead of correcting or doing things for them, coach them.
  • Create technology-free times and zones, and minimize distractions.
  • Model love of learning and connect learning to life and the community.
  • Contact your child’s teacher or dean to ask questions and collaborate.

Early Elementary School (Grades K – 1):

These first years allow parents to connect to classroom learning through events and field trips, and mirror teachers’ approaches at home. Begin to let go of small things you’ve been doing for your very capable child, especially as they look to you for guidance. “Parents are always first and foremost their child’s first teacher,” says kindergarten faculty Donna Reid-Hayes ’78. “Children are hardwired to learn from them: from their behaviors, their attitudes, their ability to take risks and face challenges. Parents are always modeling for their children.”

  • Create a special reading space at home and make a variety of genres available.
  • Expose your child to different types of artwork, experiences and sensory play.
  • Play games with dice to help develop number sense.
  • Engage with children on field trips as fellow learners rather than paparazzi.
  • Carve out plenty of unstructured time to be bored and take initiative.
  • Allow safe mistakes (really, learning opportunities), like forgetting their backpack.

Elementary School (Grades 2 – 5):

The transition to second grade is one of profound academic and social growth, and our elementary teachers encourage parents to continue to contact them with questions and concerns to build on that partnership in learning. While parent time in the classroom gradually diminishes, stay connected and help coach children on how to navigate new experiences. But let them rise to the occasion, says third grade faculty Denise Awaya ’88 Wong, “Prepare them for the path, but don’t prepare the path for them.”

  • Create space for children to do work in a family area where you’re available to offer support.
  • Ask questions that spark conversations, and do more listening than talking.
  • Continue reading aloud to your child even as reading skills advance, and discuss what you’re reading to aid comprehension and foster connection.
  • Remember that your child’s learning experience may be different than yours.
  • Keep consistent routines and expectations to help children feel grounded.
  • Create plenty of space in the schedule for downtime and family time.

Middle School (Grades 6 – 8):

Parenting increasingly team- and peer-oriented children can be a delicate balancing act. Help tweens be prepared, but resist rescuing them from responsibility and consequences. At the same time, don’t be too hands-off. “We want parents to stay tuned-in, even if your child is starting to tune you out,” Middle School Dean Lori Komori ’91 says. “They want independence but still very much need adult guidance.”

  • Respect their need to decompress after school, and don’t be discouraged by one-word answers. Instead, be ready when they’re ready to talk to you. “Seize those moments and treasure them,” Komori says.
  • Continue reading aloud to kids, looking out for any learning gaps.
  • Build family connection through regular activities and games.
  • Offer choices. Freedom within boundaries is reassuring because tweens know what to expect.
  • Know what children are doing and who they spend time with – in person and online.
  • Monitor device apps. “It’s critical for parents to set limits, and impose parental restrictions on time and access to age-appropriate content,” Komori says.

Academy (Grades 9 – 12):

Though parents may see a clear dividing line between middle school and high school, don’t pull back support too fast. “A lot of Academy parents give up some of the coaching they’ve been doing a little too early, especially executive function coaching,” says Academy Dean Lisa Stewart, who suggests sitting down with freshmen and sophomores on Sunday afternoons to help them strategize how to get things done in the week ahead. Consistent modeling and support in these years still has a big impact.

  • Help teens figure out how to break apart big assignments into smaller chunks over time rather than doing it all the night before.
  • Learn strategies for getting started on writing assignments and projects, which is often the hardest part.
  • Ask for permission to help, and if you don’t have it, don’t force it.
  • Teens need practice talking to adults. Role-play conversations and encourage them to take notes ahead of time on what to cover.
  • Keep communication lines open and show them you don’t identify them as a student, but as an important part of your family.
  • Enforce bed times and monitor nutrition. “It’s totally appropriate for parents of teenagers to monitor sleep,” Stewart says. “Things are hard enough without also being under-nourished and under-rested.”

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