Photo credit: Steven Yeh

Did you know that if you want your children to succeed at school, simply telling them about your high expectations can have a positive impact on their academic achievement?

Students who achieve highly generally come from homes where parents expect that their children will “get off their butts, work hard, and do well at school.” In fact, this idea is nearly beyond question. When it comes to our children’s school results, our expectations are critical.

So will harassing our 9 year-old about his NAPLAN score, or our 17 year-old about her HSC preparation get the job done?

Will high expectations translate into high academic outcomes? Is “tiger-parenting” the way to go?

Too high expectations lead to poor results

recent study involving over 3, 500 students in grades 5-10 found that parents who had high aspirations for their children’s maths achievement usually had high-performing children.

But when parental aspiration was higher than the children’s expectations for performance, things went pear-shaped.

In short, the results indicated that once we become unrealistic (or once our children feel that they can’t perform to the standards we expect), those high aspirations become lead-weights that actually pull achievement lower.

How do we get the balance right?

Ellen Amatea, a leading education researcher, argues that families with the following four qualities seem to balance the expectations they have with a well-rounded approach to promoting positive academic achievement:

I. Family Beliefs and Expectations

Children who do well academically tend to come from homes where parents believe their children can do well, and share those expectations clearly but kindly.

They focus on setting goals with their children, building on successes and learning from failures. And they promote the idea that life is about more than doing well at school. It’s about purposeful living, and education can be important to help us live purposeful lives.

II. Family Emotional Connectedness

One of the most crucial contributors to children’s school success is the quality of our relationships with them. Children from emotionally warm and caring homes perform better academically than those from homes that are cold, harsh, or indifferent. In families where individuals enjoy being together, feel respected, and share a sense of belonging, children flourish academically as well as emotionally.

III. Family Organisational Patterns

When children do well at school, they seem to come from homes where there is strong leadership and clear expectations. In the home there are expectations around who will do what and when – responsibilities. Parents have clear expectations for how their children will behave.

IV. Family Learning Opportunities

The final group of behaviours that parents focus on in homes where children do well at school are relating to having routines in the home that support achievement (such as monitoring school assignments and school performance, doing enriching learning activities, and talking a lot about school), and explicitly teach children (meaning that they are involved in their children’s learning, recognise their strengths and weaknesses, and get excited about their children’s progress).

In short, if we want our chi