• from The Columbus Dispatch - "Problems With Kids Begin at Home."

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Problems With Kids Begin at Home.

May 1999

By William L. Bainbridge

"Schools Could be Hurting - Hundreds of Districts Could Face State Intervention Unless They Meet Standards That Take Effect Next Year"

"Tragedy at Columbine High in Colorado ... "

With these headlines swirling through my mind, I stopped in a coffee shop this week to witness a spectacle that is, regretably, not unusual. A mother sat with a group of friends and her rambunctious three year old. The child was running around the store, spilling pepper shakers, overturning furniture and colliding with senior citizens at the knee. Mom seemed oblivious to Andrea's behavior until the little girl started literally running out the door - which she could barely open - of the store. Six times the child opened the door and exited the establishment. Each time, Mom would jump up from her seat, run and grab the child and make obviously idle threats. "If you don't quit running out the door, I will take you home." Andrea knew better. It was obvious that Mom's principal form of discipline was idle threats, and Andrea knew she - the child - was in charge.

Can you imagine enough gunpowder and weapons coming into a home to fortify a Marine barracks without any parent knowledge? Likewise, can you image children born into homes where they receive little adult attention, stimulation and healthy, protein-rich diets in the crucial brain development years from birth to about age 10? Can you imagine children coming home from school each day with no parent monitoring of their work at school or homework?

Many adults really can't imagine such parental malpractice, but it happens more frequently than government leaders would like to understand or admit. It's easy to blame the schools for all of the evils of society. Some blame schools for ignoring student access to weaponry. Others contend schools are wholly responsible for teaching children with learning difficulties resulting from poor prenatal, postnatal and early childhood care. Obviously, these problems have their genesis in homes, not in schools.

Some educators simply want to blame the home, and take no responsibility for working with parents of their students.

In the late 1980's, SchoolMatch Advisory Board Chairman Dr. M. Donald Thomas authored a monograph, "Effective Ways to Help Children Learn." Thomas' thesis is that during pre-school years, parents have important responsibilities. They must establish security for their children, provide them stimulating surroundings and motivate them to learn. Parents, he says, should also provide opportunities to learn outside of the home, and make learning enjoyable.

Motivation for learning can be enhanced by engaging in a variety of learning activities, and can become the basis for a lifetime of learning. We all recognize that being a parent is a difficult job. It requires a great deal of time and effort - time to talk with children, time to encourage them, time to respond to their emotions, and time to listen to them. Parents become poor teachers when they are too busy to know their children, too busy to live closely with them, too busy to learn with them, too busy to succeed and fail with them.

Low socio-economic children often have a distinct disadvantage when entering school. Research indicates there is no doubt some children are educationally disadvantaged because their parents have little education. Others are disadvantaged because they come from homes below the poverty level. Still others are disadvantaged because their school systems have few resources. Some children from high socio-economic homes suffer educationally from a lack of parental attention, stimulation and even protein in their diet.

Establishing effective behavior standards for children requires parents to:

  • Serve as effective role models of behavior, self-management, ambition, work ethic and demeanor
  • Admit mistakes when they are wrong
  • Establish high expectations
  • Demand honesty
  • Monitor student outcomes in school and even preschool
  • Emphasize the importance of learning
  • Support teachers and school leaders
  • Visit schools, pre-schools and daycare centers frequently
  • Communicate effectively and assertively
  • Allow children to learn lessons from the results of their behavior
  • Control their tempers in communicating
  • Not make major issues from minor annoyances
  • Establish rules of acceptable and unacceptable behavior
  • Exhibit reasonableness and flexibility
  • Identify goals
  • Support the child in exploring talents and interests
  • Provide adequate rewards
  • Develop a discipline plan which includes punishments for inappropriate behavior, including "time-out," withdrawal of privileges and, in my view, even mild corporal punishment for very small children

During the first three years of life, children develop behavior patterns which often follow them into adulthood. During these years when they are nearly completely dependent on adults, effective behavior patterns can be nurtured.

We all have a responsibility to begin examining ways in which community groups, religious institutions, universities, schools, government agencies and businesses can work together to promote effective parenting skills.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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