Parents, Help Your Kids Thrive in School by Asking these 4 Questions

(Inside: Do you want to help your kid thrive in school? These four questions will help your child find success and enjoy his or her educational journey.)

I scanned the array of graduation photos spread out in front of me. Geez, it’s been years since I’ve taught these amazing students in high school.  

I picked up a picture of a former high school senior remembering how – even though life always seemed to throw him curveballs that he didn’t always handle the best – he was determined to get into college and be the first in his family to graduate from higher education.

Then, there was the sweet girl, she beamed in her dress with brunette curls outlining her face. That girl always had drama, so much typical high school-girl drama…I wondered if she’d reached her dream of starting a daycare.

I scanned the photo of the heavy-set, no-nonsense face of the athlete – that kid had goals. College team. Maybe, the Olympics. His focus was always on doing what needed to be done to be the best at his sport, including staying after school and studying with me when he struggled.

Each kid in the dozens of pictures was different…from race to social-economic backgrounds to family dynamics to interests and personality. But, all of them ended their high school career with good memories, hope for the future, and a drive to move forward. 

What commonality did these diverse scholars share that helped them thrive?

I wanted to organize my thoughts around this not as a teacher, but as a parent.  

Because I want my kids – my three very different sons – to be beaming hope and determination in their high school graduation pictures. What can I do now in their elementary/middle school years to get them there?  

So, I begin to untangle my memories, evaluate each student, and connect the dots of what qualities strung these diverse thriving individuals together. In my reflection, I found four qualities/actions these students shared.  

  • Connection – each graduating senior had a friend who had their back, classes they liked to attend, school activities they enjoyed and/or school staff who made them feel important. 
  • Organizational skills – None were perfect, but they all figured out an organizational system that worked. 
  • Progressive maturity – They grew in maturity over the years. 
  • Asked for help – They learned to reach out when they needed help.

As parents, we can grow these qualities in our kids.

Building on the foundation of love and trust we have with our kids, we can ask these questions at the beginning and throughout the school year to find out where our kids are and how we can support them.  

4 Questions Parents Need to Ask to Help Their Kid Thrive in School

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1. Who is the school friend you prefer to hang out with the most?

 Or, who did you sit by at lunch? Who do you like in your class(es)?  Is there a teacher you connect with? Friends and connections can play a huge role in students liking school and feeling self-motivated to do well. 

Dr. Paul Schwartz says:“Friendships contribute significantly to the development of social skills, such as being sensitive to another’s viewpoints, learning the rules of conversation, and age-appropriate behaviors,” He continues: “More than half the children referred for emotional behavioral problems have no friends or find difficulty interacting with peers.”

Ideas to help your kid thrive in school through friendship:

It’s absolutely normal for friendships to sometimes struggle. Also, it’s absolutely normal for kids to go from feeling lonely to being connected. Here are some ways to help your students find their people – 

  • Join a school activity – I strongly believe all students need to find one school activity to join. This can be an absolute game-changer. 
  • Be a friend – your child could bless someone else by looking for people who need a friend and reaching out. There are lots of students who need a friend. 
  • Invite someone over…or to a movie, or to online-game. 
  • Read Growing Friendships as a family – There are great ideas to help kids understand the ins and outs of friendships.


Related Article: 146+ Best Chapter Books for Tweens that will also Build Character

2. How are you planning on staying organized?

Let your student decide how to best use their strengths and personality to accomplish their organizational goals. Everyone has to learn to be organized to be successful in life, and school is a great place to try and figure it out. A conversation around this can help set your student up for success. 

Ideas to Help Your Kid Thrive in School through organization:

  • Look through Schoology or whatever organizational program your student’s school uses and figure out how to best use it. 
  • Create a routine at home for homework completion. 
  • Decide how you will check in with your student regarding school performance. My middle school son and I had a rough, rough period where I was constantly nagging him, and we both hated it. We decided to communicate through a checklist instead. He’d mark when he’s done, I’d look once at the end of the evening. Total game-changer. Read more here. 
  • Buy a fun planner.
  • Get everything ready the night before school, backpack, lunches…etc.
help your kid thrive in school

3. How do you feel? (Happy? Content? Frustrated? Discouraged?)

Reflection and conversation can help our students mature. What at school didn’t work out and how did it make them feel? How can they improve the next time? What relationships are hard? What do they need to let go of and what do they need to try and change?

Our kids need to feel heard. The conversation doesn’t have to go perfectly, but simply starting it sends huge you-are-heard messages. 

Ideas to Help Your Kid Thrive in School Through Conversation:

  • Make dinner time a sacred place – eat together most nights. (Or if your schedule doesn’t allow, what about breakfast? Or snacks? Or dessert?) 
  • Make the car ride to activities a place to talk. (Your little humans are trapped! With. You. Take advantage of the time to talk.)
  • Make chores a “special time” with one kid. Take a child with you to the grocery store, or to walk the dog…create one-on-one time to talk.
  • Tuck-ins – always do tuck-ins. It’s amazing how faded lights will open up words.
  • Ask your kid what he/she would like to do to connect with you. (Don’t buy into the apathy. My two decades plus teaching high school has taught me, kids want their parents to pay attention to them. Even if they don’t act like it. Keep after it. It means more to them than you know.)

4. How can I help you? (What resources do you need? Or who can you ask for help?)

In our individualized culture, we have to teach our kids to hear that inner voice that cries out for help.

The schools are staffed with resources, some professionals you might not even know about. (At the public high school I teach at we have an on-site social worker helping families find housing, a school psychologist meeting regularly with students, and teachers/ administration always willing to hand out kindness and guidance.)

Let’s encourage our kids to reach for the community.

Then, once parents have discussed these four questions with our kids, we can step back and give our kids space.

We let them grow, let them learn, and let them wrestle with things. Our job isn’t to shield them from all pain and responsibility. Instead, it’s to guide them to grow through the bumps in their journeys.

Then when our kids reach the end of their senior year, we frame that senior picture, and we smile too…because we helped them get there. Our intentional questions helped us raise happy, hopeful, ready-to-move-forward human beings.

Read more articles on school…

I’ve been a high school teacher for over two decades, and I have a passion for helping kids do well in school. I fully believe every kid is capable and wants to thrive in school – you just can convince me otherwise. Here are a few more of my thoughts…

Your Teen’s Maddening Behavior is Age-Appropriate and Here’s Hope
Teen, These Big Reasons are Why You’ll Like Trying Hard in School
A Simply Way to Motivate Teens to be More Responsible


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