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Q I have been having an ongoing battle with my 12-year-old daughter about her study habits.  I find that when she studies for tests, she typically leaves it for the last minute at which point she will  cram in as much studying as she can. She has done fairly well throughout school (averaging in the mid-80s), but I feel she can do even better if she were to change her study habits.  I am particularly worried as she will soon be graduating eighth grade. I’m afraid that high school will be harder and that she won’t be able to get away with what she’s doing. Every time the discussion comes up, she gets upset and insists that her friends also study this way and that she is doing just fine. I am scared that she is developing bad habits. Do you suggest I leave this alone and allow her to study in the way she feels most comfortable, or should I encourage good study habits?

A Thank you for the question. I think many parents can relate to this struggle when it comes to helping their children both with homework and studying for tests.

I think your question touches on a few points. One is how to deal with transmitting a life lesson to children when we feel they’re just not taking it in. This can be very frustrating for parents especially when we see the mistakes happening right in front of our eyes.

But in truth, it’s important to know that the way most of us learn our lessons is from life itself and the natural consequences of our actions. Of course, we want to try to prevent our children from making mistakes so we can help them avoid unnecessary pain. Sometimes though, despite our best efforts, our children need experience itself to be their teacher. It doesn’t mean that we don’t try to give our suggestions and guidance, but sometimes we need to let go when the child is unwilling or unable to hear what we’re telling them. Perhaps your daughter will need to experience doing poorly in high school as the result of her study habits for her to see the benefit of change. I believe our job as parents shifts then to being supportive and helping them move towards better decisions without needing to show them that we knew best and that they should’ve listened to us.

A separate point here is about the value of school performance and the messages we give our children about that. While school is the physical structure where our children receive their academic education, perhaps it is not the scholarly subjects that are most important, but rather the lessons learned about themselves and others in the process. This might mean learning about friendships, dealing with peer pressure, making healthy decisions, learning respect and responsibility, and opening their minds to think and ask questions.  These things aren’t graded, but perhaps the “grades” in these areas are more indicative of their future success in life than the subjects themselves. School is supposed to be a safe place and time for children to learn about themselves, making good decisions, and dealing with challenges. It can be a laboratory to develop personalities, friendships, and learn about what works and what doesn’t. It is a place and time where children can develop into their best selves and focus on what matters most. 

child that tried and ended up with a poor grade? Can we argue that effort is a quality more valuable than the grade? Yet what message is conveyed to a child who didn’t try hard but received a good grade versus the message transmitted to one who tried but scored poorly? Are we doing enough to celebrate the effort which perhaps is a greater achievement than the grade? I think if we were able to better do that, we would raise healthier children with better values about what matters most in life

On a more behavioral level, perhaps you can make a deal to respect and accept your daughter’s study habits as long as she maintains a certain average, and if it falls below that, she will agree to try it your way. Additionally, you may able to reach a compromise where she will agree to put in a certain amount of study time in advance, even if the bulk of her studying is done right before the test.

I wish your daughter lots of success at school, both with her grades and the development of her character.  

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