Guest Column — Enhancing Family Strength And Student Achievement

appleBy John M. Daggett Ph.D.

A strong family and healthy children are the foundation of society.  Researchers on Kauai were some of the first to find out what factors make a difference in growing successful children. Of importance in this age of tight money, no extra money is required to achieve an increase in family and student success.

There are six main factors that I will define and you may personalize them based on your needs and experience.  They will most likely seem like commonsense factors, however, many people don’t realize their importance and power when families work on and balance all six.  They are: 1. Care and Support, 2. Clear and Consistent Boundaries, 3. High and Realistic Expectations, 4. Opportunities for Meaningful Participation, 5. Bonding Opportunities, 6. Continuing Life Skills Development.

1.     Provide Care and Support: This includes providing unconditional positive regard and encouragement. The local culture of Ohana, Aunty, Uncle, and Keiki, are a wonderful foundation for this factor. The Latino, Asian, and other immigrant cultures have strong family values as well. It is the most critical of all the factors that promote family strength, resiliency, and health. In fact, it seems almost impossible to successfully overcome adversity without the presence of caring. As with traditional Hawaiian practice, his caring does not necessarily have to come from biological family members. Optimally, every child and adult should have several people he or she can turn to for help. As educator Nell Noddings stated in 1988, “It is obvious that children will work harder and do things — even odd things like adding fractions — for people they love and trust.”

2. Set Clear and Consistent Boundaries: This involves the development and consistent implementation of family rules, school policies and procedures, and community laws. In this age of technology and what is available to children on TV and the internet, boundaries are needed. Further, parents need to knowledgeable about phone technology and be willing to work on agreed upon boundaries in this ever-changing arena. These expectations should be developed with input from young people, clearly communicated (in writing is ideal), and coupled with appropriate consequences that are consistently enforced. Experience has shown me that often parents believe that their children know the family rules and what consequences to expect if they are broken, when in the children’s minds there is no clarity or consistency about them. Recent experiences with groups of young people in schools has emphasized that here, too, kids often experience inconsistency and a laxness–which they complain about!

3. Set Clear and Realistic High Expectations: This factor appears throughout  resiliency literature for families and in the research on academic success. It is important that expectations be both high and realistic to be effective motivators. In reality, however, many children, especially those stuck with one or more of the many labels used in schools and agencies, experience unrealistically low expectations and adopt low expectations for themselves. When we communicate high expectations with genuineness, we often motivate others to achieve the unexpected.

4. Provide Opportunities for Meaningful Participation:   This means providing opportunities for problem solving, decision making, planning, goal setting, and helping others, and involves adults sharing power in real ways with children. Children that have a place to participate in the family’s success and survival feel more valued.  Doing a chore that the child knows helps the family such as mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, and cleaning and repairing things around the home is important. Also participating in and planning family activities such as a hobby, barbecue or celebration are more examples of meaningful participation.

5.  Provide Healthy Bonding Opportunities:  Human beings need to bond with other human beings.  A group of kids doing drugs offers a bonding opportunity, however, that type of human bonding is anti-social and destructive.  Pro-social bonding within the family (eating dinner together, doing an activity together such as dancing or drumming) is important for the whole family. Being involved in after school activities such as art, music, sports, drama, community and/or school service, and reading and other learning activities, church activities, and clubs increases opportunities for healthy youth bonding.

6.  Continue Life Skills Development:  Conflict resolution, communication, financial management, problem solving, stress management, physical and mental fitness, goal setting and goal achievement are some of the continuing life skills we all need. The family and school are the best sources for this factor. As a parent, demonstrate you are a life-long learner and impart that value to your children—none of us know it all.

Summing it up:  These six factors are not “rocket science.”  They are, however, powerful when actively practiced with children and their families.  The societal ills we all are concerned about (drugs, fighting, child pregnancy, shop-lifting, school failure, among many) are greatly reduced.  What most of us want (school success, health, happiness, volunteerism, among others) are greatly enhanced.

Suggestion:  Discuss these factors with your family, your children’s teachers, your extended Ohana and friends.  See where you are already doing activities that support these factors and see where you might do more.  Support one another and be resources for one another.

Note: This information was drawn from my 40 + years as an educator and the research of Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith on the Island of Kauai, Nan Henderson and Michael Milstein from the Univ. of New Mexico, and Catalano and Miller from the Univ. of Washington. 

John  M. Daggett Ph.D. has been an educator for more than 40 years and has served as teacher, principal, superintendent, university instructor, a state board of education, and a consultant to schools.  


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