Realistic Parent Expectations Boost Student Achievement

Parents can certainly push their children too hard or expect too much for their children, but educational researchers have found that the correct kinds of encouragement and expectations can lead to higher rates of student success. In 1983, for example, Rachel Seginer pioneered a study that found a strong correlation between parental expectations and actual student achievement. Another study involving over 1,000 Los Angeles elementary school students found that one of the most consistent predictors of successful social adjustment and academic success was high parental expectations. 


How can parents express high (but not too high) expectations for their children?


Set realistic goals. Take your child’s age, maturity level, and skill level to set challenging but possible goals. Also encourage your children to set goals for themselves and then work toward them. Be aware that setting goals that are too low can be seen a boring or condescending, while setting goals that are too high can lead to frustration and possible failure.


  • Encourage special talents. Don’t expect your child to become a doctor or lawyer just because they are respected professions. Take your child’s interests, gifts, and talents into consideration when setting expectations. If your child loves dance, voice your expectation that they work hard to become better at what they love. If your child loves science, voice your expectation that they enter the science fair.

  • Talk about the future. While setting overly specific goals about the future can lead to disappointment (such as expecting your child to go to your alma mater or expecting your child to take over the family business), talking generally about your expectations for the future (expecting them to attend college or expecting them to work toward a profession they love) can help them better form their own aspirations and dreams.

  • Share your expectations for yourself. If you are working toward your own goals and improving yourself in a way that your child can see, he or she will learn not only to achieve what is expected of them from others, but also to expect themselves to achieve through hard work and planning.

  • Don’t get too specific. While it is healthy to expect your child to achieve and flourish in school, it is not healthy for either parent or child to expect to win a state championship or be valedictorian. Setting very high and detailed standards for your children can be very damaging whether or not your child meets your expectations.


Written by Elliott Shostak

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Project Appleseed, family engagement, parental involvement public schools

"A 10% increase in parental participation (a form of social capital) would increase academic achievement far more than a 10% increase in school spending."

Project Appleseed, family engagement, parental involvement public schools

This is not an argument against school budget increases, but an argument for paying attention to social capital (Putnam, Sanders 2001). Research repeatedly correlates family engagement with student achievement, yet this strategy is rarely activated as an integral part of school reform efforts (Weiss et al, 2010).  Our program can increase family engagement in your school community!

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