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How Dads Can Help Kids Succeed

Supportive dads make a difference. That’s the conclusion of decades of research into how fathers affect the lives and educational success of their children. When dads are actively engaged in their kids’ education, students do better in school. They attend school more regularly, earn higher grades and test scores, participate in more school activities, and have fewer disciplinary incidents. There’s even evidence that they tend to enjoy school more.

But in many households, dads tend to take a back seat on school-related stuff and defer those responsibilities to moms. Maybe that’s an extension of the division of labor that happens in so many families with children. Whatever the root cause, it isn’t good for kids—or dads.

Most dads understand that supporting their kids’ education is a good idea, but they’re often unsure how to start. Look online, and you’ll find plenty of suggestions that focus on volunteering at school or joining the PTA. If you’re like me, though, those options aren’t that realistic. Working full-time, it’s hard for me to squeeze in extra time at school beyond events that feel more important, like parent-teacher conferences or student performances. Plus, while being present at school more often might help my kids see that I care about their education, it seems like there should be more direct ways to encourage their learning.

Turns out, there are. Here are a few of them:

1. Show your kids you’re serious about school

Kids take their cues from their parents, and dads often play an especially important role in modeling behavior. So make education a priority in your home. That starts with ensuring your kids get to school on time every day and finding a way to get to parent-teacher conferences. It also means talking to them about the importance of a good education, holding high standards, and setting the expectation that they’ll go to college or get their dream job someday.

2. Read with your kids as much as you can

A giant pile of studies shows that reading with your kids regularly makes a huge difference in their lives, including a Harvard University study that found that kids benefit even more when Dad is the one reading the bedtime stories. And, it’s a great, relaxing way to spend some extra one-on-one time with them.

3. Don’t help with homework

Sounds strange, right? It tends to backfire when you get too involved, so put down the pencil. Instead, focus on ensuring your kids have time and space to do their homework, get it done each day, and know how to ask teachers for help when they need it.

4. Push for good classes and good teachers

Even one great teacher can change your child’s path in school in a big way. Don’t be afraid to request particular teachers or advocate for your child if you feel his or her teacher isn’t challenging enough or is not the right fit in other ways.

5. Be an informed education consumer

That means clearly understanding what your kids are supposed to get out of school. Look up the grade-level standards they are expected to reach each year (most states publish parent-friendly versions) or ask your child’s teacher for them. When considering new schools, don’t just go on word-of-mouth recommendations—look them up and see how kids like yours tend to do.

6. Do new things with your kids

Learning is about exploring. Look for opportunities to take your kids to a museum or the zoo, go on a hike or a walk around your hometown, visit the library, or spend time at a street festival. Encourage them to be curious, ask questions, and try new things. You’ll have fun, open up their worlds, and make memories all at the same time.