Summer is really just a blink and extra workbooks are unlikely to predict as much of the difference as what parents do every day from the beginning of a child’s life. Maybe you don’t think a lot about school during the summer but what Dads are doing with their toddlers has a lot to do with how those babies will adjust to school years from now! In fact, what Dads did in school long before they even thought about having children predicts how those kids will do in school in the future.

Out in Oregon at the University of Oregon and at the Oregon Social Learning Center there are devoted, creative, and ambitious researchers who have been trying to improve the lives of children for a long time. Gerry Patterson is one of those researchers. Dr. Patterson described how parent behavior can lead to children who are won’t to as they are told and aggressive. He also shows that changing parenting behavior changes child behavior for the better.

Effective parent behavior is not very complicated. Effective parents pay a lot of attention to kids when the kids are doing what they have been asked to do or doing what the parent wants to see more of – like smiling, sharing, eating with utensils, getting dressed, following directions, sometimes just sitting still for one minute. Effective parents praise, reward, and enjoy all of the positive behaviors their child does.

Effective parents are VERY careful with punishments. If an effective parent tells a child to do something, they have already thought of what they will do if the child does not do as he or she is told.  Effective parents avoid harsh, mean, aggressive, or violent consequences. They try to have punishments that do not make the parent feel guilty, out of control, mean or scared.

Now, this is where it gets complicated. Remember, effective parents are praising children and engaging with children in positive ways more often than punishing. In order to keep that balance, a parent has to know what a child can do, rarely miss an opportunity to praise, and never command a child to do something that he cannot do. If a parent has expectations that exceed the child’s development or his motivation then the parent ends up punishing more than praising.

Effective parents enjoy their kids, keep commands to a minimum and praise every time the child does as she is told. Expectations can be high as long as they are consistent with what the child is physically and emotionally ready to learn. Okay. So what does this have to do with school success in children? Well that gets into another group of researchers from Oregon.

Parents who have time, money, rest, enough food, and not too much stress are much more likely to be effective. Maybe Dads only need a big enough paycheck? Nope. In Oregon, research teams started studying boys who were in fourth grade and kept studying those boys through childhood, adolescence, and on. Some of those boys had children very young, for example as young teens, and other boys had children later. Researchers kept studying these growing families. The children of these boys (now men) did better at school and had more positive experiences with peers when they got to 4th grade, if their fathers had done well at school and had had positive friendships in school so many years earlier. How did that work? You might ask. Well, the researchers had some guesses that their study supported.

Men who had better adjustments to school and positive relationships with peers in childhood had more of those effective parenting behaviors when they were dads. Dads, who adjusted well  as children, grew up to be more effective with their own children. These Dads did not ask too much or too little of their children when their kids were toddlers, when they were preschoolers, and when their kids were in grade school.

Yes, it was more likely that these successful children in the second generation had slightly richer and smarter fathers but all the families were working class. If the fathers did not have the effective parenting behaviors then the second generation of kids had more difficulty at school regardless of their fathers’ academic success and income.  The day to day again and again behaviors matter the most. Opportunities for learning are important but cannot overcome the impact of parenting. Good parenting is easier if you grew up with it but Gerry Patterson has taught us that it can also be learned and practiced.

ACT-Raising Safe Kids means Adults and Children Together – all of them. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, caregivers.

Pears, K. C., Kim, H. K., Capaldi, D., Kerr, D. C. R., & Fisher, P. A. (2012, May 21).

Father–Child Transmission of School Adjustment: A Prospective Intergenerational Study.

Developmental Psychology.