Three steps to raising a whole child

I don't know about you, but I tend to associate the month of January with cutting back: I vow to slow down, promise to rid my life of this, resolve to stop doing that.  Year after year, inevitably I try…and inevitably I come up short.  Yet in this month of curtailing, I instead urge parents to take on some crucial habits for the coming year—habits that will contribute to educating your child in a holistic way.

Indeed, educating the whole child takes a resolve not only to encourage academic success, but it also means nurturing your child’s mental health, physical health, relationships, and character.  In my line of work, I too often see students and parents focused solely (and resolutely) on grades and test scores—on the outcome of “getting into college”—that they neglect the process, which includes learning how to have relationships and experiencing character building moments.  And what I have seen as a result is that this focus facilitates a fear of failure and an inability to learn for learning’s sake.  Yet the well-adjusted youngsters who have a passion, who know what they are working toward, and who have a strength in character are the ones who truly face a successful outcome.

Why not instead of (or…well…maybe in conjunction with) your resolutions to eradicate, vow to take on, promise to add, and resolve to start?  Here are some helpful hints for habits to educate the whole child.


Engage students in a way such that what they’re learning in the classroom can come alive in the outside world.  Make a point to familiarize yourself with what your child is learning and help him or her to see its real world application.  Find ways that your child can link an interest to something in the community—a volunteer experience, an internship.  Spark a passion.

Cynthia Muchnick, educational consultant and author of The Everything Guide to Study Skills urges parents, “Help bring the textbook to life. If you learn that your son or daughter is studying an artist or historical time period, take them to a local museum that might cater to that art form or time period. If your son is studying fractions, be sure he helps you bake in the kitchen to see how those numbers and quantities can be put to practical use in the form of measuring cups and recipes. If your daughter is learning about her environment in science class, take a family field trip to the dump, the beach, or on a camping trip to learn more about sustainability and taking care of our environment. If your son is in Spanish class, travel somewhere locally or by plane if you can to help immerse him in the language and practice with native speakers.”

Encourage your child to set goals.  Students who have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and who take the extra step to memorialize that on paper are more likely to work diligently toward those goals.  In my practice, I participate in goal setting with each and every student.  At first, they are universally hesitant.  But once they identify the steps they plan to take to achieve their goals, a smile betrays their furrowed brow, and the process starts to make sense; they come alive at the prospect of having a step-by-step plan.  Sit down with your child and talk about what they plan to achieve.  Make the goals relevant to them.  Let them choose what is important for them to achieve, and try to let them make these goals their own.  For each goal, set measurable and time-bound objectives that will help them conceptualize how to work toward them.

Encourage relationships and your child’s emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence is equally as important as your child’s brainpower in the classroom.  Emotionally intelligent children who are able to recognize and verbalize their own feelings and who can do the same for others’ feelings learn empathy and learn how to manage their relationships with others; they mature into strong leaders.  And here’s a bonus: In a recent article in Business Insider, author Travis Bradberry asserts that individuals who have a high level of emotional intelligence also make the most money.  He goes on to say that 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence while only 20% of those at the bottom possess high emotional intelligence.

Talk to your children about what they are feeling and experiencing and help them become aware of their own emotions and those of others.  Adds Ms. Muchnick, “Has your child ever been at the receiving end of a bully or unkind classmate? Has your child ever ever been an unkind classmate or bully to others? Chances are she has been on both sides of that social equation. Dialogue about these situations.  These are the real moments that you can help teach empathy. Real experiences are always more meaningful than hypotheticals, so capitalize on those sometimes very difficult moments and help teach your child to be a kinder human being in this world.”

You can find out more about Cynthia Muchnick and her excellent study skills and college admissions books at

Jenn-Curtis-headshot-color-150x150Jenn Curtis, MSW is the owner and co-founder of FutureWise Consulting, a college counseling, test prep, and academic tutoring business in Orange County, California. As an educational consultant, she works alongside high school students and their families to prepare them for the college admissions process. Jenn also developed and teaches a college and career readiness program for first generation students. She is the editorial assistant for an academic journal, has edited several books, and works with graduate and doctoral students in developing effective writing skills. With a background in mental health, Jenn’s passion lies in empowering students to become self-advocates, to uncover their strengths, and to find the motivation to reach their potential.  

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