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A consistent picture is now emerging that reveals how the families of high-achieving students interact with their children to prepare them to be successful in school. These families demonstrate remarkably similar processes of family life contributing to children's academic success, which we have organized into four domains: (a) the family's beliefs and expectations, (b) the family's emotional connectedness, (c) the family's organizational style, and (d) the quality of family learning opportunities.
Family Beliefs and Expectations: Rather than judge some families effective and others flawed and deficient in their manner of parenting their children, it may be more useful to attempt to understand families in terms of the stressful life conditions they operate in, the style of parenting and of family-school interaction that they have learned from their own family, and the ways of handling stress that they develop. Family members need to be viewed as intending to do their best for one another and as doing the best they know how to do. Parents also need to be viewed as experts on their children. Nicoll (1997) recommended that in order to avoid making parents feel as if they are summoned to the school to be told what they are doing wrong, counselors should shift the tone of parent-school interaction by emphasizing a systemic perspective in which "no one is to blame but everyone is responsible." One way that parents' sense of efficacy in rearing their children can be fostered is by developing a set of shared beliefs that help family members make sense out of stressful, challenging situations involving their child or their larger life context. To eliminate helplessness around these stressful events and to build mutual support and empathy, school staff should first encourage families to share these stories of adversity openly and without judgment. To facilitate a positive outlook and provide a sense of purpose or value, counselors can reframe these difficult situations as shared challenges that are comprehensible, manageable, and adaptable. For example, when a family is experiencing divorce, children may act out at school. The custodial parent may be unsure how to manage his or her child's emotional reactions and behavior and be ashamed of the divorce. Often it is helpful, before discussing ways to respond to the child's increased emotionality, to hear what the parent is experiencing and affirm the parent's concerns and commitment to his or her child. Contextualizing family members' distress as natural or understandable in a crisis or stressful situation can soften family members' reactions and reduce blame, shame, and guilt. Drawing out and affirming family strengths in the midst of difficulties helps to counter a sense of helplessness, failure, and despair and reinforces pride, confidence, and a "can do" spirit. In evaluating family strengths, educators may find parents' ideas and theories about child management of particular interest. Examining parents' beliefs allows us to understand the motivation underlying their behavior. These ongoing conversations may reveal whether a parent believes that he or she is an important and capable facilitator for the school success of the child. By ascertaining the parent's beliefs about parenting efficacy, counselors and teachers can redirect or highlight parenting behaviors that promote children learning at home. If parents report low parenting efficacy, school staff can identify strengths unseen by parents and suggest ways that parents already help their children. Counselors also can help teachers bolster families' efforts to persevere in their efforts to overcome barriers and to focus their efforts on setting goals and accepting that which is beyond their control. Central to this issue is how an educator can build parents' self-efficacy. Seefeldt, Denton, Galper, and Younoszai (1998) reported that parents' beliefs about perceived control over their child's learning were an important mediator between participating in Head Start transition demonstration projects and parents' involvement during the kindergarten year. In this ethnically diverse sample, parental beliefs about perceived control were more strongly correlated with increases in parents' active involvement in their children's classrooms than participation in a transition program.
Family Emotional Connectedness: How might schools create opportunities for enhancing the emotional connections among students and their families? At first glance, this level of family intervention is usually not considered the domain of the school. However, effective family communication and problem-solving is a goal that can be enhanced through existing school-wide prevention programs that model effective communication and problem-solving, provide opportunities for students and parents to work together toward educational goals for the child, and encourage parents to share their hopes and fears concerning their children's education. Prevention programs such as programs to educate parents about how to approach and discuss difficult topics (e.g., sexual activity or tobacco, drugs, and alcohol use) with their children give parents opportunities to be involved and share their own personal views, hopes, and desires with their children. Student-led conferences are another means for promoting such family connectedness and communication if they are approached as opportunities for caregivers and children to share feelings toward schooling, engage in joint decision-making, and set clear goals and priorities for achieving their goals. Exploration of the feelings that parents have for their children's education might be one of the greatest untapped resources of school counseling. School counselors and other school personnel can "join" with parents--helping them to share their dreams with their children, and then helping them garner the resources needed to meet their educational expectations. Specific questions that address these family strengths include the following: "What are some of the most successful experiences your family has had in school?" "Does your family talk about [your child's] future?" " How do you get through difficulties in [your child's] schooling?" "What would you like your family to be like in 5 years or 10 years?" (Echeverria-Doan, 2001). Walsh (1998) emphasized the need to examine what families do well, what works for them, and what their "healthy intentions" are. When parents are given an opportunity to explore their connections to their children and positive expectations for their future, a valuable resource emerges for intervening with them.
Family Organizational Patterns
Family Learning Opportunities: Creating family learning opportunities may be one of the most time-consuming tasks for some parents and, thus, represents a challenge for school counselors. However, this is also the family process that is the most structured and task-oriented. School staff can provide families with information about what they can do at home to foster their children's academic development. These may be ideas about how to help their child successfully complete homework and avoid procrastination, how to help their child resolve conflict, how to help their child effectively make the transition into middle school or high school, or how to help their child make post-high school career and educational plans and locate financial aid. However, the way such information is framed is crucial to its utilization. These suggestions should not be intended to make the home a replica of the school. For example, in many low-income families, if parents are working long hours, it may be difficult for them to spend a lot of time supervising the homework activities of their children. However, from a resilience approach, limited time for homework activities is not necessarily a liability. Each family can structure activities according to its own strengths and resources. In addition, families must not only be recognized and responded to as experts on their own children but also as a source of knowledge about strategies and resources for helping their children. Developing parent information networks that capitalize on what other families know, formally acknowledging the expertise of families, and soliciting feedback from families about their reactions to school events are important conditions for building a family's capacity to develop learning opportunities for its children.
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