Educational psychologist Dr John Irvine and teacher John Stewart have written a practical guide to help children thrive in their early school years. Here they share just a few of their tips for parents.

The traditional 3Rs (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic) may be fine for educating smart kids but they are not adequate for growing smart learners and helping them thrive. Help is at hand with a practical guide! Here are some tips from the guide to assist.

On the other hand, our 3Rs are basic but they are about the whole child – Respect for adults, Responsibility for themselves and Relationships with peers. How can parents promote these values? They’re basic, they’re caught, not taught – just live them! These core values strengthen positive attitudes needed for learning.

The positive attitudes that can promote successful learning are motivation, confidence, persistence and resilience. All kids have these attitudes. It’s just that those who are thriving as learners in school use these attitudes in their approach to learning. They seem to have more of these qualities, and they use them more often.


To thrive as a learner, to be engaged in the learning process, kids need to become motivated. It is clear that parents who push agendas and don’t guide are really asserting their own needs. Kids aren’t stupid – they work it out. Sooner or later there will be a clash. If your child does not feel or acknowledge a “need”, he will get to an age and then rebel. We should motivate kids so that their drive comes from their own sense of need – their desire – not what we shovel onto them.

One way of motivating boys and girls hinges on five basic needs – the basic need for survival plus the four psychological needs of belonging, power, freedom and fun. For example, belonging increases via things like time spent alone with Dad, Mum and friends who guide and nurture, and taking part in a team sport, clubs or groups.

Power increases via doing jobs around the house – taking responsibility for some part of domestic life (e.g. pool, pets, room, lawn, etc.), and receiving and managing pocket money. Freedom increases via choices with outings, mates, party invitees, selection of books to be borrowed from the library and timing for doing daily routines and jobs.


Confidence is a crucial attitude to have when it comes to learning. Confidence increases our self-esteem, and self-esteem is needed to increase confidence. Self esteem, mixed with our willingness to engage in a new task, fuels the ignition stage of learning anything new!

Children learn a lot from your modelling. If parents lack confidence or feel powerless and anxious, it is more than likely their children will, too. Some of the things you can do include: give praise and positive reinforcement, encourage your child to take on challenges. Be an active listener; listen carefully, paying full attention. If you are disciplining your child, focus on the inappropriate action, not the person. Laugh with your child; humour is a wonderful device for making us feel connected.


Children who lack persistence give up. There can be displays of despair and anger if they don’t know an answer immediately. The catchphrase is usually, “I can’t do this; it’s too hard!” Some children just throw down any old answer: this can be work avoidance.

Be clear about your support role: too often parents step in to give a helping hand, but instead give the answer. Always give strategies or clues; don’t just give the answer. If you do have to give the answer, take your child through the steps needed – show them how you worked it out.

From an early age, when children are exploring and experimenting, don’t get into the habit of making it easy for them; let them try, re-try and fail a bit, and come back to it later. You might be surprised to find they will return to it if you praise them for their effort.

Another helpful tip: break down a task (called “chunking”). What seems a huge, complex problem is really just a lot of little tasks. If there is a large sheet of questions, colour them in groups of three, five or seven (these are the groups our working memory favours most). Encourage your child to tackle each group, one at a time.


As much as we want our kids to be happy, things do go wrong at times. Resilient kids tend to be optimistic and confident. They don’t just live the problem, but actively try to solve it; they are alert and not overly dependent on others.

What erodes resilience are things like always bailing children out, covering for them or protecting them from anything unpleasant or boring or tedious and becoming involved too soon in their problems instead of letting them try to solve their own challenges.

To help make kids more resilient acknowledge the pain and worry that he/she is currently feeling, but be positive by looking to the future, and highlight the valuable lessons he/she is learning.

Use humour to counteract feeling bad. This has to be done sensitively, and timing is everything. Give unconditional love – reinforce that your child is loved and is okay, even when others tell them that they are not.