Emotions and learning: Parenting for academic success

Concerned parents frequently ask how they can help their children become smarter, more successful learners. The surprising news is that research in the area of human emotions provides a blueprint for the kinds of parenting techniques that increase children’s intelligence!

Because of the way the brain is wired, emotional states run our lives, whether we like it or not. Emotional states are constantly in flux, and are easily influenced.

Learning occurs when brains grow new cells in response to the environment. Emotions such as pleasure and joy encourage brain cell development. When children are happy and level-headed, they learn and remember more.

Unfortunately, stress hinders brain cell creation. Circumstances that your child finds unpleasant, fearful, and out of his control produce a stress state in the body. Chronic stress reactions release chemicals that impair memory, reduce blood flow to the brain’s behavioral control centers, and cause atrophy of the brain’s nerve cells.

Interestingly, certain brain chemicals such as dopamine stimulate intelligent behavior. Your child’s brain releases dopamine in response to pleasurable circumstances. The brain doles out dopamine in response to concrete rewards such as ice cream. But even more importantly, the brain releases dopamine in response to intangible things such as security, recognition, success and passion.

Dopamine travels to the front of the brain where it influences skills essential for learning. The frontal lobes of your child’s brain are largely in charge of critical skills such as paying attention, recognizing and discriminating critical features, and decision making, all of which are essential for intelligent behavior and school success.

Parents can use the tendency of the brain to respond to pleasure by helping their child to find joy and success in learning. When learners are interested in a subject, they are more attentive and try harder. Furthermore, students who are inspired to learn for their own reasons have the full support of the brain’s chemical system.

We now have scientific evidence to back up our intuition that helping children believe in their own intelligence, talents, and abilities will help them excel academically! As thoughtful parents, we have always known this. Students who believe they can perform well on academic tasks outperform students who do not believe in their own abilities. When children believe they can learn, they study more, and their study efforts are more skillful and effective.

Kindling interest and passion is much more beneficial to your child than pointing out ways in which performance is lacking. When children repeatedly view their behavior as flawed, their future success is diminished. Alluding to failures sours inspiration, blocks the release of dopamine, and decreases the opportunity for your child to be brilliant.

Parenting for academic success also means that we support our children when we encourage them to believe that they can have interesting, fulfilling futures. Students who know that success is “in their sights” make wise choices. They gravitate more toward intellectual activities than do students who doubt their opportunities. Talk with your child about future goals. Explore possibilities. Kindle passion and purpose. Demonstrate your faith in success. Never be discouraging about your child’s chances of victory!