06/25/2013 12:52 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2013

Are You Helping Your Child Succeed in School?

Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs anyone can have. I toured the country with New Futuro events in the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013. I met with thousands of parents in workshops and college fairs in five of the largest cities with a significant Latino population: Houston, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In my conversations with them, I confirmed what I had suspected: Parents want to do the best they can for their children, but we don't always know how. Recent research has confirmed that parent involvement positively correlates with academic success, regardless of parents' level of education or income. That's good news, but how do you know if you are doing this part of your parenting job correctly?

The truth is that there is no unique way to define parent involvement -- dynamics will vary from family to family, and these dynamics will directly impact how involved a parent can be, and in what ways. Linda Vasquez, director of partnerships at New Futuro, acknowledges: "It is unrealistic for parents to be involved in everything, especially if both parents have full-time jobs, but it is important that your child knows that you are engaged, you care, and you listen."

So, rest assured that this is not going to be another full-time job for you, if done smartly. Linda says, "You don't have to be the helicopter parent that is involved in everything your child does. This is about participating in the right ways and at the right times throughout your child's educational journey that will truly make a difference."

If you are unsure about how your children perceive your involvement, try this: Think about which of the following survey statements about parent involvement your child would check.

My parents/guardians (select all that apply):

☐ Help me with homework
☐ Spend time in activities with me
☐ Communicate with my teachers/guidance counselor
☐ Participate in school events
☐ Discuss my education with me
☐ Volunteer at my school
☐ Care about my grades

If you think that your child would have checked at least three of them, then it is very likely that you are doing your job of getting involved in your child's education. However, if you didn't think that way, it might be time for you to get some ideas on how to get involved. Here are some recommendations to get you started:

  • Have regular, casual conversations with your children - Talk about their future aspirations, and encourage and support their endeavors.
  • Encourage their interests and passions - Taking them to related activities will show your support. For example, if your child is interested in the arts, visit a museum!
  • Read, listen to your child reading, or ask questions about their reading assignments - Depending on what age your children are, reading to or with them helps. And don't worry if you don't read or speak English perfectly, you can read to them in any language! Research shows that children who are read to in their native language will have an easier time learning to read in their second language.
  • Create a strict "homework time" regime - Start when they are young so by the time they are in high school they have an established time during the day that they must work on their homework.
  • Engage with your child's teacher on a regular basis - Don't let a quarter pass without contacting your child's teachers, they may mistake your distance for a lack of interest. Student-teacher bonds are strengthened when parent-teacher relationships are strong.
  • Get to know your child's counselor - Guidance counselors are key people to help with school programs and opportunities. Don't be shy and talk to them about you and your child's expectations for their academic future.
  • Monitor their grades frequently - If you check their GPA periodically, you can take action if you catch their grades falling, for example, by getting them an academic tutor.

The best way to master your parent involvement job is to try different activities until you find the right mix for you and your child. For most children, just knowing that you are there helps; so make sure that, at the very least, you tell them that you are there for them!