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Family Engagement – Why It’s Important

Studies have found that parent involvement and family engagement are important to children’s education. Let’s find out what they are and how they can help our kids’ academic performance.

What is Parent Involvement?

Parent involvement refers to parents’ role in educating their children at home and in school, interacting with teachers, and engaging in school activities.

Parental involvement can take many forms.

It can include discussions after school, helping with homework, engaging in extracurricular activities, keeping abreast of academic progress, imparting parental values, participating in parent-teacher conferences, participating in school activities, and volunteering in the classroom​1​.

What is Family Engagement?

Family engagement is an extended form of parent involvement. The switch from emphasis on parental involvement to family engagement started when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002.

The new terminology emphasizes the importance of engagement from the family, including members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other adult caregivers, in addition to parents.

In addition to including more family members, the National Association
for the Education of Young Children NAEYC defines family engagement as​2​:

  • create and sustain learning activities at home to enhance the child’s strength
  • family and school collaborate through two-way communication
  • ongoing participation to build true relationships and shared responsibility
  • engage families and community by building upon interests and skills
mom and boy greet teacher in the classroom in front of the blackboard

Why is Family Engagement Important?

Many studies have found that family engagement and parental involvement in education correlates with better academic achievement in students.

A meta-analysis of 66 studies, reports and analyses shows that the most accurate predictor of student success is the extend to which the family is involved in the child’s education​3​.

However, research results are not always consistent​4​.

Researchers have found that not every type of parent involvement is associated with good outcomes. Certain types of involvement can cause negative results in student performance.

Studies have found that students perform better when parental involvement enhances students’ feelings of self-efficacy and self-esteem, and when they feel that their parents pay attention and care about their education​5​.

The Detrimental Effects of Controlling Parent Involvement

However, when parents or family are controlling in their involvement and engagement, the outcomes tend to be negative.

Controlling involvement refers to parent behavior involving pressure, solving problems for children, and taking a parental rather than a child’s perspective.

One example of controlling family engagement is homework. Researchers define controlling homework involvement as excessive pressure on children to complete assignments, check if children have completed their homework assignments, get involved in homework without being asked by the children, and punish children if homework is not complete​6​.

Controlling parent behavior decreases a child’s intrinsic motivation. It undermines the learning process and children’s sense of personal value and responsibility​7​.

Parental pressure also correlates with worse academic performance​8​.

The more controlling the parenting behavior, the worse the child performs in school​9​.

Examples of controlling family engagement include​10​:

  • Check on homework and force completion
  • Help with homework unrequested
  • direct instructions that undermine intrinsic motivation
  • Give privileges because of good grades
  • Limit privileges because of poor grades
  • Require work or chores at home
  • Limit time watching: TV or video games
  • Limit time out with friends on school nights

Autonomous Supportive Parent Involvement and Family Engagement

On the other hand, family engagement that provides autonomous support to the child tends to result in better academic performance.

Autonomous support means allowing a child to initiate learning instead of pushing them to do so. 

Parents’ involvement is helpful when their action shows that they value their child’s education, but not when they’re controlling.

An autonomous supportive parent focuses on the learning, not the grades. 

Autonomous supportive parents provide parental assistance as determined by their children. 

Family members who provide autonomous support are sensitive to the child’s needs. They are available to help solve problems with homework when requested​6​.

Autonomous support allows children to be in control of their own activities, increasing their intrinsic motivation to learn and do well in school.

Students who are intrinsically motivated to learn often excel in school and perform better academically​11​.

Other examples of autonomous supportive family engagement include:

  • attend parent-teacher conferences
  • attend school events in which the student participates
  • volunteer at the school
  • encourage participation in school activities the student is interested in

References

  1. 1.
    Gonzalez-DeHass AR, Willems PP, Holbein MFD. Examining the Relationship Between Parental Involvement and Student Motivation. Educ Psychol Rev. Published online June 2005:99-123. doi:10.1007/s10648-005-3949-7
  2. 2.
    Halgunseth L, Peterson DRS, Moodie S. Family engagement, diverse families, and early childhood programs: An integrated review of the literature. Washington, DC: The National Association for the Education of Young Children. Published 2009. https://www.researchconnections.org/files/meetings/ccprc/2009/Halgunseth.pdf
  3. 3.
    Henderson AT, Berla N. A New Generation of Evidence: The Family Is Critical to Student Achievement. ERIC; 1994.
  4. 4.
    Cooper H, Lindsay JJ, Nye B. Homework in the Home: How Student, Family, and Parenting-Style Differences Relate to the Homework Process. Contemporary Educational Psychology. Published online October 2000:464-487. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1036
  5. 5.
    Al-Alwan AF. Modeling the Relations among Parental Involvement, School Engagement and Academic Performance of High School Students. IES. Published online March 25, 2014. doi:10.5539/ies.v7n4p47
  6. 6.
    Karbach J, Gottschling J, Spengler M, Hegewald K, Spinath FM. Parental involvement and general cognitive ability as predictors of domain-specific academic achievement in early adolescence. Learning and Instruction. Published online February 2013:43-51. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2012.09.004
  7. 7.
    Rogers MA, Theule J, Ryan BA, Adams GR, Keating L. Parental Involvement and Children’s School Achievement. Canadian Journal of School Psychology. Published online March 2009:34-57. doi:10.1177/0829573508328445
  8. 8.
    Pomerantz EM, Eaton MM. Maternal intrusive support in the academic context: Transactional socialization processes. Developmental Psychology. Published online 2001:174-186. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.37.2.174
  9. 9.
    Fei-Yin Ng F, Kenney-Benson GA, Pomerantz EM. Children’s Achievement Moderates the Effects of Mothers’ Use of Control and Autonomy Support. Child Development. Published online May 2004:764-780. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00705.x
  10. 10.
    Mau W-C. Parental influences on the high school students’ academic achievement: A comparison of Asian immigrants, Asian Americans, and White Americans. Psychol Schs. Published online July 1997:267-277. doi:
    11.