Knowing how best to support your child’s learning can feel overwhelming, and the vast sea of information available online often leaves parents feeling confused. In this article, I will debunk six common myths about learning to help you better navigate your child’s educational journey.

1. Intelligence is fixed

There is a popular misconception that intelligence is fixed and is simply the hand you’re dealt with at birth. This assumption is not only outdated but can have a significant impact on a child’s mental and emotional well-being. While genetics do play a role in determining intellectual ability, studies have shown that other factors such as environment, nutrition, education, and life experience can shape and influence intelligence. Moreover, a child’s cognitive abilities are not fixed and can change as they develop.

Students with a fixed mindset require constant academic validation and tend to view failure as a reflection of their self-worth – “I knew I would fail because I’m dumb”. Negative thoughts can spiral, leading to low self-esteem and a lack of motivation – “Why bother because I’m going to fail anyway”.

As parents, the language we use around our children can have a tremendous impact on the way in which they perceive themselves. Teaching our children to cultivate a growth mindset, that is, the belief that they aren’t bound by a limited level of intelligence but can improve their abilities through effort, perseverance and guidance, not only boosts academic success but promotes happiness and overall well-being. Provide your child with a wealth of different learning opportunities and urge them to take risks and welcome new experiences. Encourage them to view challenges as opportunities for growth and praise effort rather than outcome.

Mother and daughter at parent-teacher meeting.

2. Technology is always a distraction

Young people are spending an ever-increasing amount of time in front of screens, whether it be texting, watching videos, scrolling through social media or playing games. With rates of anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation among children rocketing, it’s little wonder that parents feel digital media and technologies are adversely impacting their children’s lives. Technology is seen as a distraction, drawing a child away from the task in hand, hindering creativity and impeding academic performance. Obviously, staring at a screen for excessive periods is something to be discouraged, but when healthy screen habits are established, the use of technology can be beneficial.

Technology provides your child with easy access to information and a vast array of educational resources at the click of a button, from online libraries to videos, podcasts and e-books. Online learning platforms offer both personalised and flexible learning. They can provide opportunities to explore new topics or to facilitate a deeper understanding of difficult concepts. Interactive apps and games engage and motivate, encourage critical thinking, cultivate problem-solving skills and allow creativity to be expressed. Students can share ideas, connect, and collaborate with their peers in real-time.

Whether we like it or not, technology has become an integral part of our lives and acquiring digital literacy is an essential skill for children in the 21st century.

3. More time spent revising leads to better results

Many parents believe that the more time their child spends revising, the better their chances of academic success. However, the amount of time spent revising is less important than the actual revision techniques employed.

The purpose of revision is to reinforce the cues linked to previous learning so that the information can be easily retrieved when required. Passive revision techniques, such as re-reading notes, listening to recorded lesson notes, or highlighting pieces of text, require minimal brain engagement and are known to be largely ineffective. Active revision, on the other hand, involves using and organising the information you need to learn. Rather than mindlessly reading over notes, students are actively engaged in recalling, grouping, and connecting information.

As a parent, there are many ways to help your child revise more effectively. Create a revision plan and organise sessions into short, manageable chunks with regular breaks. Encourage the use of varied revision techniques such as making mind maps, using post-it notes, or testing with flashcards. Take the role of a student and get your child to explain a topic to you. Ask lots of questions and quiz them on key concepts. Encourage them to answer practice questions and do past papers under timed conditions.

Young girl revising over the Christmas holidays.

4. We all have one learning style

There’s a long-held belief that everyone has their own learning style and that we learn best when teaching is tailored to it. Some students may see themselves as visual learners, absorbing and retaining information more readily when it is presented visually, such as in the form of diagrams, pictures or charts. Others regard themselves as ‘aural’ learners who retain information best when it’s presented vocally. Some prefer the written word (read/write learners) and others a more hands-on approach (kinaesthetic learners).

However, attempting to pigeonhole a student into one of these learning styles can cause more harm than good. Having a fixed belief about your capabilities as a learner leaves little room for self-improvement. There’s also an inherent danger of perceiving learning styles as indicators of academic potential, impacting a student’s self-esteem, future performance, and academic choices. Our preferred learning style may not always be the most effective, and learning strategies will vary depending on the task at hand. Some subjects, such as mathematics and science, require a multisensory approach and cannot be fully grasped using one learning style.

Encourage your child to engage with different learning styles. Having the ability to switch between or combine different modes of learning depending on the circumstances is a useful tool in all aspects of life.

5. Grades reflect intelligence

Another common myth is that intelligence is reflected in academic performance. Our society highly values academic achievement. From an early age, our children are judged and defined by their grades, and this can have a profound impact on their self-esteem and mental wellbeing. Many students believe their grades reflect who they are and how they will progress in life. However, grades only reflect one aspect of an individual, such as the ability to memorise or perform under pressure. Students are more than just a test score and their self-worth should not be linked to exam success.

Children often mirror the values expressed by their parents. They look to them for validation and even a slight detection of disappointment will make a child question their own abilities. A parent overly concerned with high academic achievement will shape their child’s views on self-worth and may instil a fear of failure.

Raise your child to become a well-rounded individual. Yes, qualifications are a stepping stone to future opportunities, but choose to focus on the bigger picture. Encourage qualities such as curiosity, perseverance, resilience, independence, self-belief and self-reflection. Focus on the importance of learning rather than the grades themselves and celebrate your child’s unique strengths and talents.

Father helping daughter with homework.

6. A bit of pressure from parents is healthy

Parental pressure is often well-intentioned. You want your child to fulfil their potential and to succeed in life. Most parents are aware of the negative effects of excessive pressure on their children but mistakenly believe that a little bit of pressure can be beneficial. However, young people already face pressure in many aspects of their lives, whether it be self-imposed or from outside sources such as teachers, peers and social media.

Positive parenting means being supportive and encouraging without adding parental pressure. Set clear expectations rather than ultimatums. Find opportunities to praise rather than to criticise. Put the emphasis on effort rather than on outcome. Encourage your child to see failures and setbacks as opportunities for growth and introspection. Don’t overprotect. Be there to give advice but allow your child to make their own mistakes.

By dispelling these six educational myths, you can create an environment that fosters your child’s mental and emotional wellbeing, encourages a genuine love for learning, and nurtures your child’s unique strengths and talents.

Wendy Wood

Wendy is a retired teacher, tutor, and mother of two. Her teaching career spanned 30 years in a variety of educational settings.