Building a Strong Foundation: How Parents Can Support Students in the First Two Years of High School

Congratulations! Your family survived the middle school years, and your child has started high school. Great, you’re thinking. Now I have a short break before the real stress begins: worrying about grades, college applications, career plans, testing, etc… We hate to be the bearer of news –  9-10th grade do matter. BUT we’re not here to scare you (really).  

Instead, we want to share insights from working with thousands of students and families over the past 20 years on things you can do now to lower stress and finish on top. Think of this as the “level up” that helps some kids and families breeze through high school while others flounder.


Before we go into the strategies, why does 9-10th grade matter so much?

The clock starts
now on GPA

GPA (Grade Point Average), is one of the factors weighed heavily during college admissionsparticularly now that universities are looking at fewer factors in applications. Strong grades now not only set the stage for a strong overall GPA, but it also takes the pressure off of trying to pull your whole average up while taking more challenging junior and senior year courses. 

Extracurricular track records start now.

Universities, internships, or jobs don’t just care that your child does a variety of activities; they also want to see commitment and depth. By starting now you can help your child find something they are excited to stick to for the next few years increasing the likelihood that they’ll have leadership and accomplishments to showcase in applications.  

Stress reduction starts now.

Dealing with increasingly complex coursework, social dynamics, extracurricular, planning for the future, and of course puberty, it’s no surprise the high school years are stressful for both students and families. The kids that cope best with these ups and downs have strong executive function skills: like resilience, time management, decision-making, etc...   In fact, Adele Diamond, a renowned Developmental Cognitive Neuroscientist, determined that “Executive function skills play a significant role in academic achievement and are often more predictive of a student’s success than IQ alone.” (Duckworth, A.L., & Seligman, M.E.P. 2005 Psychological Science). The key is not to wait until your child is struggling to help them develop these skills. Doing that is like teaching someone to swim by pushing them out of a boat –  you may all survive but it’s probably a lot more stressful than it needed to be. 


So what can you do as a parent to lay that strong (but lower stress) foundation? 

  1. Create communication rituals: One of the most important aspects of supporting your child through high school is establishing open and effective communication. Establishing rituals like sharing weekly wins and challenges or starting conversations with open-ended questions demonstrates that you care. The cool thing is that this tip works – even if they don’t respond. It means when they have something they really want to share, they already know you’re ready to hear about it.

  2. Establish commitment hygiene: While social life, extracurriculars, and academics are all important many kids (and adults) struggle to juggle them all. Help your kid understand commitments, limitations, and boundaries by regularly doing a calendar cleanse. Take a look together at all of the things coming up in the next month: school, family, friends, extracurriculars and rest/recharge and talk through what that will actually look like in practice. If it’s not clear how you’ll juggle it, work with your child to figure out where the time and energy should go and what might need to be dropped or moved. Bonus: coach them on how to gracefully say “no” when it’s clear they won’t be able to attend something.

  3. Build a learning ecosystem: It’s hard to focus and be productive at the best of times. Instead of wasting energy on trying to get your kid to focus in spite of distractions, see what you can do to engineer a lower-distraction environment. This could be things as simple as helping them create custom study-playlists together to creating a HIIT-style study schedule that allows for bursts of focus in between breaks.

  4. Seek out your own support: Being a parent is tough enough. Trying to be a parent, coach, teacher, tutor, college counselor, chauffer, etc… (while potentially also working full time) is a LOT. Put your oxygen mask on first by seeking out communities of support when it comes to your child’s success. This could be school counselors, educational partners (ahem– we do that!), or even online communities.


The early high school years are always a challenge, but investing skills and support now can help your child thrive today and in the future. We at Revolution Prep are here and happy to help.

ownload our FREE “Building a Strong Foundation in High School eBook for some even more specialized tips, intel, and tools to help your child succeed with less stress all around.