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August 28th, 2017

Back to school –supporting or interfering?

The school holidays are winding down and many parents, if not their children, are beginning to prepare for going back to school. Your child may be starting school for the first time in which case we have a blog that may be of interest to you.

Or your child may be going back to school and you’re keen to help them have a successful year. It may be a significant year for them with important exams to prepare for, or you just want to get the new term off to a good start.

Many parents want to help their children do well at school but what’s the difference between supporting them and being a ‘helicopter’ or ‘tiger’ parent? Over the summer we have been collaborating with the wise folk behind Tutor Fair to create a series of workshops designed to help children with the essential non-academic skills they need to help them be successful at school. One of the questions considered therein is how to get the balance right between over-controlling or over-protecting our kids and setting them up for success.

Much has been said about parents becoming ‘helicopter parents’, shielding them from mistakes and failures and doing too much for them. This can happen unwittingly as parents just get in the habit of doing things for kids when they’re young and don’t notice when they could be doing that thing for themselves. It’s quicker, easier and neater when we do a task. Our history projects/essays are better! We mistakenly think that doing things for our children is a sign of our love. It would be more loving however to empower them to deal with the world themselves.

You will also be aware of the phrase ‘tiger parenting’ to describe parents who push and push their kids in the belief that they are nurturing talent and ensuring great futures for them.

Australian Primary Principals Association president Dennis Yarrington noted that parents often interfere with homework and attributed this to increased academic competition created by league tables (Sydney Morning Herald May 2017) Yarrington said time-poor parents often find it easier to take over than to sit by while the child attempts to work it out.

If parents step in too much eg by ‘fixing’ their child’s mistakes the child learns that the outcome is more important than the process or more important than being challenged or taking a risk. They miss out on learning from a poor outcome, including learning to cope with that. We reduce their opportunity to practice handling stress and adversity.

Both helicoptering and tiger parenting are forms of overparenting that need to be avoided whilst still supporting children to do the best that they are capable of. Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has done many studies on parental involvement and has found that “the optimal parent is one who is involved and responsive, who sets high expectations but respects her child’s autonomy”. These parents raise children who do better academically, psychologically and socially than children whose parents are either permissive, and less involved, or controlling and more involved.

We really need to avoid this trap as children with parents who are overparenting can become tense and unable to look after themselves. They develop learned helplessness or even a victim mentality. They don’t develop and don’t trust their own abilities or judgment. They certainly don’t develop the competence that leads to confidence. Such children can become fearful if they do not have faith in their own abilities to sort things out. They try less and give up easily. They expect everything to be done for them, not just by their parents but everyone else too.

It’s hard to know how to find that balance. What is involved parenting and where does it become over-controlling?

Here are 10 ways to ensure you’re being supportive, not interfering:

  1. CHECK your expectations.

If we ask a child to do something that is too difficult for him he is likely to fail. Feeling a failure does not motivate anyone to try again. Contrast this with a task that is a bit of a stretch for the child.

Ask yourself could my child do this himself or be learning to do it himself?

We need to consider a child’s individual temperament and developmental stage as well as any special needs or conditions they may have when asking them to do something.

Tip: parents often UNDER-estimate what their children are capable of. Spend time with your child really observing him and listening to him to find out what he’s capable of. You may be surprised.

  1. PLAN

What is the best environment in which my child can do his homework? When is the best time for him to do it? What will he need to do the task? What obstacles/ challenges may arise?

  1. GET YOUR CHILD’S INPUT

This will be much more successful than imposing your ideas on your child. She may not have a choice about doing homework but can have input on how it happens. This makes it more likely that she will be committed to the process, will be more cooperative and will get used to coming up with solutions to problems.

  1. USE CHAT THROUGHS

Ask your child questions about the task at hand to elicit from them what they have to do, what challenges may arise and how they can overcome these.

Then LET THEM GET ON WITH IT.

  1. BREAK THE TASK DOWN into smaller chunks 

And help them to see that they can manage the micro skills involved in a task. 

  1. DESCRIPTIVE PRAISE

Make sure that you drop in from time to time while your child is working to descriptively praise some aspect of what they’re doing. Focus, attitude, effort, any improvements, amount of work done, content of the work, etc.

Sometimes it may seem as if there is nothing to praise. This means you need to look for smaller things to mention. “I like the way you’re tackling this task before dinner while you’re fresh. I can see that you’ve remembered to bring your French dictionary home –that will help.” You are the chronicler of your child’s achievements/improvements. You can paint a portrait to them of themselves as learners and solution finders.

If a child is reluctant to do work consider why. They may be unmotivated about school work. They may not be feeling very successful in that arena. You can help them see small successes through descriptive praise. You can also help them to see that struggle with a task isn’t a sign of failure but a natural part of the process of learning. Explain that struggle makes brains grow.

  1. BE ENTHUSIASTIC 

Nothing is more motivating than someone else’s passion for a subject. Remember how your best teachers enthused you? You can help your child see the relevance of what she’s learning by applying it to real life, whether it’s reading or maths problems or history or science. 

  1. EMOTION COACHING

Empathise that it can be difficult to motivate oneself to do what we need to do when there are other more fun things to do or if we are afraid we can’t do it. Point out any examples of your child being able to control an impulse in order to do something that he needs to do.

  1. DON’T DO IT FOR THEM! (Including ‘fixing’ their mistakes).

This gets in the way of their learning and sends them the message that they are incapable of doing it themselves. Instead we can offer clues and suggestions and ask probing questions to stimulate their thinking.

  • Make sure they have some DOWN TIME

Kids need time to chill, to process, to play, to have fun and they need the space to be creative. They need time that is just their own, to do what they want, to explore their interests, not adult-directed activities. This is essential both for their ability to later re-focus on stuff they may be less motivated by but also to find out what their real passions are.

Hope this school year is a great one for you and your children.

Melissa and Elaine

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August 08th, 2017

Summertime   - The secrets to good friendships

We’re in the middle of the summer holidays and we hope you and your children are relaxing away from the rigours and routines of school life. Some kids find school quite stressful either because of the academic life or because the social side of things is difficult for them. Some kids find it hard to make friends and feel lonely and all kids will fall out with others from time to time.

“The single best childhood predictor of adult adaptation is not IQ, not school grades, and not classroom behaviour, but rather the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children.” Williard Hartup, Regents Professor at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

If you’re at home maybe your children will get a chance to spend unstructured time with the neighbourhood kids. Maybe they can have some sleepovers given that you don’t have to worry so much about being fresh for school the next day. You may not get much sleep either but these are magnificent opportunities for kids to practice their social skills. When adults don’t intervene and there is less structure to their activities they need to rely on their own resources to solve problems. David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, said that Amy Chua (Tiger Mom) was coddling her children by not allowing sleepovers, playdates etc. Brooks said “She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t…. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.” These are skills that children need to learn and the summer holidays may be a great time to get some practice.

Maybe your children will spend some time at summer camps where they get a chance to bond with other kids over common interests. Maybe you’ll be spending time with cousins of different ages where they will have to practice sharing, compromise, negotiation skills and maybe dispute resolution techniques. Wonderful!

In case you don’t think your children are very good at any of those skills so vital for friendships here are 7 ways you can help your children develop these skills over the holidays.

  1. Practice perspective-taking. That means understanding someone else’s point of view. Obviously your child’s ability to empathise will vary according to his age but he can be learning from the age of 3 to think about what others feel. Read books and watch films that have emotional content in them. This allows them to practice essential skills first as an observer, much easier than as a participant! Look at the illustrations in the book or the facial expressions and body language of the characters in the film and (maybe without sound) ask your child to identify what the feelings are. How do they know? Ask them if they have ever felt that way. Get them to guess what the character might do next. Don’t pause the action for too long or too often or it will get annoying! 
  1. Develop a culture in your family of considering each other’s feelings. Talk about how various members of the family feel at different points. Naming a feeling greatly adds to your child’s emotional vocabulary and intelligence. It also demonstrates acceptance of that feeling. 
  1. Get familiar with feelings. Create together and then play games such as the Feelings card game. Paste onto cards pictures of people showing feelings (in face and body) and on a corresponding card have the word for that feeling. Then you can play ‘snap’ with them or place all the cards face down and turn up pairs with the object of pairing up the word with the picture.

 Other games will help develop other vital skills such as listening, like Simple Simon and the whispering game- listen to a message from someone with your eyes shut, then repeat it to the next person. 

  1. Model being with your own friends and being friendly with partners. Model loyalty, commitment, kindness, self-respect, constructive dispute resolution, communicating and managing feelings and needs. When dealing with upsets between yourself and your children be sure that you are not just imposing your will based on your greater age and size and position of authority lest your children learn that they need to exploit whatever power they have to get their way. Instead teach them to reason and explain. 
  1. Teach your children how to make friends. Practice making eye contact, ways to say hello, conversation starters and what they can contribute to a game. “That looks a fun game of explorers. I could be a local chief who can show the explorers the island.” 
  1. And how to deal with friendship upsets. Let’s take an example: a six year old girl had two friends at school. They had been friends from before school whereas Ella joined in year 1. The other two girls started telling Ella that she could not play with them and made other mean comments. The two six year old girls gave Ella a letter (laughing) calling her a ‘princess of poo’ and saying she is a poo and should dress as a poo... Ella was very upset. One of them said "we were happier before you came."

In circumstances like this it’s very tempting to call up the other parents and get them to tell off their children. But when parents take matters into their own hands it tells children that they can’t handle things themselves which doesn’t make them any more socially confident. And sometimes our reaction can be a bit over the top and embarrassing. And sometimes it makes it worse for our kids as the other children retaliate and then our child won’t want to confide in us again.

Sometimes adults do need to get involved but more often it works better when we empower our children to deal with matters themselves.

  • First empathise with your child. Fully appreciate how it felt to be in their shoes.
  • When they’re calmer explore through role play how things could have played out differently. Explain what the teasing child is trying to do –provoke/cause distress and that the most effective thing to do is to deprive them of that result. Practice with them ways that they could respond (words, tone, body language) that show indifference.
  • In considering why a child does mean things you could suggest ideas through questions –“Do you think these girls believe there’s a limit to the number of friends you can have? Do you agree?” 

We’ll be running our new workshop on friendships in October so do come along. In the meantime have a great summer.

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