The results of the Parent Ping survey app (www.parentping.co) reported in The Observer (24.01.21, p.13) suggests that there is an increasing recognition of the stress that many parents are experiencing because of the expectations that they do more home schooling with no end in sight. Writing in The Sunday Times (24.01.2021) Sian Griffiths reports that `Children will not go back to school next month and may not return until after the Easter Holiday’. Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, quoted in the same article, is expected this week to rule out children returning to the classroom after the February half-term holiday and will prepare parents for the prospect of many more months of home schooling.
The Department for Education now expects primary schools to provide a minimum of three to four hours of remote education to pupils each day, and says that this should include recorded teaching or live lessons as well as tasks for children to complete independently. However, according to Parent Ping engaging young children in so much online learning and independent work at home means that parents are now feeling far more stressed about home schooling than they did during the first lockdown – when parents of children under 10 were already reporting particularly high levels of stress. Three out of 10 parents of primary school children are now reporting that they are feeling more anxious, 14% are crying more often, 18% are having more sleepless nights, 10% are arguing with their partner more and a quarter are being less patient with their children. Only 28% reported that they were having none of these problems.
When home schooling doesn’t quite go to plan
Just one of the challenges that now face so many parents is what they should do when they don’t feel that praising their child is in order after yet another session of home schooling hasn’t quite gone to plan? The reality is that despite very best intentions, home schooling sessions don’t always go the way parents would like them to. Children can get irritable or stubborn and as parents we can be exhausted, overwhelmed or sometimes just too short on patience to be able to deal with constructively the combined pressures of our new responsibilities for our children’s education and their mood swings. Psychiatrist and author Daniel Siegel suggests that misunderstandings and even breakdowns can occur in the best of relationships and what is important is to know how to transform them into learning situations.
The ABCs of Repair: Awareness, Breathing, Correction.
Awareness is necessary for change to occur otherwise we are all doomed to repeat our mistakes. It’s inevitable in times of stress that many of us will occasionally react automatically and unthinkingly to our children. The key to becoming aware of the things you say or do that are not in your or your children’s best interest lies primarily
in the nonverbal realms. Pay special attention to your facial expressions, postures, voice tone and muscle tension that may be communicating criticism and or negative emotions.
Taking a few deep breaths can interrupt the physiological reaction to stress that may be brewing. Perhaps your heart is pounding, your jaw is clenched or you can feel tightness in your shoulders, chest or stomach. Studies in stress reduction show that an effective way to interrupt this downward spiral is to take three deep breaths – inhalations so deep that you can feel your abdomen expand, followed by slow exhalations. Make the time to do this especially when you feel that you just don’t have the time.
Once you are feeling calmer, decide what you want to say or do to correct the situation. Maybe you decide to give your child a hug, maybe you decide have a chat about what both of you were feeling, or ideally maybe you do both. A good way to start is to ask your child `What just happened here?’ This allows your child to participate and thus builds self-esteem. It also conveys the positive and optimistic message: `We can fix this’.
When we feel disappointed with a child’s work, their attitude or their behaviour it is important to approach the situation constructively because criticism will rarely, if ever, achieve the results that we want. Children manage setbacks better when they:
- have positive relationships with their parents and with the responsible adults in their lives,
- have confidence in their own abilities,
- know that their abilities are valued by others.
Often the first and the best thing that we can do is give ourselves permission to do absolutely nothing; the time to calm down and regain our composure. Time out enables us to bring the issue up later when we’re able to use a tone of voice that is caring, interested and enquiring rather than disappointed and disapproving. Once our own feelings aren’t part of what’s going on we can ask our child to evaluate what they think of their work by asking for example:
- Are you happy with what you did?
- Is there anything that you would do differently next time?
Our tone of voice when we are asking these questions should convey love and support and not accusation or judgment. With younger children a better starting place might be to ask them ask them why they were behaving a certain way;
- What was going on?
- What were you trying to do?
Active listening and really hearing what your child has to say may help you to understand that maybe they’ would benefit from for example, more family time, more outdoor play or a plan for how to watch less TV?
Failure is an event not a part of a child’s identity
Firstly, make it clear to your child that you see the failure as an event, not as a part of who they are. If your child is anxious or disappointed with his or her work empathize
(‘I can see that you are very upset about this’) and then help your child to work out how she/he can make things go differently next time.
In my experience one of the hardest things is to leave `I told you so’ out of the conversation;
“I told you that if you didn’t read the chapter carefully you wouldn’t be able to answer the questions”.
Instead it is much better and far more productive to remind your child about the times when things worked out well.
Unfortunately, too often children view their mistakes as confirmation of the fact that that if they aren’t good at something now and therefore that they probably never will be. In his book `Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom; A practical guide to teaching happiness’ Adrian Bethune (2018, p.88) writes about what he calls `beautiful mistakes’ and explains the importance of ensuring that children understand that mistakes and failure are a crucial component of learning and growth. Without this essential belief, mistakes can be extremely discouraging for many children, forcing them to give up and retreat back to their comfort zones.
Adrian Bethune also emphasises the importance of creating a space and time with your child in which mistakes are shared, talked about and even celebrated. It is important that a similar learning ethos is created in our homes to ensure children understand that mistakes can provide valuable learning opportunities. Bethune also suggests that when as parents we inevitably make mistakes we should share them with our children (if it is appropriate to do so!). Not only does this show humility it helps children to understand that mistakes happen to everyone and so there is no need to be ashamed of them.
Creating a culture in our homes where mistakes are valued and shared as learning opportunities can help children to realise that mistakes are actually essential for learning and that if we share our mistakes with others, we can all get to learn from them.
Dr Ruth MacConville
Bethune, A., 2018, Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom, A practical guide to teaching happiness. London, Bloomsbury Education.
Siegel, D., 2004 Parenting from the Inside Out: How a deeper self-understanding can help
You raise children who thrive. Quoted in Nowicki, S., Duke, M.P., Buren, A.V., 2008,
Starting Kids Off Right: How to Raise Confident Children who can Make Friends and Build Healthy Relationships. Atlanta, Peach tree Publishers, p. 94.
`I feel like I’m failing’: parents’ stress rises over home schooling’, Donna Ferguson
The Observer, 24.01.2021 p. 13.
Children face months at home as schools stay shut until Easter, Sian Griffths & Caroline Wheeler, The Sunday Times, 24.01.2021, p.1