Having recently delivered parents’ evenings for my class, I reflected on the most common questions that parents ask when discussing their child’s progress: How are they getting on? Are they ok? What can we/I do to help them?
The answer to these questions is varied, but usually involves giving the parents some sort of curriculum work to practise with their child or highlighting targets that the child is working on to help them make academic or behavioural progress e.g. ‘They need to ensure they know their times tables and could do some practise at home,’ or the classic, ‘They really need to focus on their work instead of chatting to their friends.’ With standards in schools steadily on the increase and much more challenging curriculums, our children are under so much pressure to perform at school, and parents feel the same pressure to make sure their child ‘achieves’.
As a parent, too, I know that generally, we are keen to support our children in school and the wider-world, and we want to help, but working on these targets is often easier said than done, especially if our child does not see themselves as academic or has difficulties with behaviour. On many occasion, I have told myself that it will be different this time; I will remain calm, open and helpful – a perfect balance between supportive facilitator and independence promoter. This time, will not descend into childish arguments about the ‘best way to present research on coal mining’ (a recent homework project set for my 8 year-old sons) or ‘you’d find it easier if you did it likes this!’. After a bout of optimistic self-talk I have taken a deep breath and steeled myself to ask the questions, ‘Do you have any homework to do?’ or ‘Can I help you with that?’ only to end up minutes later with nerves frazzled and tears after a heated debate about which coloured pen is appropriate to use for writing a report or whether the challenging maths problem is worth getting into such a state about.
‘Doing homework is a nightmare,’ is a story I hear over and over again from parents. It can be so frustrating that we can decide it’s better to just ‘let them get on with it’ and sometimes I imagine that it is for the best. On the other hand, as hard as it can sometimes be when our children are getting stressed, pushing against our help or sulking because we’ve told them to do something differently, we need to remember that we as parents, are our child’s primary and main teacher. We need to try and make sure that our children can take constructive instruction and direction, whilst maintaining their self-esteem and without feeling like it is criticism from us, as this will help them to make more rapid progress, even though the mere thought of it makes us want to run for the hills.
One useful tool that is popular in schools at the moment for promoting academic resilience – the ability to be successful in education despite facing difficulties, as well as being able to make mistakes, learn from them and bounce back – is work around ‘Growth Mindset’. This a set of beliefs and practises that promote skills for learning in children and adults that were developed by Professor Carol Dweck, who is a psychologist.
Her work ensures that children understand that learning is a process and intelligence can be developed. I find this can be applied to all kinds of intelligences, including emotional intelligence and the change in viewpoint overcomes a lot of the frustration and difficulty that comes with challenge. If we all see that anything can be learnt with effort and by learning from our inevitable mistakes, the pressure somehow diminishes and homework can be seen as a less daunting task. Check out her work, as it is truly mind growing!