Many families across the country have children doing exams at the moment. Many children are frustrated because they’re inside revising while it’s sunny outside. Many parents are frustrated because their children aren’t inside revising… Some of you may be very glad that you’re not at that point in your children’s education yet. But you will be at some point. And you probably want them to do the best they’re capable of. You probably want them to get an education that sets up life-long learning, that teaches them to think, to solve problems and to be creative. Certainly that’s what their future employers are hoping for.
So what can parents do to help our kids get the best out of their schooling? If children are to do their best at school and in whatever path they choose thereafter, they will need:
• to be confident and self-motivated and believe they are capable
• to try things and take risks
• to work hard and persevere and have self-control
• to have drive and the courage to follow their own dreams
• to be curious and think creatively and solve problems for themselves
• to think of themselves as learners and problem-solvers
• to pick themselves up after failures, not be defeated by them but embrace them as opportunities for learning
• to have good communication skills and emotional intelligence
Parents can help children develop these characteristics and habits essential for maximising their potential at school. We prioritise behaviours and encourage particular traits by paying attention to them and we motivate our children by how we speak to them.
We can probably all list a number of actions taken by adults that don’t motivate kids ….and then find that we’re doing a few of the things on that list!
Imagine you are the child in the following scenario and see how motivated you feel:
Toby…Toby….TOBY! Will you come and do your homework please. I shouldn’t have to shout Toby. That’s naughty. You know it’s homework time. ….Yes, you do have to do it lazy boy. You know that….No you can’t do it after you’ve finished on Minecraft. You never finish on Minecraft. That silly game takes over your life… Come NOW!
Have you got your worksheet? Well where is it then? You didn’t leave it at school again! Oh Toby, you’d forget your head if it weren’t attached to your shoulders. You’re so disorganised. Well start on your spellings while I get it off the school intranet. And leave those rubbers and things alone. You don’t need them to learn your spellings. How are you supposed to learn anything hanging off your chair like a monkey? Emily sits still on her chair and concentrates which is why she gets through her homework so much faster than you. It’s a nightmare every evening Toby. Do you think I like having to nag you like this? Now get on with that homework or you won’t be going on Minecraft again at all this week.
You can probably see how un-motivating it is to be criticised, nagged and labelled, compared with a sibling, threatened, put down, belittled and made to feel a nuisance. This example may be a bit extreme to make a point but in our classes and workshops many parents admit that they inadvertently drop into these kind of tactics to try to get children to do what they don’t want to do.
So what does work?
Well it will help to consider why your child is unmotivated about school work. Is it too hard for her or would she rather just be doing something else? We all have to do things we don’t particularly want to do but nobody is very motivated when we feel that success isn’t possible. I can remember my son coming home with red marks all over his Spanish homework. He believed there was nothing good about his work, that he was hopeless at Spanish. He couldn’t see any reason to keep trying.
We need to help our children experience small successes and to believe that success is possible with greater effort. We can encourage this kind of growth mindset by the way we talk to our children.
Focus on the positives. “Thanks for looking at me when I asked you to turn off the computer. I know you’d like to keep playing and you know it’s time for homework. It takes self-control to stop doing something fun and do what you have to do. You did that last night when I said it was time to pack up the Lego and go brush your teeth. You hardly moaned at all!”
When we notice small steps in the right direction, including strategies which will help our children do well, we encourage them to keep trying. “It really works for you to move around the room when you’re learning your spelling words, doesn’t it? I can see that you’re looking at the word and then shutting your eyes. Are you imagining what the word looks like in your head? Good strategy!”
Notice improvements. “Each time you practice your times tables you get better at remembering them. Now you know your 4 and 6 times tables whereas at the beginning of term you were really only sure of your 2s, 3s and 5s. That’s progress!”
Focus on effort rather than results. If they get a good test result, comment on the effort behind it. “You’ve done so well because you really worked at your fractions until the techniques were really solid in your mind. Every time you did a challenging sum your brain grew a little.” Don’t say “You’re so clever”.
Create a culture in your family where mistakes are regarded as a normal part of learning. Demonstrate this by your attitude to your own mistakes. Explain that the brain only grows by being challenged.
Our words are very powerful but so are our actions. You can also enthuse your child about learning by:
• knowing their curriculum and speaking enthusiastically about the topics they’re covering, attending parent teacher evenings and school events and speaking positively about the school
• showing how different skills are relevant in everyday life, at home and in the workplace
• demonstrating that you continue to learn; let them see you read, attend lectures, listen to educational podcasts or watch videos
Maximising your child's potential at school is our new 3 part series of workshops launching in the Autumn 2018
Shouting is like smoking in several ways. We know it’s a bad idea but we keep doing it. It doesn’t make any difference if people lecture us about it –we’ve heard it all before. We know, we know. We’ve got into the habit, ok, and it’s hard to break.
There was a good reason why we started in the first place. With smoking you may have felt daring, rebellious or grown up when you took your first puff at age 16…14…12. All your friends might have been doing it. It gave you something to do with your hands at parties. It helped you to not eat. Lung disease is what happens to other people, old people; and you were never going to be one of those. Now that you are older having a cigarette is one of the few quiet moments in the day when you can stop…and think…or just stop. And it’s the cool gang outside with the cigarettes.
When we shout at the kids we have good reasons too. I mean you should hear what they say to us! I would never have spoken to my mother the way they speak to me! We have to shout at them, don’t we, to get them to pay attention to us? One boy confirmed this when he responded to the question why didn’t he do what his mum asked with the answer, “She hasn’t shouted yet”. And we shout because our emotional cup/to-do list is overflowing. Because we started the day behind the eight ball by sleeping through the alarm, finding the uniforms in a great unwashed ball in the bedroom corner, by our 8 year old cheerily announcing that it didn’t matter because they didn’t need to wear uniform today because it was World book day and they had to go in costume. And this is the first you’ve heard of it and you should have left 10 minutes ago and nobody has had breakfast. And we shout because nobody, but nobody (except maybe the dog) listens to us. We shout because we’ve already asked nicely 515 times and nothing’s happened. And surely we deserve some respect? I mean we brought those children into the world; half of us laboured to give birth to them! They should be grateful. And they should do what we say. It’s because they don’t that we shout, isn’t it?
There’s a small difference between smoking and shouting. When we smoke we do most damage to ourselves and potentially some damage to others through passive smoking. When we shout we risk some damage to our children and we also damage ourselves. When we get ourselves into a position where shouting seems like the answer our blood pressure is elevated, our hearing is diminished and our sight is reduced to a very narrow focus. We are stressed and cortisol is flooding our brains. Our children know when we have lost it. The ‘it’ we have lost is self-control and with it we lose their respect.
If we get into habits of shouting children learn:
• not to pay attention when we speak normally
• to disrespect us
• that we don’t respect them
• that shouting is what you do in order to persuade someone of your point of view
• that their agenda, their opinions or feelings don’t matter.
When we shout connection is broken and with it the chance of cooperation is greatly reduced and children do not learn all the valuable lessons we could have taught them, including how to interact respectfully with others.
But we don’t always shout at our kids. For some it’s only certain behaviour that pushes our buttons and we’re calm the rest of the time. And our partner may not be bothered by that behaviour. My husband used to be quite relaxed when our great big galumphing boys came and wrestled with each other on our bed… when we were in it, quietly reading our books at the end of a long day. But I used to hate it and feel it was an invasion of our precious quiet time and I’d yell at them to get off and get out! Some of us can react calmly to exactly the same behaviours today that we shouted about yesterday. What’s going on? It can’t be the kids’ behaviour that determines whether we shout or not or we’d all shout about the same behaviour, all the time. It must be something to do with us.
Life doesn’t make us react in set ways –we have choices. But it often doesn’t feel that way. When the red mist descends it feels automatic to go into shouting mode. What is it that pushes our buttons? Well, what pushes my buttons may be different from what pushes yours. But we have this in common; we react because of how we’re feeling. When you feel disrespected or powerless you may respond with harsh, authoritarian behaviours to try to command some respect. Why do I feel disrespected when my husband doesn’t? That’s because I have a different set of thoughts about the behaviour than he does and it’s those thoughts that prompt my feelings out of which I react.
When I was growing up it was instilled in me to think of others; to be selfish was a Really Bad Thing. So when I saw behaviour in my teenagers that I interpreted as selfish (who’d have thought a teenager might be self-focused?) I thought of it as a character flaw rather than a stage of development. That made me anxious and I responded harshly. And when I did that I lost the connection that would have enabled me to teach my children without bruising their self-esteem, without judging them or making them feel my disappointment and disapproval. When you shout at a teenager their ears bang shut and they are convinced that you are unreasonable, mean and nasty.
But we can get our kids to listen without shouting.
We need to stay calm and that means:
• prioritising self-care
• pushing the pause button before you respond (you may need a calming strategy like taking deep breaths or going for a walk or repeating a mantra to yourself like ‘he’s having a problem, not being a problem’)
• reframing our negative thoughts about our children’s actions to see if there’s another more helpful explanation for what they’re doing
• scheduling time to spend with them doing fun stuff to build connection
• using lots of descriptive praise –nothing opens kids’ ears faster
• listening to them.
Of course we’re only human so we’ll slip up and shout from time to time but, as they say with smoking, don’t give up giving up, and join me in taking the ‘vow of yellibacy’.