by Jaron Steffens
P.G.Dip Sci (Psychology), B.App.Sci (Psychology)
Dip Child & Adolescent Psychology, Dip Tch (PE & Health)
School’s back! Only it’s not. Term 2 has started and school is happening at home. At any given time you are a chef, taxi driver, first aid first responder, fort builder, medical practitioner, child counsellor, and cheer leader to name just a few of the roles that fill day to day life with your kids. On top of this you are expected to be the perfect role model for how you would like your children to be once they get taller and join the adult world. For many parents adding the role of home school teacher to an already overloaded lock-down bubble is creating a stress overload.
There are a few things that may help to alleviate this stress as you discover your way through this new role. The first, is that this is going to be short term. So, if you don’t manage to get through the work that has been set by the school, it is no problem. Those that do not get the work done won’t be disadvantaged in the long term. The work has been provided by the schools for the students that thrive with this kind of work. Your role is to maintain a calm, happy household during lock-down time. Battling with a child about schoolwork is not helping to achieve this. At the very least, feel reassured that yours won’t be the only child not doing their schoolwork during lock-down. Be the calm influence in your home, be okay with doing what it takes to maintain your calm, safe lock-down home.
No young person will be disadvantaged in their education during the Covid-19 lock-down. If the young person attached to you is at NCEA level, take a look into NCEA results in Canterbury in 2011 after the devastating and extremely disruptive earthquakes. Average marks improved. Your child learns new stuff every day regardless of what happens, or doesn’t happen. They are constantly observing and absorbing, and so much is changing in our living situation right now that there is already enough to process just getting through the day. We are all getting bombarded with new information that informs our way of life and we are reacting the best way we can to protect the lives of all those close to us, and in our community. You want the best for your child, and are doing a great job as a parent, evidenced by the fact that you are reading this right now.
Learning moments at home, that we’d normally be too busy for
We have a unique opportunity during lock-down to take advantage of learning moments at home. Life skills that normally fall down the priority list when times are busy with school, work, social occasions, etc. If the young people in your bubble are interested in learning about food preparation, gardening, building, mechanics, budgeting, self-care, communication, the human body, or anything that is not currently part of the work set by the schools, but vital to life, encourage them to look into it. Lock-down can be a time of opportunity to discover the true drivers in young people’s lives. We may not have this opportunity again, and life may be quite different out the other side, so find the positive opportunities in this weird, daily changing, situation.
A few teacher tricks for you
Many young people are happy to have schoolwork to sink their teeth into and will find comfort in the contact from the school to start the term off and settle into routine. Great! But, if you do have a young person in your bubble who is resistant to any school work, there are a few teacher tricks you can practice that might help to put you and your child’s education on the right track without disrupting the calm within your bubble.
1. Schoolwork/break balance
You may have a rough idea of the length of focus time for each of your children. Some can spend ten hours intensely focused on a project before you drag them away to ensure they have sufficient food and sleep. Others have about 2 minutes before they have moved on to the next project, zoned out, broken something, or a blend of all of these. Somewhere between these extremes is your kid’s focus time. This focus time will change depending on the day, time of day and let’s be honest, interest in the topic or activity. For example, if you know that your child has about 20 minutes working on maths problems before things get explosive, plan for no longer than 15 minutes before taking a break.
2. Contracts or Game Plans
This fits with tip one about work/break balance. “Contracts” sounds very business-y and “Game Plan” doesn’t quite cut it, there must be a better term to use, but this is all I have right now. These don’t have to be documented, signed and witnessed, it can just be a discussion. Here is the basic idea: Have a chat with each child in your bubble about the work that the school has sent, how long you think it will take to do the work, how long each break time will be, and what activities will fill the break times. Break times are like mini rewards, so choose whatever they are into: online gaming, lego, running laps around the house, running for office, whatever. Like any contract, this is a negotiation, both of you need to be willing to compromise. Always remember your top priority of maintaining a calm, safe bubble. If you are dealing with a super active kid, this could be a process that is negotiated while throwing a ball around, or out riding a bike. This way you get some exercise too.
3. Don’t say “Don’t”
See what I did there? When you are with your children, always be aware of the outcome you want from them so you can keep your contact with them positive. When someone in your bubble is exhibiting a behaviour that you don’t like, instead of saying, “Hey, don’t do that thing” take a moment and think of a behaviour you do want, so you can say, “Hey, do this thing” keeping the whole interaction positive. For example: Your three-year-old is holding a flathead screwdriver and doing that determined three-year-old stride towards a power socket, and they are too far away from you to physically get to them. The first reaction for many people is to yell, “No! Don’t shove the screwdriver in the power socket!” Now you have an upset child who only remembers hearing the words “…shove the screwdriver in the power socket.” Think about what you really need in this situation, you need your toddler to be doing something less deadly. Start by calling their name loudly to distract their attention then thank them for picking up the screwdriver someone carelessly left within their reach and ask them to pass it to you. The result of both of these possible responses to the situation is that you have a less crispy child, but the latter one allows you to maintain calm in your lock-down bubble. Admittedly, this is an extreme example, but always take a moment to work out what behaviours you want from your kids before pointing out the things you don’t want to happen.
4. Positive Feedback
Human nature seems to be to notice the things in life that go wrong. A day can go 98% to plan, we always seem to notice the 2% that went wrong and blow it up to the point that it ruins the whole day for us. This starts at a very young age. You can be a very positive influence in your child’s life by pointing out and praising the stuff that did go to plan, and questioning them through the things that didn’t go to plan to allow them to find their own solutions. This is not an “Everyone wins a prize” approach, which doesn’t work, this is a way to allow your child to notice the stuff they do well and find ways to learn from mistakes. The long-term outcome is a person who knows that not everything in life comes easy, but working on a problem can lead to success in the longer term. Most of us need a bit of this in our adult lives too, so practice for yourself by noticing the things that go to plan each day. Life becomes so much more enjoyable.
Maintain calm in your bubble right now, use the resources from the school as they suit, and find the opportunities to spend the time with your kids that you wouldn’t normally have. Enjoy.