August 28th, 2017
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
And help them to see that they can manage the micro skills involved in a task.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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