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ParentWise: It’s a strange new school world…still

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/4/2020 11:47:13 AM
Modified: 9/4/2020 11:47:03 AM

Another school year has begun or is about to begin. But this one is unlike any other. All the emotions that come up for you and your children at this time of year are exaggerated and exacerbated by COVID. Nothing is normal, nothing is predictable. But school is school however it is conducted so I offer some thoughts.

Whether your child is excited about school starting or dreads it – either in class or remote or both – may have a lot to do with the support system. We want our children to take responsibility for their education, but we usurp that responsibility when we tell them how it should be done – when we adults take control of their education and learning process. We fear that children don’t care about their education, so we direct instead of support. Our children need us to learn how they learn best, to set up the support system they need to do their best, and then trust that they will find their way.

It is the rare child who likes to do homework and is self-motivated enough to set up the time for it without procrastinating and grumbling at the very least. If your child is self-motivated, you can defer more to his lead on when, where, and how much homework is done. Stay involved with what he is studying, oversee, ask questions, etc. Then count your blessings, step back, and allow him to navigate his own way.

Other children need stronger scaffolding within which they can find some autonomy. Scaffolding is a temporary structure used to support workers as they perform their task. Children thrive on structure. When our expectations are appropriate to the child and their situation, they usually meet them willingly. Scaffolding is temporary because it needs to change as your child’s needs change. The more children are involved in setting up their scaffolding, the more they use it.

Whether your child simply needs a consistent homework time, is an ADHD child who requires your calm presence (we’ll get to this) or has more involved processing difficulties requiring a specific plan as well as outside help, the amount and placement of the scaffolding is different for each child. Establishing the appropriate scaffolding requires trial and error and can take a while to get right, especially during this pandemic. Keep in mind that your child will respond well when the scaffolding is right. This doesn’t mean she will suddenly love school or Zoom or doing homework, but her resistance will decrease.

The parents tendency is to set the structure of your choosing – typically what you wanted or assume will work best – and then expect your child to fit into it. Resist the “I know what’s best for you” approach and put the time and effort into getting it right. Once you do, then your job is to let go of how your child maneuvers the scaffold. For instance, if he resists doing a particular homework assignment or is especially frustrated or tired, let him know that you trust him (connection). Would he like to find a different approach to it, can you allow him to decide whether to do it today or not, or does he want you to leave it between him and his teacher (problem solving)? If you need to get more involved with his teacher be sure to include your child or at least let him know you are contacting the teacher.

Letting go means remaining supportive of the scaffold requirements but avoid expecting the results you want. Your child may need to remain on a low rung for a long time before progress occurs. She may want to do only the minimum required. Letting go means trusting her process. She may need more confidence before stepping up to the next rung or improving her grade. Find ways for her to take the lead. Remember, you are not her teacher (unless you are homeschooling), you are her support system.

Now for your calm presence! Amid the pandemic, this requires staying present in the moment more than ever before. You do not know what’s ahead – no one does. Give yourself and your kids a break from having to get it right. Talk together about this unchartered territory and decide together that this will be a time of trial and error before finding the best way.

Problems can arise for parents impatient with the process or who are not structured themselves. Less structured, more spontaneous parents often have difficulty setting up an environment for a child who needs structure. Instead of letting chaos reign, get some help on how to do that. Some children find their way fine in an unstructured environment; some simply cannot. It is not fair to blame that child for unwanted behavior when he is coping in an environment that does not meet his needs.

The same goes for the environment your school is setting. Remote learning is great for some kids and a disaster for others. Special needs are not getting the attention they normally do. Some children are disappearing from view when neither the school nor the parent is watchful. When specific individualized scaffolding is needed and is not or cannot be offered, difficult behavior will erupt. Instead of more discipline measures attempting to make the child comply, it is important for parents, teachers, and administrators to work together to find a way to build a different, more effective scaffold for that child. His ability to cope and feel in balance is the bottom line for how successful he will be. Getting the scaffolding right both at home and at school is where effort is rewarded.

For parents working from home, the scaffolding needs to include the household. Who is on child duty when, how available or not is the working parent? What is to be expected from all must be worked out clearly, written down, discussed, evaluated, and adjusted as necessary.

Don’t expect to fly by the seat of your pants and land securely. But also, don’t expect to get it right for a while or insist your child does it your way. Give yourself and everyone else a huge break. Everyone is doing their level best to get through these times.

Be sure and check out Bonnie’s podcast Tell Me About Your Kids whereever you find podcasts.

Bonnie Harris, MS Ed, director of Connective Parenting, is a child behavior and parenting specialist. Her two books are When Your Kids Push Your Buttons and Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live (Toadstool and Amazon). Bonnie offers individual parent counseling, parenting workshops, professional trainings and speaking engagements internationally. Bonnie founded The Parent Guidance Center, now The River Center, in Peterborough where she teaches. To set up an in-person or online coaching session, email her at bh@bonnieharris.com. You can sign up for her email newsletter on her website bonnieharris.com.

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