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Your new job as a home-school teacher…

Posted 21st April 2020

For some families having your children at home all day every day & home schooling them may be wonderful, your children may have adjusted well and you may be wondering why you’d not decided to home school your children before.   Your home may be a hive of productive activity, from cake baking and model making to motivating PE classes.  That’s brilliant, and this blog is probably not for you…   For other families, the current situation with children at home all day every day may be placing your family under [increased] strain; maybe your children are reluctant to learn, they panic when faced with a list of school work to do, it’s causing arguments or resulting in an increase in challenging behaviour….

How to help children manage their school work:  So your child’s school is sending out a list of tasks to do, and your child does not want to (or can’t) engage with these?  You and your child are arguing about this, it’s a daily battle….

Depending on your child’s age there might be various practical things that could help.  It’s a good idea to start with understanding how learning from home feels to your child.  Do they panic when they see a long list of things to do? Do they struggle to break this up into manageable chunks?  Do they worry about deadlines?  Does it feel like all their favourite parts of school have disappeared to be replaced by all the really difficult bits?  It can also help us to think about how we as adults manage our own workloads.  Do we choose the easier tasks to do first, to help us “get going”?   Do we plan in regular breaks so that we have light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to? 

Have a frank discussion with your child about what it’s feeling like to have a list of tasks to do.  And then think of what might help, such as (depending on many factors including your child’s age, ability to self-motivate or not & what works for you):

  • Some element of choice: you might help your child by giving them a list with (say) three tasks on and saying they need to choose two of these to do today
  • Breaking up long tasks: instead of “work on your history project” it might feel more manageable for your child if the task is “spend 20 minutes this morning on your history project”
  • Consider giving your child some “got tos” i.e. tasks that are not negotiable but also some “want to” tasks specific to things your child enjoys, e.g. drawing, colouring, bouncing on the trampoline – we all feel more motivated when we know there is something we want to do that is waiting for us once we’ve done our essential tasks
  • Write out the tasks on a piece of paper so your child can tick off the ones they have done, starting with a very short easy-to-manage task so that your child experiences success quite quickly
  • Think about how long your child can concentrate for, and break work into chunks of this length, with other activities in between
  • Involve your child in drawing up a study plan (older children particularly) – this might fit around other things they want to do; we are all likely to be more motivated if we feel we’ve had some say in planning
  • Be realistic.  Set aims and goals that are achievable.  It will feel much better to your child if the goal is small but is achieved than if you / they set a more ambitious goal that they never manage to reach. 
  • You may need to build up gradually
  • Make use of online resources – there are many motivating online resources including videos, learning games etc., build up a bank of these that loosely fit around topics being taught at school
  • Go with your child’s interests: as well as the tasks set by school this is an opportunity for your child to develop of further a specialist interest – there are more ways of learning than crunching through set tasks.  Do they want to focus on playing an instrument?  Learning about dinosaurs?  Cooking?   Learn a language?  If ever there was a time to do this, it’s now. 
  • While you might love to have all your children sat around the table independently working on age-appropriate tasks, it’s OK also to pace yourself a bit.  Can some of the older children help a younger child?  Can some be on breaks while you work with others?  Can some be watching an educational video?

Behaviour has become more challenging

If your children are becoming more confrontational / challenging at the moment, this is hardly surprising.  It’s very likely that your child’s change in behaviour reflects their feelings of upset, anger, frustration – children communicate this by how they behave.  

A good place to start is talking with your child, not about the behaviour initially but about how things feel from your child’s point of view.  What are they missing about normal life?  What makes them angry at the moment?  What are they scared about?  Worst fears?  What don’t they understand?  This is likely to need lots of conversations over the weeks – your child’s world has been turned upside down.   Try to give them open space to voice their feelings without rushing in to give your views.  While there’s a place for “we have to get on with it” there’s also a place for being able to tell someone honestly & openly how fed up you are feeling.  Your child’s worries & issues might surprise you – many children are not too worried about coronavirus itself, but might be very upset by missing a birthday party, not being able to get the food they usually have, missing their turn to do something at school, not being able to say goodbye to a teacher / classmate who is leaving this summer (etc.).   For others the physical restrictions might be uppermost in their minds, especially for very active children. 

Once you have a better grasp about what is on your child’s mind, then you might be able to help them manage their feelings more effectively.  In some cases you’ll be able to offer reassurance.  In other cases it might help your child to know that you agree that these things are very frustrating.  For most of us, knowing someone else “gets it” is very powerful, we feel understood, this helps enormously even when the external situation “out there” can’t be changed.   Your child’s change in behaviour may at least partly be about anxiety, and the behaviour is likely to improve once the anxiety can be addressed.

Children are also likely to be reassured when they see that their parents / carers are not panicking or being completely overwhelmed by the situation – this will communicate to children that it’s OK, the adults are still able to manage.  You might have huge worries – but important not to overly share these with your child, and to think about your child’s age / stage of development, what they can manage. 

Of course you are also going to need clear rules and boundaries – your children are likely to be working out what the new rules are for how this is going to be, so being clear and consistent is likely to help.  Decide yourself what your expectations are, and communicate these clearly, while still respecting their feelings.  You might, for example, say: “I can see you really hate this task & don’t think it’s fair that you have to do it, but it’s not OK to kick the table when you feel that way”.  You might be able to give your child more helpful alternatives, such as “I can see you’re worrying now so you’re getting grumpy – how about we both take some deep breaths / bang on the drums / talk about it / have a silly face competition (or whatever) instead of kicking the table?”

What if your child is making constant demands?  For example a repeated “I want to go in the garden” when you are trying to get your child to do some work….  It might help to frame your expectations positively, e.g. “Yes, when you’ve done 20 minutes on your spellings you can play in the garden – that will be great, we can get the sandpit out” as opposed to “You’re not going in the garden until those spellings are done”.   This helps the child to visualise that they are going to get out into that garden & that you support this plan – putting things the positive way round makes it a bit less likely that you are both set up for an argument. 

It can also help if you depersonalise the tasks.  Rather than “I want you to do your history”, think about “This history needs to be done by today”.  You might empathise with your child that they don’t want to do it today, but the fact is that the school has set this task and so it’s out of both of your hands.  You can then position yourself more as an ally – “How shall we do this?  A bit now and a bit after you’ve played football?”  Try to avoid positioning yourself on the other side of a battle with your child where possible, it’s not you who is creating the current situation, you are there to help your child manage the situation that no one wanted to be in.  You might want to share your own similar experiences & show some empathy: “Yep, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this task either when I was at school, but unfortunately it’s not going away – shall we get the first question out of the way?” or perhaps: “I feel exactly that way when I sit down to look at my emails in the morning, it can feel like it will never end… what helps me is to (whatever)”.     

In summary  ….  There’s no one single “strategy” that is going to help your child adjust to being at home all day & in particular being home-schooled.  But key things that may help are:

  • Taking time to see things from your child’s point of view
  • Understanding that your child may not be able to say how they are feeling, they might express this in a change of behaviour
  • Trying to shield your child from your own anxieties about the situation, taking into account your child’s stage of development
  • Setting realistic expectations & achievable goals
  • Thinking about how to give your child some degree of ownership / control over the tasks they need to do, break up longer tasks if needed
  • Making sure there are some fun things for your child to aim for in the day
  • Being patient – it will take all of us a while to adjust

The Bridge Foundation remains open online for parent consultations and for  therapy for children, adolescents and young adults.  Please contact us on 0117 9424510 or to discuss your needs (we charge a fee for these services) .