“I can do it by MYSELF,” she said in a growly whisper. It was my younger daughter’s singular response to two separate, but related things that were happening at that moment. The first was a question from her teacher on the “get to know you” worksheet that was sitting on my daughter’s Kindergarten table. It was our first time visiting the classroom. The question on the paper had asked, “What do you want me to know about you?”
The second thing she was responding to was the fact that I was trying to do the writing for her. Both were true. She has a very firm “I can do this MYSELF” attitude about much of her life. I had been trying to do the work for her because I wanted to save time and because I knew she couldn’t spell any of those things alone. I had just wanted to have the whole thing done so that we could spend time together exploring her new world!
Instead, I had to sit patiently (and yes, somewhat angrily) and tell her every letter that she needed to complete the sentence. It wrapped from one side of the paper to the next. “I can do it by myself.”
It was one of the first glimmers into a future of the “battle of the wills” over school work. I should have known! Thankfully, this was a time when I was able to mentally remind myself that not only was my daughter correct, but that she would soon be getting help from her new teacher. I needed to step back or I was going to be a barrier to any fun that learning would hold.
It’s important to identify the reason for potential battles so they can become a distant glimmer. In reality, you do not want to become their commanding officer and a little preparation can go a long way. There are times when the battle is too big, your time is too short, or your expertise and patience are too limited.
When the battle is becoming too big, pause and reflect on your actual goals. Sometimes, we adults can get hooked on the notion that we must always “be right” or “be in charge” instead of remaining focused on what is truly important, such as the relationship with the child, the opportunity to learn and teach, or the need to simply listen. Many times we can become so singularly focused on maintaining the power that we hold as adults that we can inadvertently miss the opportunity to teach something new to a child. Or, perhaps more importantly, to learn something from them! When you find yourself ramping up, pause and ask yourself what is truly important to you, and let that guide your next steps.
When the battle happens because your time is too short, this tends to fall into the adult’s poor planning category. I hate to say it, but we operate on an adult schedule, which is vastly different from any type of “schedule” a child might maintain. When the battle is due to limited time, frankly you might give in because it’s unlikely that anybody can “win” in this scenario. Take that opportunity to examine what went wrong leading up to the battle. Most often, I find that I haven’t allowed enough time to transition activities, or establish expectations up front. For example, when my kids were younger and we would head to the grocery store I began checking in on expectations as we exited the car:
- What do you think we are going to do at the store?
- How do you think we should act in the store?
- What will we do if you see something you want to buy?
- How will you respond if I don’t want to buy an item you want?
- What will you do if we get separated from each other?
After a few prompts we were all on the same page, and I could address any issues on the spot by reviewing what we had already agreed upon. The times when battles broke out were those times when I forgot to gently get their help in creating structure for that grocery run. Here’s the good news…
The same thing can be done with learning, especially now that most of us are supporting our child’s education at a distance during the pandemic. On an afternoon or evening when everyone is calm, start a discussion about expectations for the next day. And not just your expectations. Let your kids set a few expectations with you so that you can truly operate as a team. If a daily schedule helps, do it! We started our distance learning by creating a schedule on the refrigerator that was blocked out using blue painter’s tape. My kids chose the order of what they wanted to work on and used water-based markers to cross it off. We don’t rely on that now, but it was a great way to help them have a degree of control during a time when the entire world was out of control. Your questions might be:
- What do you need to stay focused? (Headphones? Quiet room? Plentiful snacks within reach?)
- Do you have a preference for the order in which you complete activities?
- What can you do if you’re really struggling? (Ask for help from a parent, sibling, grandparent, teacher?)
- Do you feel most productive in the morning or afternoon?
- What do you need from me before I start my own work? (Do you need a heads-up 30 minutes beforehand so you can ask me questions before I start work?)
- What will you do when you feel stuck on a problem, are bored, sad about missing friends, etc.?
- Do you want to change locations for different activities your working on? (Table for math? Sofa for reading? Outdoors for writing?)
Finding ways to clearly communicate during this time of distance learning helps everybody. So, if explaining your reason for pumping them full of protein snacks helps them understand a connection between mental fatigue and their productivity, then do it. If starting the day with a neighbourhood walk is what energizes them, grab that travel mug and take your coffee along for fresh air. And remember, congratulate them for the difficult work they’re doing. Social distancing is hard for all of us, and we need to maintain a positive outlook.
Remember, most of our kids already know what is expected of them based on all the patterns and structure that have been established by their classroom teacher. By letting your child share some of those expectations with you, they will most likely become active participants in their education and you won’t have to feel like the bad cop all the time. Win-win!
When the battle happens because your expertise or patience are limited, let Hoot help you outsource the teaching. During the pandemic, it is more important than ever to let the “teaching” be completed by an expert so that you can focus on meeting the emotional needs of your child. My daughter sometimes wants me to check her work before she submits it to her teacher. She is afraid of getting it wrong and wants to rely on me to hold her hand to get a correct answer. At times she seems to have forgotten who she was as a student in a classroom setting. She is strong, smart, confident, and patient! Distance learning has shaken that confidence. I have had to remind her to do her best work, turn it in, and wait for the feedback. This is what normally happens in the classroom, and it’s what should happen during distance learning too. These structures are really important to maintain. So, if the reading at home is becoming a battle, let one of our great Hoot teachers take the burden off of you!