One of my stock phrases is ‘the more you help someone, the less they do for themselves’. A great example of this phenomenon occurs within the classroom when the TA or the teacher always sits at the table with children with SEN, re-telling what has just been taught and what they have to do and then providing the starts of sentences/scaffolds. The unintended result is that these children end up…
- not bothering to listen during the input (because Mrs X will just give me a private tutorial after anyway)
- not bothering to remember what to do (because Mrs X will be my secretary and remember the order of everything)
- not bothering to remember key words, algorithms, procedures or put some effort in (because the hard bit of eg. starting a sentence will be done by Mrs X)
Over the years, these thought processes become ingrained, habitual even. This is very difficult to change and I believe it is one of the reasons why, despite average or high KS2 SATs results, many children tank when they start secondary school (where there isn’t an adult always sitting at their table).
Of course, in not helping, you risk being branded cruel and uncaring, so you do your utmost to care and help others despite the fact that you know deep down the best thing is for said others to struggle a bit, maybe make a mistake or two, put the effort into helping themselves or risk the consequence of looking silly and then being reprimanded in some way. For the class teacher, this caring and helping role extends to caring for and helping the parents and wider family. Society expects it. Politicians win votes over it. In a similar way to that child arriving in year 7 unable to start a paragraph, many parents arrive with their 5 year olds already thinking….
- children develop pretty much everything naturally by themselves, you know, ‘when they’re ready’
- ‘professionals’ will be able to step in to help me when my child doesn’t miraculously develop x, y or z naturally
- children should be given choice and voice on every little thing right from the start
- children should only experience happiness and happy thoughts if they have any hope of developing into happy adults
The above bullet points are messages that are repeated over and over again right from the moment a woman walks into the doctor’s surgery to have her first pregnancy officially confirmed. She is weighed, her blood pressure taken and then The State Parenting Machine kicks in. The mother-to-be is told to listen to the ‘professionals’ over and above common sense words of wisdom from granny, aunty, even her own mother.
For the new parent who has not been parented well herself, this is an unmitigated disaster. What she needed was to be told that it is only the survival instincts which come naturally and that everything else must be purposefully taught, modelled and then practised to the point of automaticity. This is because parenting is something that you do, not simply become; it takes time and effort. Getting a child to bed at a decent time is a good example. Many parents are told and therefore think that at some point their baby will automatically regulate their own sleeping and then years later they find themselves embroiled in increasingly lengthy and annoyingly elaborate rituals that only the parents can do in order to get their child to go to sleep and stay asleep. Some parents just don’t bother in the first place, or give up along the way. The number of primary age children who disclose that they now just go to sleep whenever they want, are given an iPad in order to be placated, or just get up and go to their parents’ bed whenever! It doesn’t help that this bedtime shambles is compounded by that other misinterpreted message that feeling sad/bored/angry at any point is damaging to a child’s long term mental health (the ol’ ‘they must always be happy and excited’ mantra), so we don’t ever let our child just learn to go to sleep by themselves with a few nights of crying along the way or experience being told off for getting up and wandering about for spurious reasons. Years later, the parents are still knackered and never have time to themselves or to really love and care for each other. No wonder so many marriages and relationships implode by the time children are around 7 years old or when the third ‘marriage wrecker’ sibling arrives.
I think there is a chance that most developmental problems 5 year olds arrive with could be attributed to one, some or all of the four points listed above. The typical Western parent is indoctrinated into being a doormat right from the get-go and then we public sector ‘professionals’ have a go when they don’t do their job and when their children arrive at schools with all sorts of developmental delay. In fact, even nursery workers and reception year teachers are indoctrinated and forced to take this ideological approach because of the EYFS framework. Another great example: speech and language. Children need to hear the English language and then be expected to use it lots. It does not come naturally (I disagree with Geary, as you know). Putting medical factors such as cleft palate and glue ear aside, it can’t be that the reason so many children aren’t saying anything more than the occasional ‘no!’ (also because ‘choice and voice!’) when they start schools is that we’ve all suddenly de-evolved. In schools in areas of high deprivation where precious resources are being hoovered up in order to tackle speech and language delay, that means less time/resources for the teaching of phonics, which means whole cohorts are delayed in reading, which means fewer years to start to accumulate knowledge and vocabulary which means…….you get the picture. Further, delayed language also unhelpfully assists with the bad and yet rather fun habit of being rough in order to get one’s way. Perhaps the root cause of the behaviour crisis in schools goes back further than we think……
How could we really help parents? Many argue for more money for parents or for those Sure Start centres to be re-opened, but I think that the absence of Sure Start highlights just how much the responsibility of parenting has been willingly transferred to the state and to front line public sector workers in general. The logical conclusion to this trend is state boarding schools for all children in this country. Of course, in providing that, the country would go bankrupt and 100% of teachers would quit because the burden of 100% responsbility for the parenting AND education of all children would destroy their minds and completely exhaust their bodies. Part time working is not the answer here either.
Where do we draw the line? Has anyone in power got the guts to change the narrative? Instead of the 4 points above, parents need to be informed of the following:
- Parenting is something you do, purposefully. If you want your child to use a potty, hold a knife and fork properly and say please and thank you then you need to teach them and expect them to practise lots because pretty much nothing comes naturally*
- It is not the teacher’s job to teach your child to go to the toilet
- Make the decisions for your child and do not let them take over all conversations and decisions in the house. Learn to say no and mean it
- Your child will never be truly happy if he grows up expecting the world to provide constant fun and entertainment as well as thinking he has carte blanche to act out (sometimes violently) whenever he doesn’t want to do something or work hard for a reward
Who’s with me?
*I just had to put something here about the ability to sit still and focus because I saw a comment on twitter about it. Most people seem to believe that being able to sit still and focus is something that comes naturally and if a child cannot do that, then they need to be allowed to run around and do lots of different things until they’re ‘ready’ to learn to sit still and focus. Everyone seems surprised when these children become natural runners and flitters instead. I believe that just like everything else in life, in order to learn to sit still and focus, you need to be taught and then expected to practise sitting still and focusing lots in order to then become ‘good’ at it. Those children who are miraculously and naturally ‘good’ at sitting still and focusing are usually being taught and then regularly expected to sit still and focus at the dinner table and for their bedtime story by parents.