Educator, Administrator, Writer, Mom to 4, Guest Contributor to the Maileg Blog
One of the things that most parents struggle with is getting their young child (well, any child really) to do what you want them to do. Independence is a very important part of healthy growth and development, and this means that when we dictate something to a child, most are hard-wired to resist. But they are also social beings, which means that they want to belong. At school, that desire to belong makes them more inclined to do what the group is doing. This makes it imminently easier for teachers to keep students on schedule. (It is not easy, mind you, just easi-er!) The children are like currents in a stream; they will flow and eddy and swirl in different directions stirring up a bit of chaos as they go. With careful tending of the stream bed itself, giving it the right shape by removing obstacles, old branches, and rocks, the teachers smooth out the stream bed so that these little currents come together and flow as one. This takes time and patience. The good teacher observes each little current and obstacle and tends it carefully to bring them all together. Before they know it, the children are cheerfully bubbling along all day long, productive and engaged.
But at home, it can be very difficult to get them to do what we want them to do when we want them to do it. There are a few reasons for this. At home, many of us don’t have the luxury of all flowing in the same direction. We can’t shape the stream bed in the same way - the obstacles can’t all be removed. We have to tend to younger or older siblings, work responsibilities, meals and shopping, and possibly even an illness. These currents will continue to pull us, and therefore our child, into other directions. The child, oriented as they are for connections, will be attuned to the ways that we are pulled into other currents and bumped into obstacles. This will make it harder for them, and us, to find that easy and compelling flow.
A classroom teacher, in elementary school, may spend the first month or more creating a classroom culture, developing the routines, and helping the children internalize these. A month! So parents, at home, please be patient with yourselves and with your children. For the first month at school, the routines are the school work. During this sudden transition, new routines need to be developed before the academic work can begin in earnest. This is natural, and just like what happens in school every September. Creating this new way of doing school and work will take time.
Where should you start? Here are some things to keep in mind while you find your way.
As much as children crave independence, children are naturally inclined to do things with their parents. Leverage both of these to help them to become productive and engaged. Your activities are a powerful pull on them and draw them into doing the right things at the right time.
This is one of the reasons young children love to help. During this time together at home, invite your child to participate in daily routines with you. Routines bring the currents together. Whether it is food preparation (with child-safe kitchen tools) or laundry, working together is one way to help your child feel purposeful. Working alongside you helps your child to organize their own considerable energies. It also helps their energies to fall in with yours, creating a gentle flow that can carry them along in the right direction. This way, when you need to do your own work it will be natural for them to settle in and do theirs. Consider arranging your workspace so that you can work together, just as you would cook or fold laundry together. The energy that you put into your work will help them to direct their energy the same way.
In addition to cultivating your stream bed by working together, schedules and calendars are excellent ways to reinforce routines and keep things flowing smoothly. They give your children the independence they need. Just as you hold their energy and carry it along when you work together, a schedule made together extends that momentum. It provides structure and motivation when you are not available. When my daughter was three, I made a weekly calendar with a picture for each of her various activities. She would check the calendar each morning, and look forward to the activities the day ahead had to offer. As she got older the daily schedule expanded from library storytime or playgroup to include academic subjects and chores. It is a skill that helped her manage high school and college applications. Now, as we all learn how to work from home together, it is a great time to teach a child of any age to create a schedule.
Knowing what is ahead gives a child a greater sense of control. It makes it less likely that they will resist when the time comes and helps your child to find the rhythm. Make a weekly calendar together. For young children, you can draw or use stickers to create a weekly calendar they can read themselves. Although you may have a calendar from school printed out and hanging on the frig, if your child creates his or her own, it will become a friend. For preschool children, you can draw symbols and add stickers. Elementary-aged children can draw the grid; if they handwrite and even color-code the schedule, the process will make a stronger impression. The multi-sensory creation of a schedule will help your child to internalize it.
Empower your child by making a daily schedule each morning. Children enjoy making decisions. Channel this energy; invite him or her to make a list of the things they are excited to do. Put any online live classes on the schedule. As you go, balance the musts with the wants and create a schedule that gives them something to look forward to. The schedule will be an extension of your support, and the combined force of your work together and apart will help your child’s current to join your own. With observation, patience, and careful tending your family will create that cheerfully bubbling stream that will carry you all, more or less, in the same direction each day.