How can you find out how your child truly feels about school?
WORDS SUE-ANN BAUMGÄRTEL
School. It’s incredible how one little word can inspire such conflicting reactions from both adults and children. Looking back at our own personal experiences at school, we have a sea of memories. From the daily grind of getting up at the same time, sitting at a desk waiting for the recess bell to ring… Some of us might have been lucky enough to have had a supportive and inspiring teacher, and a steady circle of friends, whilst others might have suffered the traumas of bullying or simply not fitting in. Much of our experience as school children will colour what we would like for our children during their journey through school.
Despite a cultural pressure of academic excellence and performance, what all parents ultimately want, is for their child to be happy. From the age of four, the hours spent in kindergarten and school will represent a significant percentage of a child’s daily routine, and these hours will only increase the older the child gets. It is natural to have questions about how your child is doing at school. Does she like her teacher? Does she have a best friend? What are her favourite subjects? Who does she sit next to? Short of being a fly on the wall in the classroom, there are some ways of keeping up with your child’s school life, but at the same time, maintaining a healthy sense of distance to allow your child to mature and grow at her own pace.
Talk to the Teacher
A primary teacher is the main source of influence for many school children. He or she will be spending many hours with your child over several years, so make it your responsibility to get acquainted. If you have any worries about your child or questions regarding your child’s behaviour at school, do not hesitate to get in touch. If you have specific concerns, such as change of behaviour or difficulty with homework, let the teacher know.
Most teachers will understand that parents and pupil come together in a single package. Both you and the teacher will have the same goal in mind, which is the child’s progress and development. Without seeming pushy or overbearing, keep the communication links between you and the teacher open and objective. You are both, technically at least, on the same team.
Volunteer at School
If time allows, volunteer to help out at your kid’s school. Unlike older teenagers, younger kids probably quite like the specialness of having mummy helping out in school. School trips, school events and projects will always benefit from an extra pair of hands, and it gives you a chance to see how your child’s classmates interact with each other.
Talk to Your Child
This sounds a lot simpler than it really is. If you ask your child how their day at school straight after pickup, don’t be surprised if you get a tired “alright” as your answer. Whether your optimal chat time is after her shower, just before bed, or during dinner, make it a priority to catch up with your child. It needn’t be school related – just how her day went, what she got up to with her friends. Rather than asking directly about what she did in school, try rephrasing the question into something more specific, such as “What did you do during the break today?” or “What did you get for lunch today?” Rather than asking about school, ask if they did anything interesting that day. Don’t expect certain answers that only serve to satisfy your parental concern. Listen to your child, her tone of voice, her choice of words, and most importantly, her silences. Share in her positive experiences, but do not brush aside any negativity or indifference concerning school. If she finds school boring, sympathise with her but also provide her with an objective view of her situation. It’s easier to talk about a positive experience than it is to discuss a negative one. Most kids will lack the necessary vocabulary to deal with the nuances of a negative experience, and will most likely just label it dumb, stupid or boring. Some kids might want to test their parents, by demonstrating a cool indifference to school, even though they might actually really enjoy being at school. School is not all roses and unicorns, and your child will no doubt encounter many difficult trials and situations.
By keeping your communication channels open and non-judgemental, your child will be more likely to respond positively to your support and advice.
Knowing who your child’s friends are is also vital to knowing how your child socialises at school. Encourage your child to invite them over for play dates. It also gives you an opportunity to meet other mums from the same school.
Every child is different. Even if you have brought up all six of your babies, in the same manner, you will still be mum to six “only children”. Each child deals with change and challenges differently. As school children, your child not only has to deal with the ebb and flow of a social setting but also with the changes happening within herself. A studious and sociable first grader can morph into a sullen third grader just as quickly as a child who is labelled “slow and unable to concentrate” can transform into a curious and questioning student. Be an observant parent. If your child is cooperative about getting ready for school, chances are she is pretty chilled about the whole school thing. An openness and readiness to talk about friends and experiences – both good and bad – shows a pretty well-balanced child.
However, if your child shows a pattern of negativity and sullenness regarding school, or an actual physical ailment, then these should be taken seriously. Your child is probably unable to express her negative emotions verbally and is struggling to cope with them. Her behaviour might be school related. From having no friends to play with in recess time to bullying, your child’s concerns and worries must be acknowledged and taken seriously. Your child might not like her teacher, but such is the reality of life. You are there to help your child deal with difficulties, not to remove the difficulty itself. However, if you know or suspect that your child is being bullied, report this straight away to the school. A strained and troubled family life might also spill over into school life, so keep teachers informed of any difficult family situations.
If your child voices worry about the pressure of schoolwork, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to put all those extra-curricular activities on hold for the moment.
As your child’s daily input of learning, experiences and social interactions grow and develop, your role as the main source of influence and interaction will be compromised. The dynamics of how and what your child learns and experiences is no longer solely under your control. However, this loss of control can be and should be, replaced by communication – communication with the teacher, the school and above all, better communication with your child.