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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Parental support essential at home, in school

28th September 2011

The huge need children have for one-on-one attention while they learn is natural. It's the school environment, where so many children need to compete for the attention of just one adult, that's not natural.

Children's needs feel bothersome to parents and to teachers, not because the children are out of line, but because our society is out of line.

Policymakers and citizens haven't yet decided to give young children enough adult attention in school, and parents enough support at home, to meet the natural human needs for support and attention.

When schools are genuinely supportive to children, we'll look back at present class sizes, at the lack of support for teachers, and at the lack of services for children experiencing difficulties in learning, and think of conditions in the early twenty first century as primitive indeed.

Because of these conditions, almost every child will experience some difficult times in school. And almost every parent feels upset, helpless, and/or angry when these troubles surface.

Our strong love for our children and our frustration with a society that doesn't offer much support to its young people makes it hard to think clearly when our children are having a hard time. There are a few guiding principles that many people find helpful when they hit a hard patch.

It doesn't help to blame your child, yourself, or the teacher for the difficulty. Blame wastes energy and makes others feel worse than they already do. Because blame spreads bad feelings, it gets in the way of the fresh thinking and cooperation you'll need in order to build solutions. You aren't to blame.

You're working as hard as you know how that this difficult job of parenting. Your child isn't to blame. He's doing the best he can, and is carrying burdens he hasn't told you about yet, or doesn't know how to shed yet.

The teacher is not to blame. No matter who has made mistakes, the heart of the matter is the lack of support and assistance for everyone involved.

You, your child, and your child's teacher are all stressed because learning conditions aren't optimal. In most schools, human caring and teaching expertise is spread far too thin. Constructive action means to look for people's strengths, call on their good intentions, and perhaps to look for additional help.

First, listen to your child about the difficulty. He's feeling hurt and upset, and he can't solve the problem in that state. See if you can be warm and positive enough to help him have a big cry or a tantrum.

Children can often work through their feelings of victimization and come up with their own solutions to troubles at school, if they have the chance to offload the feelings in big, hard cries at home.

Let your child be in charge of the solutions. After your child has shed big feelings of upset, and after you've spent some time just being close to him without trying to solve the problem, ask him what he wants to do.

Listen carefully. There may be a role you can play in advocating for him with the teacher or helping him talk with his friends. But don't assume that because he brought his feelings to you, that he wants you to take charge of the situation. Many times, children can think of how they want to take charge after one or several good cries. If he wants you to approach a teacher or other students, listen well before you attempt to find solutions.

A teacher, principal, or student needs to have their side of the story heard before they will be able to change a viewpoint or cooperate toward a fresh solution. If things aren't working well, they feel badly about it, even if they're acting like they don't.

Fresh, workable behaviour comes only from a mind that's been freed a bit from its troubles by a good listener, a listener who cares about all the parties involved. Your thoughts are important, and working toward a solution is important. But listening well to the others involved is as vital as tilling hard-packed soil before you attempt to plant a new seed.

Problem solving goes better if parents find a listener, too. When our children meet with unfairness, we want to storm and rage until the threat to them is gone.

Someone listening to how angry or disappointed or exhausted we feel freshens our communication with our children, their friends, and their teachers. It helps us take a positive tack if and when we intervene.

In short, when our children meet trouble, we feel troubled too. To be good allies and problem solvers, we need someone to listen to us, perhaps again and again to how we feel and to the things we've tried.

Our problem-solving effectiveness is one hundred per cent improved if we decide to find a listener and let them hear our fears and our frustrations before we try to help.

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