Many parents find themselves in a daily battle with their little ones over reading and writing homework. It seems like no matter how much you try to correct your kids they just don’t seem to be improving and they don’t appear to want to learn. Homework often ends up in a screaming match or at least a battle of wills.
Let me tell you about a research study that I read recently. It was about kids with really bad handwriting. They took a group of kids with terrible writing and divided them into two groups – one group got the usual teacher feedback of red lines through their work, admonitions, and pleas to try harder. With the other group, the teachers were told to ONLY focus on what the kids did right – so to underline their good words and praise them for these, to point out what they had done well – even if all they could find was one letter that was formed nicely the teacher would tell the child – look at that “a” over there, now that is a beautiful “a”. They were not to comment AT ALL on their poor performance. Within two weeks the group with positive feedback had improved by 100% and the other group had degenerated.
So the moral of the story is this… Kids cannot learn under stressful situations (such as a shouting or even disapproving parent). When we are stressed, the blood vessels to our prefrontal cortex (the part of our brain used for thinking, problem solving and learning) constrict and all the blood is redirected to our hindbrains (which are purely for fight and flight reflexes). So a child who is shouted at literally CANNOT learn. It is impossible. They don’t even have enough blood in the part of their brain necessary for learning. In order for your kids to improve in reading and writing what they needs most is not extra practice or more instruction or help, but a better learning environment. 90% of reading ability is not skill but confidence. The kids who read and write well are the ones who believe that they can.
As a parent, you need to focus on the relationship with your child – on who your child is as a person, not on what he/she can do. We will all have areas of strength and weakness, but what everyone wants most is to be heard and understood.
So next time you sit down with your little one to work on homework, think about what he/she might be going through. Homework may have become something that their brain automatically associates with stress and so they’re stressed before you even get going which makes them more likely to get it wrong. Discuss this with your children. Tell them that you realise they must be stressed about it and it isn’t easy to learn to read and write, particularly at a young age. Apologise for shouting in the past and let them know that you’re human and also lose your temper and get frustrated, but that you’re going to try to do better, just like them.
Then take some time for both of you to do some stress-relieving exercises –do some breathing or visualisation, go for a short walk, have a cup of chamomile tea, and make sure you’re both feeling relaxed to start.
Your child WILL learn to read and write, but at what cost. Let them learn a little more slowly if necessary, in their own time, and focus on caring about your child and what he/she is going through. Studies show that whether a child learns to read at age 4 or age 9, their reading and comprehension levels by age 11 are exactly the same. There really is no rush, other than the unnecessary pressure that the school may be putting on them. A child who learns slowly, but with love, care and confidence will go on to become an adult who loves reading. One who learns under stress will always associate reading with pain and this is much more likely to squash their overall educational achievements in the long run.
And be gentle and kind to yourself too – new parenting doesn’t happen overnight and you will find times when you have other things on your mind and your stress levels are higher and you crack. This is normal. Stop. Take a few deep breaths. And apologise. Children learn a lot from our mistakes and how we handle them!