Is your children’s learning in school being disrupted?

An interesting report by OFSTED suggests that “low-level” classroom disruption is damaging learning in both primary and secondary schools. What is your experience? Do your children come home from school with accounts of low level disruption affecting their life in the classroom? What can you do as a parent to help your child stay focused on their learning, even if low level disruption does occur?

Discipline versus punishment

The recent case involving a famous American Footballer and how he chose to punish his 4-year-old son – by apparently hitting him with branches from a tree – raises the question of how we parent our children. All of us who are parents or who are involved with children play a vital role in their lives and whether we chose to discipline or punish children will have a major impact on their development and attitudes – both to themselves and to others.

The words punishment and discipline are often used interchangeably. However, they have very different meanings when it comes to teaching children appropriate behaviour. The word discipline means “to teach.” Discipline creates a learning process for the child. Children learn appropriate behaviours when a parent sets appropriate rules or limits, coupled with age-appropriate, non-violent, consequences which are enforced if the child breaks the rules or does not stick to the agreed limits (e.g. the time by which they must come home).

Discipline teaches children:

• That actions produce consequences

• Good behaviour results in positive consequences

• Bad behaviour results in negative consequences

• We are all held accountable for our choices

Parents who give punishments hope that their children will not repeat the bad behaviour. The reasoning behind punishment is that pain must be felt in order to be effective. The problem with punishment is that when the child continues to misbehave, the severity of the punishment must also increase.

Because the punishment, (example: spanking) is rarely connected to the actual misbehaviour (damaging school property) the child learns nothing about real life consequences.

Punishment teaches children:

• To be afraid or resent authority

• To lie

• How to do things without getting caught

Some consequences are natural and require little intervention from the parent. If a child refuses to eat supper, he will be hungry by bedtime. If the parent allows him to go to bed hungry he will have learned the consequence (cause and effect).

Issue: Child keeps leaving his jacket at school

Natural consequence: He waits for the bus the next morning without his jacket.

When there are no naturally occurring consequences, the imposed consequences must be enforceable, fit the offence, and be laid down firmly.

Sometimes imposed consequences might look like punishments, but when carried out without anger or threats and connected to the child’s misbehaviour, the consequences are clear and lessons are learned.

Parents following through and enforcing consequences while also showing empathy teaches children that even though they make mistakes they are still loved.

In applying or enforcing discipline, it is always vital that the child understands that it is their behaviour which we do not like and find unacceptable, rather than the child himself or herself.


Best bits of 1990s childhood

In a survey of 2,000 young parents for the Disney Channel, the childhood elements new mums and dads miss most are:

  • Making weekly cassette recordings of the Top 40
  • Having penpals
  • Waiting for photos to be developed
  • Having family TV nights on Saturdays – like Blind Date and Gladiators
  • Writing thank-you letters
  • Making firm plans you can’t change just by sending a couple of texts

If you were a child in the 1990s, what do you miss most from those times?

The importance of exercise to your child’s mood

With the football World Cup not long over, it is worth reflecting that research has shown that children involved in team sport have higher self-confidence, better self-esteem and are less likely to be depressed or anxious.

Caleb_Mendez_Soccer_09OPTAny exercise – provided it is age appropriate and your child enjoys it – is good for your child’s fitness. In the case of team sports, it has been shown that, in addition to the benefits of the physical activity, the sense of belonging that often comes with being part of a team can improve children’s general mood.

When choosing a club for your child, ask other parents about their experiences, go along to watch training or matches to see how the team or club is run and check out the team’s or club’s policies and procedures to ensure that they follow all appropriate good practice.

teamsportswebOPTBy taking these steps, you can better ensure that the club or team will be well-run and that your child will enjoy their sport and gain lots of benefits from it, including better fitness, better self esteem, stronger social skills, a developed sense of responsibility and a wider friendship group.

Of course, if your child is not into team sports, that’s fine – not all children are! Instead, there will be other avenues – perhaps artistic – through which they can gain similar benefits.


That’s bribery that is!

Quite often, parents can become confused about when a “treat” given to a child with the intention of encouraging them to behave well (say on a supermarket trip) is a “Bribe” and when it a “Reward”.

Also, some parents feel awkward about giving their children a reward as they feel as they are bribing or coercing their children into behaving well.

The difference between a Bribe and a Reward is that a Bribe is given to a child before they have done what they are required to do (e.g. stay sat quietly in the supermarket trolley until return to the car after the shop is completed), while a Reward is only given to the child after they have done what they were required or told to do to earn the reward (i.e. they would receive the reward on return to the car, provided they had sat quietly in the trolley all the way round).

Clearly, bribing children is not recommended, as they have no incentive to behave well if they are given what they want, before the time they have to behave well.

Managing Pester Power

“I can’t stand it when the children keep pestering me for things!”
This is something that most parents will have said – often perhaps!
So, how do we, as parents, stop or avoid children pestering us for things? The answer really is in our hands and, ultimately it’s down to what we do, rather than what our children do. Children they behave as they do – pestering us in this case – because of how we behave and because of what we do or don’t do as their parents.
Usually, those children who pester their parents do so because they know it works and that, if they keep at it long enough – moaning or repeatedly asking or pleading for something – they know they will get it! This is simply because they have learned this from experience; that if I keep on and on and on asking, mum or dad will give in after tenth or fifteenth time of me asking (children have a very good counter in their heads for remembering these things I think!).
The answer to stopping or avoiding children from pestering and getting into that habit lies, basically, in teaching them that it does not work! This involves parents:

  • Having clear rules about what children are and aren’t allowed to have or do in certain situations (ranging from when bedtime is to when they can have sweets, to going to friends’ houses to play, etc)
  • Thinking ahead and anticipating situations where children may ask for things (e.g. going into a supermarket and asking for sweets) and then deciding – ahead of time – what the child can or can’t have or do – and whether any “treat” depends on the child behaving in a certain way first (and so the treat becomes a reward which reinforces good behaviour rather than a bribe)
  • Being calm, in control and assertive
  • Most importantly, avoiding any pester power requires parents to choose their “battles” (consistent with their rules), thinking ahead and sticking to what they have said. If you have decided the answer is “no” (or “yes”) stick to that decision and demonstrate to your child that you are in control, not them, and that they are not able to change your mind simply by pestering you

Once children have learned that you mean what you say, they will stop pestering you and have more respect for and take more notice of what you say.
If, in the past, you have been susceptible to giving in to pester power (“Oh go on then, do what you want, just stop pestering me!”) and you decide to change your approach as described above, be ready for your children to test your changed approach and maybe even pester harder for quite a while!
If this happens, it will be necessary to stand form and ignore any pestering that does come your way, but explain to your child that if they continue pestering, there will be a logical consequence (such as the withdrawal of a privilege).
Through the above approach, you will change the situation from your child controlling you and having power over you, to you regaining control of the situations in which previously pester power has won out.