“What children are learning now is how we deal with a crisis\” Gabbie Stroud, teacher and author.
I realise that these thoughts are likely coming a little bit late, now that we are starting term 2 here in NSW. But today, I am finally getting to catch up on some TV, including a very civil and common sense episode of Q and A, and I have found myself inspired by Gabbie Stroud discussing her thoughts about the current situation where children are schooling from home, and how we need to stop and think about what really matters.
Over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the resilience and adaptability of the children and families with whom I work. I have a number of families who have been telling me that they have enjoyed the time together at home to reconnect, and to evaluate what is important for them. That’s not to say it’s an easy road, and that said families’ realisations have come easily – it’s been really hard. But we humans can never go through a tough experience and emerge on the other side unchanged. In my work as an RDI Consultant, I am always talking about how growth is borne from challenge.
On the other hand, the challenges that families have shared are not unexpected. Having children at home who need help or even constant attention to complete schoolwork, is not normally the primary role that falls to a parent. Teaching and parenting are simply different jobs. Yet, many have been feeling the pressure to be both teacher and parent during this home learning time. And it’s in these moments of quite extreme stress and anxiety that it’s so hard to step back, pause, and evaluate what one is doing.
I really responded the point that Gabbie made – “rather than focusing on what works, let’s focus on what matters”. I feel quite sure that if I were to ask any teacher if they would rather have the children doing their work or feeling safe and happy, their response would definitely be that they would rather the latter. The feeling of safety, security and connection to caregivers is a well known foundation to neural development. We have known this for a long time. So, in times like this where there is anxiety and uncertainty in the air, working on maintaining a child’s feelings of safety, security and connection are going to be even more important. It makes sense that this could then be a good place to start. Clearly, it need not be an either/or; but a good argument could be made for working on security and connection as the primary focus, and then whatever schoolwork your child/children have capacity to complete would then naturally be secondary. Certainly, it would be easier to get this work done if the safety and security needs of your child are met first.
I don’t always feel good about handing out strategies and advice in a forum like a blog post (though I am told that this is often what readers seek). Only because I feel like it can be a bit reductive, and not accounting for the huge differences that every child and family brings to the table. What works for you might not work for your neighbour or your cousin, and so on. If I am to give anything on this blog, I would prefer it to be some reference points for you to consider.
What matters to you and your family? Let the answer to this be what guides you, your priorities and your decisions. Perhaps you need to carve out a dedicated work space in your house that you keep very clean and organised, or perhaps you need to let the housework go a little and focus on spending time on things other than tidying, ironing (insert domestic tasks that seem annoying and unending here). Perhaps you need to set up a schedule that you stick to everyday, or perhaps you need flexibility to take a barometer of where you are all at from day to day and work from there. Whatever it is, deciding what matters most to you first can guide your actions. But the trick with this will be understanding that others may not agree with what you are doing, and may give you contrary advice, or worse – judgement! Stay strong in your actions and thinking, because you are the one who knows best about what works for your family, and an outsider will never know this as well as you.
Zooming out to take in the big picture, there is an opportunity here that we can use to teach kids something they might not otherwise learn. Children are looking to their parents and primary models to learn how to respond, process and cope with the stress that comes from sudden upheaval. So, on the one hand, there’s the learning that can come from the work sent home from teachers (not to take away from this, as it is genuinely important that kids keep up with their literacy, numeracy, and other lessons). But on the other hand, what children are seeing from you right now is going to shape how they cope well into their adult lives. There is an opportunity here to model being the kind of adult you hope your children will one day become. Demonstrating the values you want your children to have. Coping and rolling with the punches the way you want them to do when they have grown and left your nest. These things are in many ways, more important than the other work that they will return to once school is back in session. This is not such an easy thing to do, and again, how you go about setting the stage for this is going to be different to how other parents would. But by taking some time to think about what your values are, and what they have become in these times, and thinking about how you embody these values to model them for your child, you can use this unique opportunity to come out the other side more connected than ever. This seems like a good use of your time together.
Even if this is not the advice and easily implemented strategies you were looking for, I hope that these thinking points will give you some pause, and that you can give yourself permission to drop some of the things you’ve been holding on to that you think perhaps don’t really matter. Some parts of Corona-times will be temporary, but then again, some parts of this you might choose to take with you in to the future!