Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
The continuing presence of COVID-19 has for the most part, defeated attempts around the country to open schools for traditional classroom teaching and learning. Many schools have resorted to split schedules consisting of two days a week of in-classroom attendance and the balance of time remote learning on-line at home.
This change in education means that children are learning not only subject matter, but how to learn in new ways. Parents, too, have had to participate in their children’s education in new ways, and are now learning themselves how they can help their children learn how to learn in new ways.
Parents and children have had various reactions to the involvement of parents in their new way of learning. As in all things related to child care the responsibility always seems to fall back on the mother. In the present era of many mothers working outside the home and the family dependent on her income, the conflict mothers are now experiencing creates increased stress in an already stressful time.
Job requirements do not match children’s split schedules meaning children at home require an adult presence. Beyond that basic fact, mothers feel that children’s online work requires their supervision not only to make sure they stick to their school work but also to provide help in the absence of a teacher.
Parents substituting for teachers in supervising their children’s online learning raises many of the issues that typically arise in parent/child relationships. In important ways parents are teachers in their children’s development, teaching expectable behavior and supporting emerging skills. Teaching as a parent, however, brings with it the emotional content of parental investment and feeling of responsibility for outcome.
Some of the issues that may emerge when parents become teachers of academic material, were reflected by a young grade school student in descriptions of her former classroom teacher. “She’s nice. She doesn’t yell and doesn’t get mad. The work is hard but the teacher is going at the right pace.” Her focus on the importance of “doesn’t yell, doesn’t get mad” is striking.
There is a similarity here to children’s relationship with their parents. When parents are critical or express disapproval of them, children invariably experience this as yelling or being yelled at. This appears to reflect the tone of voice or facial expression rather than sound level or what is usually meant by yelling.
This speaks to another point, however, in which there may also be a similarity between teachers and parents. This has to do with communicating disapproval or correcting behavior without conveying rejection of the child. This is a challenge for some teachers as well as parents. The challenge for both is how to be constructive in conveying disapproval and/or corrections so that they can be heard.
Children often don’t make the connection between mastering something and the work it takes to get there. They think they should know something without having learned it. What they miss is the process of learning – that knowing something or being able to do something is the result of a process which may go smoothly but often has some bumps. If they hit a bump they may too quickly think that means they can’t learn it, or do it. As parents, we too, may at times forget that learning is a process.
The connection between feelings, behavior, and learning is a strong one. If a teacher – now a parent – “doesn’t get mad or yell,” an atmosphere is created that is conducive to learning. This may be more important for parents to know than the online academic material.
Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D., has written for Parents Magazine, Fox.com, Redbook, Disney online and PBS Parents, as well as other publications. She has appeared on PBS, ABC, Fox TV and other networks. Dr. Heffner is the author of “Goodenoughmothering: The Best of the Blog,” as well as “Mothering: The Emotional Experience of Motherhood after Freud and Feminism.” She is a psychotherapist and parent educator in private practice, as well as a senior lecturer of education in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Heffner was a co-founder and served as director of the Nursery School Treatment Center at Payne Whitney Clinic, New York Hospital. And she blogs at goodenoughmothering.com.