All parents appreciate advice on how to make the new school year a little easier. Our kids may spend around six hours a day in the classroom, but friendship dramas, bad behaviour and the inevitable homework struggles come home with them when the bell rings.
One headmaster, Tom Sherrington of Highbury Grove School in north London, tried a different tack this year. Instead of giving tips to parents, he directed his advice at teachers. But even though his essay was written to help new teachers manage a classroom, it’s actually something every parent would benefit from reading.
Based on the work of Australian teaching guru Bill Rogers, which he credits with helping him get rid of the “various teaching atrocities” of his early teaching days, Sherrington’s blog post is the best back-to-school advice we’ve read this year — for both teachers and parents. Here are our top take-away tips.
1. Use positive language
Kids don’t respond to criticism any better than adults do. By focusing on a child’s positive qualities and giving constructive feedback, we’re more likely to get them to behave, says Sherrington. For example, instead of saying, “Stop annoying your brother”, try something more positive, such as “I’d really like you to treat your brother with kindness”. Sherrington also suggests saying “thank you” to kids when they do respond well, and as often as possible, a tactic known as “modelling”.
2. Offer choices
Again, it’s about language. Throwing “do what I say” commands at kids without establishing boundaries and outlining consequences isn’t enough. If you give a child a clear choice using the “when… then” statement, they feel as if they are in control of their decisions and know what’s expected of them. For example, you might say to your kid, “When you’ve finished tidying your room, then you can play on your tablet for 30 minutes”.
3. Forget always trying to have the last word
It’s natural to want to have the last word, especially when you’re dealing with a belligerent child. But Sherrington suggests using the power of partial agreement, a conflict resolution strategy that acknowledges you may be wrong or that you can’t determine who is “right” and who is “wrong” because you don’t know all the facts. So if your child is messing about instead of doing their homework, try saying, “Maybe you were writing your sentences, but I’d really like you to concentrate and get it finished”.
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4. Don’t forget you’re the adult
The best piece of advice from Sherrington is simple: Remember who the grown-up is. It’s about striking a balance between being an overly emotional, stressed teacher (or parent) who struggles to assert authority and one who is arrogant and tyrannical. If you can be assertive without being despotic, confident without being arrogant, show your child you’re in control without acting as if you’re perfect, then life at school and at home might be a whole lot easier.
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