So, this parenting thing. Anyone mastered it yet?
A few weeks back we got the note home from school that every parent fears: “Please come in for a chat about your child’s behaviour in class.” Jack is a gorgeous eight-year-old: kind, funny, affectionate and busy.
He asks great questions like “Do ladies wake up pregnant, or do they get pregnant in the morning?” (Our answer for that one was “Both”.)
Problem is, he’s not really a natural scholar (takes after his Dad). And instead of doing his work this year, he’s been busily making a name for himself as the class clown. It was one of those all-too-frequent moments when you realise parenting should also be known as “muddling-through-with-absolutely-no-idea-what-you’re-doing”.
My husband Max and I like to think we’re reasonably intelligent adults, with happy and functional childhood experiences helping to inform our own smart decisions about parenting.
When Jack and his twin brother Harry started Grade 3 this year, we thought it was reasonable to let them stay up until 8pm.
Because I work from home and the computer is always on, I was lingering at my desk and leaving it later and later to get the dinner started – often it was after 7pm before we all sat down to eat.
And because My Kitchen Rules was on and we love a family cuddle on the couch, we thought it was fair to let them watch TV until 8pm, before putting them straight into bed with lights out.
None of this mega-overstimulation was a problem for Harry. He’d climb into bed at 8pm and be counting sheep before the door was closed.
But for Jack, a restless sleeper at the best of times, it was a perfect storm. More often than not he was still lying awake when we went to bed at 9.30.
Thankfully he’s got a sensational, experienced teacher who read the signs and pushed the emergency stop button.
Jack was getting increasingly exhausted in class, falling behind in his work and mucking around instead of facing up to the fact that he had so much to do to catch up. Some pages of his work books were completely empty – not a single word written in an entire lesson.
Here’s the bit that makes me feel really guilty: Jack had actually told me a couple of times, when I went into his room to find him still awake at 9.30pm, that he was worried about his schoolwork. I’d dismissed it with something like “you’ll be alright love – just try your hardest”.
He was certainly trying his hardest ... to tell me things weren’t working. Poor little man.
So, how have we fixed it?
At home, I try to turn off my computer at 5pm to have dinner on the table before 6.15.
The boys are allowed to stay up until 7.30pm, then it’s brushing teeth and into bed for half an hour of reading and lights out at 8pm. (Jack has always asked for his door to be left open and I have always refused, but now I leave it open and that also seems to work much better for him.)
At school, his lovely teacher Mrs Costello made Jack the stopwatch monitor. Apparently, research shows that young boys should be able to concentrate for as many minutes as their age, plus two (i.e. for Jack that’s 8 + 2 = 10 minutes).
The kids now have two minutes to get their pencils and work books organised at the start of class, then the stopwatch goes on and they work in blocks of 10 minutes. After 10 minutes they can have a quick stretch and a chit chat, then it’s back down to work for another 10 minutes.
I also initially got Jack to bring home any work he hadn’t completed, and we got him back up to date after a few days of homework.
And, thankfully, it’s worked a treat. Jack’s attitude to schoolwork has completely turned around.
He’s less tired – and as a result he’s sleeping better. (Funny how that works with kids, isn’t it?)
So, Parental Stuff-up # 963 has been identified and averted.
Can’t imagine the mess we’ll make of their teenage years.
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