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Monday, October 27, 2014

Help Your Child Work Independently

“My child can do no work unless I am next to him!”

“Why can’t my child do work properly without me?!”

This realization dawns on many parents after many years of sitting with their little children to get homework done. Then comes the frustration of weaning the children away from parental presence and parental supervision.

So, how does this reliance develop? What can be done to prevent this reliance? These are the questions this article will attempt to answer.

How Does This Reliance Develop?
Psychological Dependence is defined “as an emotional need for a drug or substance that has no underlying physical need. For example, people who stop smoking recover physically in a short time. The emotional need for nicotine, however, is much more difficult to overcome. They continually think they need the nicotine to stay calm even though there is no physical need. The drug for the addict is similar to what a security blanket would be for a child (or some adults).” This definition was taken from HERE.

Of course, a parent is not a drug nor a substance. A parent is more like a security blanket, especially for a child faced with stacks and stacks of unpleasant homework.

The seeds of a dependency are sown in Primary 1. In Primary 1, parents think nothing of sitting next to their children to get homework done. In Primary 1 (or below) parents are there to ensure that the little tots don’t get up and run about. This fulfills a physical need. It also fulfills an emotional need. Just like in nicotine addiction, parental presence fulfills a physical need and an emotional need.

Older children are quite capable of sitting still. They don’t need parents to ensure they physically sit down. However, the emotional need for the parent’s physical presence does not go away. This is like a rehabilitated smoker no longer physically dependent on nicotine, but who still experiences an emotional need to hold a cigarette.

It just feels so right to be holding that cigarette between the lips or fingers. It just feels so right to have Mommy sitting next to me when I do my homework. It feels wrong when Mommy isn’t there. I feel restless and fidgety… like an ex-smoker without a cigarette in hand.

What Can Be Done To Prevent This Reliance?

Do not sit next to your child from Day 1 in Primary 1.

Seat your child face to a wall. Ensure there are no distracting movements to the left and right of the child’s visual field. Ensure that there are no distracting noises. The child is in a sort of bubble of his own.

Sit 3m to 5m BEHIND your child. Make yourself comfortable. Read your iPad. Watch Youtube. Work on your laptop. Cut your carrots. Do your knitting or sewing.

Your child cannot see you. You can see your child. When you do this, you remove yourself from the child’s visual field. Yet, you are still there to ensure that the child does his work diligently. Your child does not have a chance to get used to SEEING you next to him.

This is a precursor to working independently.

For the little ones who cannot focus for long periods, give them short feedback loops: enough work to last 5 minutes. Then, require them to bring it over to show you. Praise them and send them back for the next loop. DO NOT walk over to where they are. They walk over to you. There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly, physical movement (i.e., walking to you) is a welcome relief to a child facing a mound of work. Secondly, you must always stay outside their visual field.

Gradually, as your children grow older and better able to physically sit still, you expand the envelope of time. Give them work that lasts 10 minutes before they come and show you. Lengthen that to 15 minutes… and eventually to an hour. Please note that I did not write “Tell the child to work for 5 minutes or 10 minutes or an hour.” I wrote “Give them work that lasts 10 minutes… 5 minutes… an hour.” See the table below for examples of such work…

5 minutes
Come and show me after every 1 sum.
10 minutes
Come and show me after every 2 sums.
15 minutes
Come and show me after every 3 sums.
20 minutes
Come and show me after every 4 sums.

Be the time your child has been trained to focus for an hour (without you in sight), there are high chances that some time within that hour, the child is too engrossed in his task to feel your presence behind him.

If you move quietly, you might be able to scoot off to the kitchen to get yourself a vodka martini, and then come back. Your child might not even know. If he does know, he is not focusing deeply enough. In that case, give your child a pair of earphones that will play soft ambient music into his ears. This will really ensure that your child has no physical way to detect your presence in the room.

In short, you can detect your child’s presence. Your child has no way to detect your presence, and thus, will never grow reliant on it.

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