Lessons in listening and sharing responsibility

Tes Editorial

Over the past five years, 2,000 East Renfrewshire parents have been attending courses on practical parenting skills - including scenarios and case studies involving school and homework - run by the council's educational psychologists. They do not feel patronised.

"We are looking at issues important for parents and children, not just focusing on individuals with problems," says senior educational psychologist Roslyn Redpath. "We want to prevent problems and remove barriers to learning.

"Communication is vital. Parents and teachers lead busy lives, and the one thing we don't do well when we're short of time is listen to one another - whether it's parents and teachers, parents and children, or teachers and children."

A key message of the course is that children thrive on responsibility. "If they experience success and are given responsibility at home, they bring that into school with them," says Ms Redpath.

"They're more likely to put themselves forward, and to look for opportunities to do things in school. That increased confidence and motivation has a big impact on educational attainment."

East Renfrewshire parents find the course interesting and accessible, valuing the blend of instruction and discussion, and the opportunity to share experiences and ideas with other parents.

Jean Hepburn is the mother of a boy at primary school. "It was a very positive experience and I plan to go on it again. The main things I took from the course were to give my son more responsibility, to set aside time to listen to him - we have a meeting now to discuss things every Sunday - and to look out for the good things he does, not just the bad."

Patricia Broadley says the course has made a big difference to her. "With three young children aged five to six, I used to feel it was easier for me to do everything but that meant I was always rushing around. Since taking the course I've learned to give the kids more responsibility, for organising themselves, getting themselves dressed and ready for school. It has made life a lot easier for me and they love it."

Patricia McKinnon, mother of a five-year-old boy, says that school discipline involving protracted forms of punishment can make a parent's job more difficult. "He got into trouble once and was told by the assistant head to think about it and come back the next day. He couldn't cope with that, so he decided he wasn't going to school.

"It is very stressful if your only contact with school is when there are problems. Because it's so important, you feel quite emotional. You imagine the teachers saying 'No wonder the kid is difficult. Look at her', and you go away completely worn out by the experience.

"The most important lesson I learned from the course was to listen, really listen.

"The other morning my son said he didn't want to get up for school. So I sat on his bed and asked what he did and who he sat with in class, and he began chatting to me. When I got up and went for breakfast he happily followed, still chatting.

"It has to be genuine, though. If you're really busy you'll maybe go 'Oh yes, that's great'. But kids can spot the difference, no bother. If you really mean it, you can see the big smile light up their faces."

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