How to keep your kids on task when you're homeschooling

Given where we are, I thought that I'd start a series of posts for those parents who are not teachers but who are trying to fill the roles of teachers while homeschooling. This is all from my book, Strictly Positive Teaching, which is on Amazon, and whose advice I never EVER thought I'd be quoting for parents!

It's a frustrating time for all parents of young children and teenagers, and I'm very grateful that my own children are past the age when I have to summon them to work and try to keep them on track when there are so many distractions. So please do not take any of this advice as telling you what to do with your children, or how much work to do with them, or trying to change your relationship with them. Parents are parents and teachers are teachers, and they have largely separate skills with some overlap.

But what I'm going to suggest are some techniques which you can use which you may find helpful.

So the first thing I'm going to talk about is keeping your kids on task. WITHOUT NAGGING.

The key to this is the quality of the attention you give your children in the home-school environment, and what you give attention for.

1. Neuro-Linguistic Programming - Use positive language

You know when your children are little and you don't want them to walk in the road? If you say "don't walk in the road", their little minds recognise the word 'road' and they gravitate to the road, completely missing the negative instruction at the beginning.

Instead, the instruction "Walk next to the wall", or "Hold Mummy's hand" will focus them on 'wall' or 'hand' and they are more likely to veer towards the wall or the hand.

So wherever possible frame any instructions or requests positively, focusing them forward on what you want them to do, rather than backwards on what you don't want them to do.

"Turn off the TV/laptop/iPad" becomes "Sit down at the table"

"Stop hitting your sister" becomes "Look at this picture"

"Stop asking so many questions" becomes "Is there any one thing you need before starting your work?"

2. Pay attention to what's done well, not on what's not

When your child was a baby, they had to cry to get what they wanted. You probably quickly got adept at understanding what the cry was signalling? Wet? Hungry? Windy? Tired? Only when you'd exhausted all the normal requests did you conclude that there was a problem. Later they progressed to nagging, pulling clothing, whining and then reverting to crying. It's what happens.

Now what they probably want, particularly in these days of lockdown and restlessness, is your attention, and possibly to distract you from what you should be doing, thereby distracting you also from the fact that they might not be doing what you want them to do. To do this, they may well decide to pester you or act up.

Many children, maybe even yours, adopt this tactic in a classroom setting. If they don't want to do what they are supposed to be doing - ie classwork - they will try to change the dialogue. Some of them do this by misbehaving, chatting to friends, starting irrelevant dialogues in the hope of taking the teacher off-track. Some young people are superhumanly good at this. Attention is the objective. They want to shift the attention of the teacher away from the work and onto something else, often themselves. Positive attention is the best, but if there is no positive attention available, then negative attention is better than no attention.

The key is simple. Only pay attention to desirable behaviour.

In a classroom setting, this means finding a way to deal with negative behaviour which is firm but invisible and inaudible. This can be done with a system of negative points which are displayed somewhere without comment, and positive points which are celebrated. If a child is attention-seeking, they will soon realise that the only way they can get attention is by doing the right thing.

So as soon as your child does something which you want them to do, narrate it and reward it with attention.

"Well done for turning off the TV before I asked you again!"

"You're sitting down ready for work. That's great!"

"Have you already written the first paragraph/done the first sum/started your drawing/read that page? Wow!"

3. Link the three great things they've done to the next thing to do.

You may remember this as "three stars and a wish". It still works.

"You've turned off the TV, sat down at the table and opened your book already. Great. Now I can't wait to see what your first paragraph looks like!"

"You've written the title, underlined it and written your first paragraph! That's amazing. I wonder if you can develop that first thought in a second paragraph."

"I can't believe you've managed to do your Art, History and Science work already. Now do you feel up to tackling your sums after a biscuit?"

These are very silly examples, but you'll find your own way.

Just remember -

1) use positive language, and

2) give positive attention for positives

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