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Helping with your child’s learning: What NOT to do.

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There are two types of knowledge: one, we know of something; two, we know where to find it. Often, we’re so focused on our children doing well at school and obsessed with metrics like grades and test results that we forget about the second. School is just about as much as ensuring our children learn how to learn as it is about what they learn. Adopting this mentality at home will also serve as a guide for us for how we can help our children, not just in school and at university, but with how they can utilise learning throughout their lives.

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Don’t do the work for them

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It is very easy to be tempted into completing just one math problem or a small art sketch but it is important that you never do the work for your child. Learning where to find information and how to acquire knowledge about a certain topic is a key skill and it’s one they won’t develop if their parents do it for them every time. You can look for the information together or you can show them how to do it and they can do it alongside you.

Taking the lead may also disrupt your child’s preferred way of learning, which only they know best (and which they are still establishing for themselves). This approach might also not be very helpful because there might be a preferred method that the school might expect them to use to solve certain problems and these might not be the methods that you learned when you were in school. To avoid further confusing them and ensure that they learn the independent learning skills they’ll need for life, it is better to let them take the lead of their own learning. If you are worried that your child may not know exactly what it is that they are expected to know, then it might be worthwhile to arrange a discussion together with the school.

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Don’t equate learning achievements with grade results

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Don’t measure your child’s learning solely by grades because not only does that decrease the value of the education but it also devalues the achievement. There are many ways to determine how a child is doing at school, such as measuring progress or even how much they are enjoying the subject.

Metrics like enjoyment may translate into progress in the long term. In addition, learning is going to be a lifelong process so it is important that they grow to enjoy it and learn for themselves without the external validation that grades may provide.

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Don’t leave conversations about exams and expectations until the end

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Exams are difficult and no-one likes doing them, but they are an unavoidable part of life and have to be done – just as it’s necessary to have a conversation about them. Don’t be tempted to assume that your child knows what it is that you are expecting of them. Don’t just say that you ‘want them to do well’ – have a discussion together about what this looks like and how it will be measured to you both. Is it a set of grades? Will, you set a benchmark for the next exam together and then talk about how it went afterwards, whether better or worse than expected?

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Don’t leave them to it

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This seems like a good option especially if we think that our children are capable or might find our interference a nuisance. Even the most capable students need some help sometimes and that help may not even be about a complex algebraic equation but a few words of encouragement. There are little things which don’t require a wealth of knowledge that you can do to assist their learning. You can ask them to explain to you ‘as a layman’ what they have learnt in school or you can test them using question-answer flashcards.

This can be a good way for them to break up their revision during exam periods and ensure contact with the family – preventing long periods of isolation for revision.

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Don’t compare them to others

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Probably the most important, but also the easiest to fall prey to. It is natural to feel competitive and the belief that our child is the best (or should be better than others) can become a vicious cycle of comparison.

Often, it’s meant with the best of intentions, can help us to ascertain whether they are performing as they should, and may even appear to work as a motivating tool. But the negative effects of comparing your child to others – from lowering their self-esteem to making them withdraw – can be detrimental to not only their performance, but to their relationship with you, and other siblings that you may be comparing them with.

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