One of our main roles as parents is to teach our children know-hows: how to walk, how to talk, how to ride a bicycle, how to be polite, etc. We know that teachers are experts in education, rigorously trained and/or experienced, so we mainly rely on school to teach our kids academic knowledge. However, to prepare for an interview, complete any challenging homework or help with the French curriculum, you probably had to sit and work with your children at some point and you may have experienced how challenging and frustrating that part of parenting could be!
To understand why it is so difficult to transfer knowledge and skills to our own children, whatever their age, we have seeked advice from Dr Christine Anzieu-Premmereur, French Psychologist and Professor in Psychiatry living in New York for 17 years who accepted to answer our questions and provides us with thoughts on appropriate solutions.
1- How to support learning with preschool children: first develop the pleasure of learning
I recently spoke with Aline, a fellow French mum of a 3-year-old boy. She was worried because her son was not speaking fluently yet in both languages, nor did he know all colors or letters. But he will have to take interviews to start school and she really wanted to help him get ready for these tests.
According to Christine, the most important for children under 5 is to stimulate -while playing- their curiosity, their creative thinking and to help them develop a passion for learning. This curiosity will indeed build the foundations for further learning experiences later at school. Moreover the social interactions occurring when children play together make them realise that they have to adapt and respect the limits set by others.
Christine also encourages us to answer every question our children ask in order to satisfy their curiosity and help them understand the world. Most children love to experiment so whenever it’s appropriate (and you have time), do not hesitate to work hands-on together on some cool experiences like water freezing or chocolate melting!
Of course your child can still learn to play violin or to speak French, just keep in mind that the pleasure of learning should stay the priority and that young children need time to play, dream and discover their environment. Most of us do our best to give our children useful tools to success later in their personal and professional life. However some children may feel a lot of pressure instead, which may interfere with their pleasure or learning, and even create some anxiety towards the process of acquiring new skills.
Laugh, play, experiment with your child, make it a pleasure to learn colors, letters or to practice that new language. And be patient. You will realise that these skills will be acquired soon, which will allow more fun and thorough learning experiences.
2- How to support learning with elementary school children: find a balance between the pleasure of learning and a necessary discipline
Lucas’ son, Leo, just started 2nd grade and has always obtained very good results at school. But he refuses his dad’s help for homework. Lucas feels frustrated because he would like to explain further some subjects he particularly enjoys, like physics, and to teach his son new concepts in math.
Christine explains that only few children manage to learn in order to perform, most of them need time and a lot of repetitions to assimilate the new concepts and skills taught during class.
Again, the most important message to communicate to them is that learning is and should stay a lifelong pleasure, and that everything we learn opens new opportunities in both our professional and personal life.
Christine invites us to encourage our children to challenge their own limits through an artistic passion or a sport they love, but not to ask them to exceed their limits in term of academic learning. Indeed we must take into consideration our child’s individual cognitive abilities and attention spans to make sure he or she has enough time to integrate new concepts. This way, he will be able to reinvest her knowledge to build his own way of thinking, that he will need to acquire new valuable skills.
However a regular discipline is necessary to allow this assimilation of new concepts: a child should work everyday -even for a short time- to reinvest and implement the newly acquired knowledge, while keeping the necessary time for playing, dreaming and socializing.
For Alix, mom of 2 girls attending an American school, the first difficulties occurred when her eldest started first grade last year: “My daughter loves school, shows an exemplary behavior and gets outstanding results, but when I decided to teach her the French curriculum, I just had to give up: she would just start a tantrum and refuse to do anything.”
Christine reassures us, this is a really common reaction because for a child, working with his parent represents a conflictual emotional issue: either the child really wish to please us, to do everything perfectly, and worries about not being able to do so and to disappoint us, or he wants to test our limits and decides not to get involved at all. In both cases, there is no pleasure in the learning process when it should be its motivation. Moreover the more the child feels the subject learnt is important to us (our native language, a subject we are expert at, an instrument we were used to play as a kid…), the more acute the conflict can become!
In most cases, having someone else, adult or older sibling, teach the child, will work, because the emotional issues associated with learning are not so high. Do not hesitate to hire a tutor to support your child with the French curriculum, help with homework or provide guitar lessons. The society puts sometimes a lot of pressure on parents regarding their kids’ education, so keep in mind that asking a third party to help should absolutely not be seen as a personal failure (“I could not help my child with homework”). Stop bashing yourself and instead feel relieved and proud that you have found a solution that makes your child more confident and more successful.
Also don’t forget that you have plenty of options to share French language and culture that are not academic: either you or a tutor can imagine multiples activities involving reading, acting, singing, many ways to practice French as well as history, geography or science while having fun, spending quality time and avoiding the conflictual issues of academic work.
3- How to support our teenagers: help them develop a sense of responsability
When they start to become more independent, we sometimes wonder whether we should encourage our children’s autonomy or continue to check their homework and prepare their bags everyday. Sometimes, they will just not give any feedback. How to make sure everything is done properly without doing everything instead of them?
A this age conflicts between parents and children regarding learning are normal, explains Christine, because emotional issues are even stronger than they can be with a younger child. Then, if some difficulties occur at school, we should not hesitate to find a tutor to be in charge of the academic teaching.
The priority according to Christine is to make our teenagers understand that the extra freedom they get goes together with being responsible and being able to respect the limits that have been set together. This concerns school obviously but also after school activities and some duties at home.
As long as it does not put them in danger, it is the right age for them to take reasonable risks and accept the consequences in case of mistake: if she prepares her bag at the last minute and forgets an important book, or if he does not plan homework ahead and have to stay up late to complete an assignment. These are useful experiences since the same mistake will probably not be made twice and they will probably teach our children to make choices.
To make it short, whatever the age of our children, the most important message to pass as parents is that learning is and should stay a pleasure so let’s try not to add too much pressure on them regarding academic work. But be strict on rigor and discipline so that each student can fulfill his or her potential. Let’s stop feeling guilty when we realise it is just too challenging for us to teach them cello or ski or to cover by ourselves the French curriculum during the weekend. Instead let’s do not hesitate to ask an older student we know or a qualified tutor to help with homework or teach that new language using fun digital tools, then let’s enjoy a more relaxed relationship with our child and congratulate him for his progress!
Visit MyTutorSpeaksFrench.com to find great French teachers and tutors with various profiles to suit your needs and fit with your child’s personality!
We sincerely thank Dr Christine Anzieu-Premmereur for accepting our interview request, for answering our questions and sharing her precious experience.