'You forgot your homework? Again?'
'I asked you to write it down in the diary. Why didn't you?'
'What?! A test tomorrow? And you haven't brought the books?'
Picture every one of those questions, repeated every alternate day, over a period of 8 months. It's a helpless feeling, the despair that comes from parenting a forgetful child. It's even more frustrating to be in the shoes of that child.
Here's what it looks like on the inside.
The parent's mind:
What do I do? This must be the fiftieth time she's forgotten her homework! I can't face another meeting with the teachers where I'm told that she needs to concentrate more. What else do I do? I've been telling her that she needs to focus, every single day. But she doesn't listen! I honestly wonder if she even knows or cares about her unfinished work!
The child's mind:
I am trying so hard but I cannot remember. I don't know why I forget. I just don't. Maybe I talk too much in class. Maybe I am not clever enough. I must try harder tomorrow. I must not disappoint my parents.
Heartbreaking, isn't it? As you can tell, the parent and the child both suffer from a feeling of excessive guilt but neither has actually sourced the root cause of the issue. In my case it became a reflection on my parenting- perhaps I wasn't involved enough or maybe I was too hard on her (the latter was probably true), and the outcome is that she went into emotional lock down. It came to a point that she started trembling the moment she walked in the door after school and had no answer to the question, 'What homework do you have today?'
Painful as it was for me to admit it, I had to backtrack and look at a few possibilities:
- She is wired differently from who I am
- She lacked concentration and attention
- She really didn't remember the task
So it fell to me to tackle the issue at these different levels. Since I realised point #1 rather late (don't judge me), I naturally began with trying to solve point #3 first.
It seemed to me that it would help if she had reminders, physical reminders, to help her through the process at school. So I bought post-it notes, wrote tips down and inserted them in her lunch box, her backpack, her diary and her pencil case.
I then tried the standard 'string on the finger' trick. Seeing it ought to have helped her remember that there was an assignment due the next day. Or so I hoped.
Now, both those tips worked. . . occasionally. They were like flashes in the pan. She'd remember one day, be euphoric about it and forget the work the next 4 days on the trot. Hmm, this wasn't helping her or my patience levels, I could tell you that.
Lack of attention:
Gy has always been a fairly independent child and by that, I mean she can keep herself occupied for hours on end with a book, a game, a craft activity and of course, her endless chatter. While I'm usually the recipient of most of her fascinating talk, she can talk to herself a lot too. She's also been a very dreamy child, one who can stare into the distance for many long minutes, at times driving time-crazed me to the point of annoyance.
Teachers at school were also telling me of how she happened to get easily distracted, stared out the window a lot and turned to observe her neighbour doing something while the teacher was giving instructions. Interestingly, they were very supportive and tried to do everything they could to help her.
One teacher made sure she called out Gy by name, gently asking if she was done with the written work. Another used to pick her out and ask her a specific question based on the lesson. Yet another would give her extra time during lunch to complete an assignment and submit it.
Unfortunately, she didn't have that encouraging a mom when it came to repeat instances of missed assignments and pending school work. If I actually had captured on film the number of times I've glared at her, hand on my hip as she stood there telling me she'd forgotten the work, I could fill five photo albums by now.
Deciding that concentration was the culprit, we set about working on meditation techniques to improve focus. So began 3-minute sessions of silence which always began well but ended with fidgeting, helpless giggles and the constant query, 'Are the three minutes up?' Suffice to say, we didn't pursue that for too long. So, yes, she lacked concentration but what were we going to do now that would help her?
Discovering the Visual Learner:
It was, interestingly, in the first few days of 2016 that something happened to shift the focus towards the first possibility: she's wired differently from me/ my husband. She attended a birthday party and one of the items in her goody bag was a notepad and a pencil which she greatly cherished. Every child likes them but she seemed to take a very keen shine to it.
Gy loved working with her hands, doodling and drawing. During her study sessions, I'd observed that if she put her thoughts down in a mind-map or a visual representation, she registered it better. Conversely, verbal instructions seemed to go in one ear and out another. Slowly, it dawned on me that I had a visual learner on my hands.
Using the diary as an aid, I suggested that she try the following:
- Write down a list of things to do every day- simple tasks such as putting clothes in the laundry basket, washing up before dinner etc. She took to this readily.
- She began to do this every single night, adding a visual aid for each task. She'd draw a picture of a laundry basket or a tennis racquet to indicate what the task entailed.
- She would tick the tasks off at the end of the next day.
What happened next:
At the dawn of 2016, I'd made a conscious promise to myself to let go of my sense of control, over myself as well as Gy. The diary habit fell beautifully into place, keeping these promises in mind. In no order of importance, here are four outcomes that manifested:
- Almost instinctively, she seemed to translate the diary habit to school work. Having it written down at home appeared to act like a visual aid for her at school.
- Gently, yet firmly, I stopped asking other parents about the homework for the day. Earlier, she would forget the work and promptly ask me to find out from a neighbour. Doing this was only reinforcing her habit of forgetting. Stopping it ensured that she would face the consequence at school- a lower grade for incomplete work; a small price to pay for a bigger lesson.
- The blame game stopped. What used to be a boxing match of sorts between us each time she forgot her homework now became a simple, one-line statement: 'Oh, that's fine. You'll figure out what to do. I know you will.' Guess what? It works.
- Her confidence in herself grew incredibly. It was comforting to see her smile at the fact that she'd remembered something or act sombre that she'd missed an assignment. Either way, the result was of her own making and she knew it, with quiet maturity.
It can be very very hard to let go of the illusion of total control that we appear to have over our children. But we must let go if they are to stumble, pick themselves up and learn from their own mistakes.
In all this, I must share what Gy herself said, in her signature style, about this entire series of events:
'Amma, I feel more responsible now. It wasn't like this last year. I don't think 2015 was a good year for me. I have high hopes for 2016.'
If you suspect your child may be a visual learner too, I hope my post helps you.
Here are a couple of articles on the subject that I found very relevant.
If you're wondering about how to let go and let your children learn from their own mistakes,
then I recommend this excellent piece: