My West London Life

Weekly with David Boddy: Parenting Q&A 2


David Boddy, former Headmaster, grandfather of nine and now senior education consultant with home tutoring company, TUTOR DOCTOR, answers your questions on parenting...

My 15-year-old is at a good school, but my son’s maths teacher has lost control of the class. I want to intervene with the school, but my son has forbidden me not to for fear of repercussions. What should I do?

Your son is rapidly heading towards adulthood and needs help in exercising his ability to reason. This usually means being asked, by you, a series of questions which will lead him towards a “reasonable” conclusion. Of course, the Headteacher needs to know what is happening and needs to hear a first-hand account of what life in the class is actually like. I would suggest you use your own reasoning powers to convince him as to the value of a joint meeting with the Head to discuss what can be done. It can take place out of school hours and all the headteachers I know will keep the meeting confidential.

No headteacher wants a disruptive class or any pupil to have his future affected by poor teaching. It is for the welfare of all the pupils in that class that such an intervention takes place. It is time to be persuasive and determined. The benefits arising from such a meeting will be long-term and of benefit to all. It needs to be done.

My six-year-old daughter is a perfectionist. Even when she gets the spelling of all the words I give her right, she still sits on the floor crying and saying she is not good enough. She is terrified of making mistakes. This doesn’t seem very positive, but I don’t know what to do.

The first part of the answer is surprisingly easy to apply. Stop giving her spelling tests! Or any other type of test, for that matter. Leave that to the school. Even at such a tender age, your daughter is forming unhelpful opinions of herself and it is important to take off the pressure and start applying a new strategy. There is considerable research, much of it conducted by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dwek, to show the supreme importance of cultivating what she called a ‘growth mindset’, from an early age. This means developing the confidence to…..make mistakes! Yes! It is extremely positive to develop the willingness to step into the unknown and make mistakes because, without that, learning becomes too pedestrian. I suggest you start to show your daughter, by your own behaviour, that mistakes are really helpful; that learning adventurously, where mistakes will always be made, is great fun. Show her some empathy too. Tell her of the times when you got things wrong and learned from them. Finally, when she reaches higher education she will start to learn that there are no perfect answers. It is really important to tackle this now otherwise, she will face a very tough time at university. Use your unconditional love and sense of fun to persuade her into the growth mindset.

I have a rather boisterous 11-year-old boy and he doesn’t seem to respond to me unless I shout at him. I don’t like it, but there is no other way to get him to do what I want. Please help.

When I was about 12 I discovered, especially on the football field, that I had quite a temper and I used to shout at my team-mates in frustration. One day a kind and gentle coach had a quiet word, telling me that I was only shouting because “ I was not listening!” I objected: “But they are not listening to me.” He was rather definite in response. “ If you start listening to them, they will start listening to you.” It was advice I tried to take into my adult life and have found it rather helpful. Throughout my ten years as a Head I can remember only two occasions where I had to raise my voice, and both of those were because of my own inner agitation. I think the story is relevant here. Try and provide as many opportunities as you can to listen carefully and all the way through to your son and I suspect you will find he will start listening to you. There is another key: when you want someone’s attention, speak softly so they have to strain to listen. The sense of hearing always runs out to the vibration of sound – its natural. So listen to your son, then listen to yourself as you speak more softly and gently to him. If you have to shout, let it be for emergencies only. If you follow this you will be happier in yourself, and your son will be happier with you too.


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