Q: We have just had the terrible news that my son has failed his 11+ entry tests at the three private schools he really wanted to go to and we are now desperate. He is feeling a failure and we don’t know what the next steps should be. Can you help please?
A: You and he may not take too much consolation from this, but you need to be very certain of one point. This is NOT a disaster. Some of the greatest minds and talents in this country have apparently ‘failed’ one exam after the other and still went on to very great things. Winston Churchill’s reports from school were appalling, evidence of the fact that the issue is often with the ‘system’, and not with the pupil. You know his talents and his abilities and you just need to find a school where they are appreciated and acknowledged. Many people want to get their child into a ‘high profile’ school, but if the child and school do not naturally fit, no matter how bright he is, it will not be the right place.
I remember several children who on paper did not meet the expected grade, but they had something else about them. A sense of presence. A sparky personality. A hidden talent that could not be revealed by verbal reasoning or mathematical calculations. With a loving atmosphere and exceptional care by the teachers and tutors, they nearly all went onto achieve good results and enter excellent universities. Boys are much slower developers than girls and the key is never to lose faith in him. Personally, I would much rather have a youngster in my school with a good sense of what is right and wrong, with an outward looking perspective on life and a desire to care for others. And so too would countless numbers of employers.
On the practical side, look now for schools where they value the ‘whole’ child, not just his academic abilities. Every single child is potentially brilliant. Our job as parents and teachers is to find it and bring it out. If he continues to struggle, one-to-one tutoring in most cases can work wonders to supplement the good work at school. This is an alternative strategy, and usually a far less expensive one too.
Q: My 13-year-old daughter came home from school recently rather disturbed by the sex education lessons which she found ‘distasteful’. We are an open-minded family and we value relationships. I certainly want my daughter to be educated in the facts of life, but I don’t want her to get the wrong idea about what should be a beautiful aspect of adult relationships. I would appreciate your views please.
A: Much of current sex education focusses too heavily, in some cases exclusively, on the biological aspects rather than the relationship aspects. Of course, information on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases is essential, but it must be put in the context of meaningful relationships between consenting adults. The recent polls about the loss of virginity showed quite clearly that sexual activity is not just physical; it impacts emotional and mental health on all sides. Many of the poll respondents, both female and male, said that if they could turn back the clock, they would have waited to lose their virginity until they found a partner where the act had depth of meaning, and that was not as a teenager. Some even said they thought having sex would have spiritual value, but fumbling around with a nice guy after a bit too much to drink at a party, significantly devalued it.
You are far better placed than the school to deal with the deeper issues around these matters. She is heading towards adulthood and will respond to what I call “ loving reason”. Be straightforward and simple. Avoid complexity and be open to questions. Much of the supportive atmosphere in your family is because you clearly communicate openly. Your daughter not only needs to be ‘safe’ physically; she needs to be secure emotionally. Your family is the best example of this. She sees it in practice every day but she will not know how you bring it about. You have to tell her. That is proper ‘sex’ education.
Q: I have a bouncy 3-year-old and she is constantly on the move. The trouble is my partner and I both work from home and she just wants our attention when she is there. We thought about getting some tutoring lessons, but our parents say she is too young? Your thoughts please.
A: It’s not just because I am a grandparent, but your elders are right. What she needs is plenty of play, and above all, some quality attention from both of you for at least a part of the time she is with you. Little ones can get a sense of ‘routine’; after all, they go to bed at much the same time daily and they eat at much the same time. So,she can have ‘play with mummy and daddy time’ too, at the end of which, a child-minder or babysitter can take over. Because you are there, she will want YOU. If she feels you are ignoring her, the tantrums you met when she was a two-year-old will seem mild compared to the thrashing about of the now three-year-old. It is hard on you, but that one hour a day of ‘child time’ will clear countless remaining hours of tantrum time.
At aged three, the little one doesn’t want formal lessons; she wants games and lots of “let’s pretend.” If she could speak to you in adult terms, I suspect she would say: “ Please don’t take this special time away from me”. And she would be right.
And a final tip. If adults spent a bit more “let’s pretend time” themselves, life would not be so burdensome and stressful. As parents, we need to learn from our children that more of life can be a great game. You might well find that one hour a day highly educational – for you both.