Listening and Asking: What I’ve learnt about parenting

Michael Broadstock reflects on how the Feuerstein approach to children's thinking and learning has had a big impact on his parenting - and what he discovered on a walk with the kids.

‘Can I come with you?’

My eight-year-old son Charlie has been watching me get our dog Bones ready for a quick walk around the block before dinner. For some reason, however, he has held off from asking me if he can join us until I have one foot out the door.

I pause. Bones can be a handful; he is a teenager in dog years, and is already out the front, yanking at the lead for what he (and I) had hoped would be a brisk walk. But I don’t get nearly enough time with my son, and he could use the exercise, too.

‘Sure’, I say.

Charlie rushes off to get his scooter. Four-year-old Annabel, who had been sitting at the table (probably colouring in the table) raises her head.

‘Can I come, too?’

‘Sure’, I reply, wondering how my brisk walk with the dog turned so quickly into a kid wrangling session.

‘Can I bring my bike?’

‘Great!’ I say.

Ten minutes later, we all stand on the driveway, helmets on and ready to go. The sky is growing dark, and Bones is ultra-keen to get going, but before we do I want to reinforce the importance of road safety, especially for Annabel.

I reflect on the best way to approach it.

Helping children think and learn

I am not an educator, but I have been lucky enough through my workplace to take part in a program, called Feuerstein, on how to help children think and learn. One of the key elements of the program is the ‘mediated approach’, where teachers – or mediators – act as a go-between the student and the world, helping them make sense of it, and how they approach it.

Mediators often adopt an inquiry-based approach, which encourages students, or in my case, my own children, to think and make meaning for themselves. So instead of simply telling Annabel what to do, I ask her what she thinks she needs to keep in mind to stay safe when she is riding her bike.

‘Don’t go on the road’, she says.

‘Why’s that?’ I ask. Questions starting with ‘Wh’ words are generally the best.

‘Because of cars’.

I ask her if she can think of other areas where you need to be careful about cars, hoping she will say ‘driveways’, but she’s not so sure.

Then Charlie, who has been listening intently all along, jumps in with some mediation of his own.

‘What are you standing on, Annabel?’

He gets it. So does she.

As we start walking, we discuss roads and cars, and how it can be hard for drivers to see things in the twilight. Annabel’s observations and rich questions tell me so much more about what is happening inside her head than if I had simply said ‘make sure you don’t go on the road’.

Later on our walk, I talk with Charlie about what he had said, and tell him how proud I was that he didn’t just blurt out the answer.

We talk about how sometimes it is important to tell someone the answer – especially if they are about to hurt themselves. I ask him when he thinks ‘asking questions’ is the best way to teach and when it is better to just tell someone.

He thinks for a moment, and says, ‘if someone knows what they need to know, you can help them work it out. If they don’t, you tell them’.

I smile. It’s seems simple, but it can be easy to miss in the rush of modern life.

Of course, mediation takes time. Often, it is easier to just tell your kids what to do, but the richness of the interaction that mediation fosters has brought me closer to my children.

Have you ever wondered how your child learns? Would you like to help your child learn how to learn even better?

Join Feuerstein experts Jeannie Zehr and Diane Bourke for a free, two-hour workshop on Friday 9 November 2018 between 9.30 am to 11.30 am to discuss these topics and more: 28 thinking strategies, keeping your cool as a parent, how to handle neural hijacking (meltdown) and even how to ‘mediate’ your child’s homework.

Michael Broadstock is ISV’s Social Media manager.

Main image: Charlie, Annabel and Bones.

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