How can we become a 'Tugboat' Parent?

Everyone connected to a child is concerned about the increase of mental health distress in students.  At IGS one of our core School Values is Resilience (we tackle tasks with determination and perseverance). Great words!

Academic resilience is a person’s ability to respond effectively to long term academic challenges. Australian psychologists Andrew Martin and Herbert Marsh proposed that building students’ academic buoyancy is one way to help promote long term resilience.

They propose that buoyant children and youth understand that daily challenges and setbacks connected with school are brief and non-threatening. Challenging homework, assessment deadlines, exam stress, not being successful by way of a bad result does not endanger long-term success. Further opportunities to improve the result are just around the corner and critical feedback in school is a necessary part of learning and is not the end of the world.

Research, conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research and Melbourne University educational psychologist Michael Bernard, has highlighted a widespread trend towards underachievement, with 70 per cent of students saying they could do better in their school work and 38 per cent admitting to “giving up” when they did not understand or became bored in the classroom. 

Professor Bernard said one of the more concerning findings was a lack of resilience observed among a growing number of young people.  “We see students who are unable to stand up to pressure — be it a NAPLAN test or simply schools expecting lots more of them — because parents tend to helicopter,” he said.  “Over-involved, very concerned parents are trying to do everything for their children, taking on too much responsibility on their behalf, and as a result kids lack confidence.”

Researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Oxford have investigated how to help students develop their Academic Buoyancy. They refer to their model as the 5 Cs; Composure, Confidence, Commitment, Control and Co-ordination.  

1. Composure:  Helping students manage anxiety is no easy task but trying to create an environment that reduces the fear of failure as well as teaching them skills on how to handle exams.

2. Confidence:  Having a positive relationship with a teacher who has set high expectations for achievement or who provides students with a realistic sense of their capabilities.

3. Commitment:  Keeping your son on task for long periods of time and persisting with it.  It is useful to help students develop their self-talk (something known to affect persistence) and to access any available social support (a factor that has been shown to link to resilience).

4. Control:  It is really important that our boys believe that they can achieve better outcomes when it comes to their academics and their learning. Helping create a sense of ownership, by giving regular helpful and constructive feedback, is a very important aspect that assists students to focus on their individual development and improvement instead of comparing themselves to others.

5. Co-ordination:  Academically buoyant students have strategies in their toolkit to manage time and plan ahead to complete school assignments and tests. Learning to break down larger elements into smaller tasks is a very important life skill.  The planning fallacy describes the tendency that people have to be poor predictors of how long future tasks will take, often underestimating it, and is often linked to procrastination. Tips to overcome this include starting early, not leaving the hard task until last and effectively managing your revision environment to minimise distractions.

So instead of the helicopter, snowplow or bulldozer type parent descriptors that get bandied about, the tugboat parent is probably a better way to go. It's the sturdy tugboat - the one that guides, nudges and when necessary pull the ship to shore - that is a more effective parenting style to nurture success. 

Tony Dosen
Deputy Headmaster