Jumaat, 1 November 2013

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

German parents delay school


Many feel the year they turn six is still too early for the children to face the demands of formal school.

"HE needed an extra year to play and grow," Cathrin Wesenberg said of her son Ole.

While parents elsewhere are often accused of pushing their children, she is part of a trend in Germany to defer the start of school.

Ole was due to begin shortly before turning six but, said his mother, "he wasn't at all able to look after himself, he got easily frustrated if he couldn't do something. ... He still needed a bit of time."

He stayed in kindergarten a year longer which was the right decision, Wesenberg said. "It turned out as we expected. Now he feels fine at school," she said.

Six per cent of children who started school in Germany in 2011-12 were those who had postponed entry, nearly two-thirds of them boys, according to data from the federal statistics office, Destatis. But the figure is far higher in some regions.

Some 3.8%, on the other hand, were early-starters.

Fifteen years ago, German authorities sought to bring forward the age that children begin school to the calendar year in which they turn six, to be more in tune with other European countries and due to a pressing labour shortage.

A year was also sliced off high school in many places.

Parental pressure

But the proposed nationwide change didn't factor in objections from those parents who believe it is still too early for their youngsters to face the stresses and strains of formal school life.

"You very often hear talk of stress at school, pressure and suddenly parents ask themselves if they can inflict that on their child," said Helga Ulbricht, who heads an advice centre on school matters in the southern city of Munich.

In Bavaria state, where the centre is located, nearly 12% of school entries are delayed.

Faced with this kind of parental resistance, the Bavarian authorities, like most other regions – education is run by the German states – were forced to abandon the initiative for school entry in the year of a child's sixth birthday.

It is now the norm only in a handful of regions, including Berlin.

Among specialists, opinion on the issue is divided.

Peter Struck, a professor emeritus in education from Hamburg University, argued that "the earlier children begin, the better they learn".

He conceded, however, that starting school later can be beneficial for children who still do not have a good command of language or who have developmental delays.

For her part, Beate Koegler, a Bavaria-based educationist who specialises in language problems, said parents' fears "aren't exaggerated".

"School is actually very demanding," she said.

Koegler said she backed deferring school if the extra time is used "to carefully see in which area the child needs targeted support to be better equipped for starting school the following year".

But for some German parents, it may be a problem of image.

Many have "a critical idea of school that they see as the end of childhood", Katharina Kluczniok, a pedagogic researcher at Bamberg University, said.

"You may also ask yourself whether the parents don't want to give themselves an extra year of respite" before homework and strict timetables set in, she added.

Ulbricht highlighted how big a change starting school can be – also for the parents. "It's a big step for the parents to recognise 'that's it, they're ready'," she said.

And Germany's low birth rate may add to parental pressure, she said, adding it could be even harder for parents to let go when the child is an only one, or has just one other sibling.

German women have on average 1.3 children, among the lowest rates in the industrialised world.

Fewer qualifications

But, warn some experts, keeping children away from school for as long as possible is not necessarily doing them any favours.

Late-starters "don't reap big advantages for their school careers or in terms of capabilities", Kluczniok said. "On the contrary, they often finish with fewer qualifications" than other youngsters, she added.

Manja Plehn, who teaches at the Elisabethenstift educational academy in western Darmstadt, shares the concerns.

"Parents assume that children are going to gain in terms of their ability to concentrate, their aptitude to learn, etcetera, simply from the fact of them being given more time.

"But this approach is clearly refuted" by the research, she said.

Many kindergartens where children end up staying on longer do not have programmes specifically designed to ready them for school.

However, some schools do run preparatory classes to help children adjust from kindergarten to the new challenges, such as learning to read.

Kathrin Kuehne-Giese sent her son Lovis to one such school in western Frankfurt in the year he turned six.

"What I'd like is for there to be classes like that across all of Germany," she enthused. "That would be the way to ensure that all children are ready." – AFP

Parenting classes take France by storm


Positive discipline is the in thing now among French mums and dads.

CLASSES teaching how to be better mums and dads, which have long flourished in English-speaking countries, have begun taking France by storm.

French parents today want a new kind of authority that does not crush children but does not allow them to run wild either, says Beatrice Sabate, a clinical psychologist who adapted a method devised in California called "positive discipline" for France.

"There are rules, but the child helps to define them," says Sabate.

Children are growing up in a different world than that of their parents, when teachers were more severe and adults always knew best.

Today, "parents are looking to have relationships that are based more on co-operation", she says.

In one class, nine mothers and three fathers meet in central Paris one evening a week, sitting in a circle with two trainers to learn "positive discipline", which combines firmness with an emphasis on the positive.

Slogans on the wall intone: "Encouragement is to the child as water is to a plant" and "Mistakes are excellent learning opportunities."

This session is devoted to "inappropriate behaviour", with participants role-playing some of the most common sources of conflict: homework, computer and television time, going out.

"OK, it's your turn. You're a child again," says trainer Alix de Salaberry, to a participant playing the role of a teenage girl who wants to sleep over with a friend.

The "mother" says no and the "daughter" stamps her foot, shouting, "I hate you!"

"What do you feel?" De Salaberry asks the "mother" who replies: "She scares me. I'm not going to manage."

The role-play starts again, but this time the "mother" has to give an "appropriate response".

So she offers: "I'm really glad you have such good friends. Like you, when my mother said no, I was very disappointed. But it's not possible tonight, your grandmother is coming for dinner. Let's find another date."

'Parents don't trust themselves'

At the end of the session, the students are given homework: "Role-play with your child. You be the child and your child can be the adult."

"Positive discipline" workshops, originally developed by American family counsellor and educator Jane Nelsen, are growing not just in the capital but elsewhere in France.

Demand has been so great that Sabate no longer teaches classes herself, but devotes her time to training parenting teachers, including students from Belgium, Switzerland and Morocco who train in France then return home to teach "positive discipline" in their own countries.

In France, "views have changed of authority and making mistakes", says Sabate. "Before, children were subordinate to their parents, students to the teacher, the wife to the husband, the worker to the boss."

French education traditionally emphasised the negative: pupils could even get a score below zero on tests. Parents, especially those who have lived in English-speaking countries, try to compensate at home with positive reinforcement.

Alice, 42, says: "Our parents didn't think about what they were doing. I was raised with spankings and lashings with a riding crop. That damages a child. I want to do as little damage to my children as possible. No shouting, no hitting."

The Temp'O Jeunes association specialises in parents of teenagers who are under pressure at school or who are home alone after school or even on their own for several days if a single parent leaves on a business trip.

Among the tools suggested to ensure a "balanced life" for the child is to draw up a schedule that plans out activities down to the half hour: homework, football and violin practice, without forgetting time to read, dawdle or be with friends.

"Parents wonder how to be as effective as possible with the little time they have. They are under pressure from society to succeed in everything," says Emmanuelle Guilhamon, the architect of Temp'O Jeunes.

"Parents don't trust themselves anymore. If they listened to what they have in their hearts or in their gut, they would know how to solve the problems," says Guilhamon, who has four children.

'My mother's a drag'

"The bond with the child has become the most precious in life, because the love bond is fragile, ephemeral," says psychologist Beatrice Copper-Royer. "You expect a lot of it, and many parents are afraid of approaching it badly, of not being up to raising the ideal child that they want."

She adds: "The boom in the coaching market reflects the disarray we see in parents. It's very revealing of our society's performance cult. You have to train yourself as much as possible to have the best possible child."

A mother who gave only her first name, Celine, took her seven-year-old son to a number of professionals including a speech therapist to little avail.

But "thanks to 'positive discipline', I put myself in my child's place: 'Brush your teeth, do your homework, hurry up!' ... I thought, 'My mother's a drag.' It was a shock."

Since taking the course, she says: "My son cuddles me all the time. It's magical again to be a parent." – AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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