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At some point, however, these things may not come so easily. Sometimes, the problems are technical, and can be overcome with some well-structured assistance.
But the barriers to learning are often emotional. And there is good news! You may not know how to solve the maths problems, but you can learn how to help your child keep, and recover, their joy in learning.
We parents have a very special role in supporting our children’s learning. The Hand in Hand Listening Tools are a powerful way to help build the sense of connection which is so important to your child’s good functioning. And you can help your child to resolve the emotional tensions which accumulate around learning and school.
How do I help my child learn?
Your key role in helping your child be a successful learner
What helps a child to love learning?
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Listening Tools and other Resources
Watch this Webinar, as Madeleine talks about helping children learn. (It starts about 1:53 in – sorry, but I don’t have control over that as it is generously hosted on the Randwick City Council YouTube site!)
To learn well, children need to feel safe and wanted. They need need a strong sense of connection – a sense that they are heard, loved and cared about. This is what “greases the wheels of family life”, and helps things go smoothly, and gives your child the resource to try new things, and to persist with hard things.
Sometimes, in the hurly-burly of family life or of school, these needs for connection are not met.
When this happens, children struggle to make good decisions. They lose their ability to problem solve, or to persist when they meet a learning challenge. They are stressed, and may become bored, listless, easily upset, withdrawn, angry or aggressive. It won’t be easy for them to learn much when they feel like this!
We parents have a key role here – and it may not always be helping them with their maths or their English homework (although it might). Our very important job is to build and maintain our children’s sense of connection with us.
- Lots of physical closeness/connection.
- Play – without pre-set rules or competition.
- Relaxed high expectations.
- Freedom to make mistakes.
- Respect and fairness.
- Feelings are understood and listened to.
1. Lots of physical closeness and connection
Hugs, cuddles, but especially rough-and-tumble play. This is play where children can safety test their limits, experiment and take risks. They will need to feel in charge – you’ll need to be careful not to take over, or get too overpowering. Your guide is your child’s laughter – see if you can keep it going. It’s called Playlistening. As Patty Wipfler, founder of Hand in Hand Parenting (Palo Alto) says:
Jumping on the beds at home, chasing around the house, and wrestling and pillow fights (the children win, of course) are the kinds of personal, physical play that lift children’s spirits and create enough fun that they can manage to stay hopeful even when days at school aren’t inspiring. If life feels like drudgery, learning won’t take place. So free play is vital. It keeps your child’s spark of hope and interest alive. 
The laughter children express in this kind of play is the easy release of embarrassments and lighter fears. Since they are learning new things all the time (as we do when we are young), young people accumulate a LOT of these feelings! They’ll be looking for chances to offload, and rid themselves of these feelings, which get in the way of learning.
2. Play, without pre-set rules or competition
There’s a reason that the United Nations has declared play as a human right. And interestingly, free play is described as being of particular benefit. These are activities of children which are not controlled by adults, where play is initiated, controlled and structured by children themselves, play which is non compulsory, and undertaken for it’s own sake. It is where children explore their ideas and thoughts, express their worries and concerns, take risks and practice skills.
Competition is endemic in our culture and in many of our learning environments. It has it’s place, but can be hard on children, leaving little room for experimentation, co-operation and learning from mistakes.
Just because the children are in charge, however, doesn’t mean that they don’t want you there. They will welcome your delight and interest in them and your undivided attention for what they are doing. The Listening Tool of Special Time is a perfect way to offer support to your child, building connection by offering your focussed attention in play. It’s a one-on-one, child-led playtime which is incredibly efficient in building closeness, confidence and emotional safety.
3. Relaxed high expectations
I love this notion! Young people need us to expect the best of them, to hold out that good (even great) things are possible for them, and that they can rise to challenges.
But for most of us, when we were young, the adults around us often had very low expectations of, and for, us. Or they were harsh, tense, and unrealistic in their expectations. As young ones, we also often did not get the “scaffolding” we needed to support us in achieving the goal.
We struggled, and we did not get enough help – practically or emotionally. Unfortunately, as parents we tend to carry that tense (or disappointed, or discouraged) tone into the way we communicate our expectations to our children.
Taking a relaxed attitude – full of hope, reassurance, assistance, encouragement and delight in our children’s efforts – will help our children pick up from disappointments, and try again.
When we feel disappointed in our children, we need to take those feelings to our Listening Partnerships, away from our children. With a non-judgemental listener, we can vent our frustrations and understand the roots of our own big feelings. This will help us maintain a helpful tone with our children.
4. Freedom to make mistakes
If you have ever watched a small child learn to crawl, or to walk, you’ll see that eventual success is the product of much trial and error. Children love to be able to figure things out for themselves, and to get help when they ask for it. And children need to know that your love and regard for them is constant – even as they try new things that don’t work out, or don’t get the right answer.
Many of us, as young ones, were shamed and embarrassed for making mistakes. Again, we tend to carry these old feelings into our interactions with our children when they struggle. We can drain these old feelings of their power by telling our own “learning stories” to our Listening Partners, or or working through those feelings with an experienced Hand in Hand Consultant, to reduce their influence over our parenting now.
5. Respect and Fairness
This is such a biggie! In general, our world does not ask young people their opinions. They spend many years more-or-less being bossed around at school. Children are very sensitive to the arbitrary exercise of power and control, and to rules being applied inconsistently or without justification.
A child’s sense of righteous indignation needs to be heard, not dismissed. As Patty Wipfler says in the booklet Tantrums and Indignation “Our children’s indignation can keep us from sloppiness in our treatment of them and others. Their finely tuned sense of justice can be a real gift in our lives.”
Responding to our children’s sense of injustice and unfairness can be tricky for parents! We can feel defensive, if they are objecting to our mis-steps.
Or we may feel very strongly pulled to intervene and correct the injustice. Sometimes this might be the right thing to do. But there are times when we simply aren’t able to set things right – perhaps because we don’t have control over the situation. At those times, and in general, it’s important to listen, listen listen to our children’s feelings. Again, Patty Wipfler has wise words:
People seem to be born with an innate expectation of love and respect. Only illness or repeated mistreatment wears down a person’s will to fight for what’s right. When we parents are one step ahead of the exhaustion of raising children, it can be a relief to have our children stop us short when we are being harsh or unfair. Ultimately, we want our children to retain their keen sense of justice and to insist on the respect they deserve, even if it’s our behavior they challenge. They do well to defend themselves against our tired, irrational, troubled words and actions.
6. Feelings are understood and listened to
When children are carrying emotional tension, they can’t think. Very often, what children need more than anything else is support to work through the feelings which are getting in the way of learning.
In fact, upsets are an important part of the learning process, and we parents are in the best position to help with this. We can help our children offload feelings and recover their thinking, co-operativeness and general enthusiasm.
Frustration is a common trouble that besets anyone who is eagerly learning new skills. Children approach learning with an “Of course I can do it!” attitude, and a real passion for success. Their ideas of what they want to do are grand, yet children’s abilities grow only through the messy process of trial and error. Feelings of frustration are an everyday glitch in the learning process, a natural result of the clash between what children expect and what they are able to do.
The release of feelings is a physical process. That tantrum about not being able to tie up her laces, or in the face of a homework assignment, is the way a human being eliminates frustration. This is the way that human beings release grief, anger and fear – through tears, loud words, thrashing, and shaking.
You can learn to stay and listen, as your child offloads these feelings, rather than pushing your child to achieve the learning goal or asking them to squash their feelings. We call this Staylistening. We stay with our child, and listen without criticism, harsh judgement or offering advice. Once relieved of painful feelings and emotional tensions, children will often be able to learn more easily.
You weren’t meant to parent alone and I would love to help. Book a Free Short Consultation now.
Try this Course: “Setting Limits and Building Co-operation” is an online, self guided course full of useful information about how to use connection, play and listening to build your child’s confidence, and how to use limit setting to shift your child’s fears about learning. Consisting of three “classes”, you will learn about why your child has difficulty, how to provide reassurance and build connection through play, and how to listen to their upsets. For $55, it’s a real bargain.
Combine it with a Parenting Consultation with Madeleine where she can help you make a connection plan that will help resolve the tensions around learning.
The combination of education, peer listening sessions, and group meetings offered by Hand in Hand with Madeleine is truly transformational. We’ve been to countless parenting classes and none have been as helpful as this. Madeleine is an empathetic, funny, and skilled Parent Coach.
Matthew, a father of 4 and 6 year old.
Attended one of Madeleine’s talks or Webinars?
Download a copy of her slides here.
Wipfler, Patty “Getting Through School Struggles”, Hand in Hand Parenting, 16 Sept. 2020, Accessed 4th Mar. 2022
Wipfler, Patty. Tantrums and Indignation. Hand in Hand Parenting, 2006. Pages 8, 7 & 3.