I was asked by a prospective client recently if I mentored my children, and my reply was “...yes, don't you mentor yours?” You don't need to be a professional mentor to mentor your kids though. You mentor your children by example, and by allowing them to observe who you are in any given circumstance, but I'm hardly setting the world alight with that revelation.
It's true that I sometimes believe my kids have gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop with me, a mentor, as their mum, because they are rarely afforded the soft option, or the low hanging fruit. Some may disapprove of my parenting style, but now my daughter (aka The Minx) is eleven years-old and on the cusp of senior school, I believe it's imperative to gradually begin introducing her to the realities of adult life and the changing expectations upon her. With puberty well and truly under way (pray for me!), a mobile phone ownership request, imminent ear piercings and SATS exams due soon, it's fair to say the days of Peppa Pig and Sylvanian Families are long gone. We are now in a period of child-to-adult transition.
During October 2014 we had to start considering which senior school to opt for, and our choice was made for the school, we believe, will best prepare Minx for adult life, adult responsibilities and the expectations of the working world. Prior to leaving junior school in July however, Minx must sit her SATS exams, which we have discussed at great length, many times.
A large number of Minx's school friends are nothing less than terrified about SATS, which I think is a shame and wholly unnecessary. It is also a huge waste of energy, which is diverting their attention away from where it should be; calm revision and studious preparation. Many of these terrified children are running around like the sky is falling in, when really it's not. Working in unison with Minx's teachers, I am pitching the SATS to Minx as a means of the government evaluating how well the school have taught her these past four years (which is entirely true), but also as a means of introducing herself, and her ability level, to her new senior school (also true). This information – and a better, positive perspective of her reality – has reduced Minx's stress levels immeasurably. This positive “spin” has helped Minx to focus her energy on reading, revising and researching, rather than expending valuable time on fret and worry. Another key point I have reiterated to Minx is that she will only ever be tested on what she has already been taught so, as she has always applied herself diligently, there is little to worry about – especially with some strong revision under her belt.
It's all about empowerment, inspiring self-belief and encouraging a sense of quiet confidence in her clear abilities. Both of my children have been sent to school with the “you learn nothing by talking, so please listen” dictum ringing in their ears. This has paid dividends, so too has the Dennis family motto of “Do not quit. Do. Not. Quit”. This may be where having a mentor Mum isn't such a fuzzy end of the lollipop after all, as my children have a rich seam of motivation, encouragement and empowerment they can tap into at any time. Of course the trade off for this is I can't cook for toffee, or do plaits; much to Minx's continuing dismay, but hey, we're all good at different things, and I digress.
My focused and empowered Minx has a dream; an ambition she wishes to fulfil as an adult. When she broke up from school for Easter last Friday, we got to talking about her aspirations and the imminent SATS tests. I asked her to visualise her dream, to picture herself doing what she wants to do and doing it expertly, and to feel how she expects to feel when it all comes to wonderful fruition. This she did vividly. My next question to her was this “...how badly do you want it?” Minx's subsequent determination and work ethic tells me exactly how strongly she wants what she wants.
On Friday night, Minx devised an Easter revision schedule, which I am delighted to say she has implemented to the full ever since. I accept it is only Tuesday, but the schedule has been adhered to over the weekend too, and I have every confidence in her. To say I am proud is an understatement, but Minx understands that only she can revise and sit the SATS. Only Minx can study for, revise and sit her GCSE's, and the eventual degree she will require for her chosen profession. This is the point in which the young people of Year 6 experience a major shift in their education; it's now gathering speed and impetus, preparing them for their senior school career, but it must be pitched to them as exciting, not as terrifying.
One of the most valuable pieces of advice my mum gave me, in my days as a new mum was this. When a young child i.e.: falls over and grazes a knee, invariably they will look at you to gauge your reaction to what's happened, so they may learn your response. If you cluck like Chicken Licken over a simple grazed knee, you're teaching the child to overreact. You may also be teaching the child they're overly delicate, which could result in a rod for your own back and world of unnecessary angst and upset, lived on a hair trigger. If however, you minimise the accident – feigning nonchalance if you have to – you're teaching the child to keep things in perspective, and that they are too strong and tough to let a silly little graze stop or hold them back. These are the lessons that carry forward and become imprinted into their character.
There is another aspect to this. Minx, and her school friends, have been requesting a variety of adult privileges and experiences for a little while now – be it gadgets/gizmos/later bedtimes and curfews etc – so now is the time to balance this and encourage them to accept more responsibility (for themselves). In my humble opinion, the taking of SATS now, prior to the gear change of expectation they will experience in senior school, is vital preparation and good training. I believe it's better for Minx and class to be gradually introduced to a new way of working, than to have them plunged in at the deep end come September. I can't begin to imagine the levels of stress and upset this would cause to a mass of young people already tackling the rigours of puberty and raging hormones - not to mention the parents thereof!
Any transition our children experience requires careful and tender management, but this must also be counterbalanced with a gradual introduction to their new realities and responsibilities. Like the fallen toddlers with grazed knees, our SATS-sitting, pre-senior school children are now looking to us for guidance, and a read on what's happening to them. We parents have a choice; we can tell them it's horrific, scary and the sky's falling in, or we can tell them everything is fine and that they are strong, tough and more than capable of dealing with any of the challenges coming their way. The nature of our parenting is changing, but it's still essential, however grown up our babies are becoming.