The inspiration for this article was my reading a few articles about all the problems parents are having with homeschooling. I have no children, but I can sympathize, and maybe, if you permit me, empathize.
Based on my experience helping friends’ young children, and having to work with so-called adults who never grew up, I look at COVID as an opportunity for children to learn the skills necessary for employment success. Five examples should suffice.
Separation of Home and Work
My biggest complaint when I worked for other people was that colleagues would bring their personal lives (read: problems/complaints) into the workplace. I absolutely hated it. Twice, for different employers, it got so bad that I asked permission to put a stop to it, if they, the bosses, couldn’t or wouldn’t. Both bosses told me it was impossible but I had their permission.
Since I know that many of you won’t like this, I will begin with the end. In both cases productivity rose. The atmosphere in the office also improved. It turns out (no surprise and pardon the sarcasm) that while some people like to complain about their spouses, children, and/or parents, few people like to hear about it. So when everyone stopped, everyone benefited. The environment was no longer one of complaint.
In the first case a young woman came to the office and announced that she was engaged. She produced the engagement ring. I looked at the boss. He nodded and in the next 15 minutes I had heard in tears. I was brutal. I peppered her with questions, none of which she could answer. She went to the Ladies Room, washed her face, and left for the day. I was universally (except for the boss) condemned. I made it clear that if you bring your personal life into the workplace, it is a fair topic of discussion. If you don’t want to defend your behavior, don’t talk about it! The next morning the woman returned. She no longer had a ring. She was no longer engaged. And to everyone’s shock, including my own, she not only thanked me but gave me a hug and kiss. (And, no, I did not complain to HR about inappropriate touching!)
The second time, again, with a different employer, was a woman who was constantly complaining about a vacation her husband was planning. I suggested she talk to him about it. She refused. After weeks of having to listen to her whine, the phone rang. We did not have Caller ID. I picked up the phone. It was her husband. We had an open-space office. Everyone heard me. I introduced myself and told him what his wife had been saying. I suggested that he either cancel the vacation or, if he really want to go, he should not bring her because she would probably spoil it for him. He then asked to speak to her. I put him on hold. My colleagues, including his wife, we staring at me in disbelief. She picked up the phone and spoke to him for no more than a few seconds. With the exception of the boss, no one spoke to me for the remainder of the day. The next day the woman came in to the office and was immediately asked what happened. She announced that she would not be accompanying her husband on the trip, the he had made it quite clear that he never wanted to find out that she was discussing their personal life at work, and she should thank me for what I had done. She did. And everyone else also learned the lesson.
Which brings me to homeschooling and the first lesson that children need to learn. Work is work. Home is home. And never the twain shall meet. But how to separate them when they are literally the same place?
Doors. Parents and children should be working in separate rooms. If each child has a bedroom, problem solved. If children share a bedroom, that’s not great, but they will at least learn how to share an office before they actually have to when they are employed. And if they don’t get along, the parents can show them how good bosses deal with inter-employee disputes.
The parents also need to have offices. It can be a bedroom or any room but the kitchen. Why? Because that is a common space and even if you are diligently working you still have the right to get something to drink.
Everyone works on a schedule. You are all “in the office” from nine to five. Children see and hear parents working diligently. No television. No radio. Everyone takes a lunch break together. And if someone is having a problem, just as you would do in the office, you raise it. Let the children feel that they are part of their parents’ work, just as, later in the day, the parents will be part of their children’s work. Which brings me to my next topic.
Now that the work ethic has been established, something practical has to be accomplished. Children may complain at lunchtime that their work is too hard and they need help (our next topic). Totally legitimate. Nothing wrong with that. But mommy and daddy have their own work to do. So they will have to wait until 5:00 when mommy and daddy “get home.”
In the meantime, here is the opportunity to teach them how to multitask. Now I know what you are going to say: “Bruce, you should know better. Human beings cannot multitask. It is impossible. We cannot do two things at once unless they are very simple. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, but we cannot make a business presentation and recited the alphabet backwards, in our minds, at the same time.” And you are, of course, correct. But “multitask” really mean “prioritize” and that is something children need to learn so that they are prepared to successfully complete multiple assignments when they enter the higher grades and, of course, the workforce.
Many decades ago, I don’t remember how or why, friends asked me to take care of their six-year-old daughter for a couple of days. We were friends. I had known her since she was an infant. It was not a problem. She stayed at my place (I don’t remember why). I would pick her up at school, and we would go to my apartment. The instructions from her parents were that, when we got home, she could have a snack, do her homework, eat dinner, finish her homework and only then could she watch television or we could play a game.
The first day she was a bit upset. She had what she considered to be an unfair amount of homework. We discussed it during our snack. I suggested that she first do the easy assignments and then, after dinner, we would work on the more difficult task (there was only one). I explained to her the logic: If you finish a lot of easy things, it will build up your confidence. Then, after dinner, with a full stomach, we could, together, tackle the harder work.
She agreed. Once she finished the easy tasks, we made dinner. While preparing whatever we were going to have to eat, we discussed the remaining assignment.
When we sat down to eat, we discussed what we would do after we finished her work. We did not discuss the assignment. Dinner is for digestion not dissertations. That gave her something to which to look forward. We ate. We did the dishes. We looked at the project. And then she learned the next lesson:
Asking for Help
I read the assignment and did not understand a thing. Neither did she. The problem made no sense to me. Here I am, an already published graduate student and I can’t figure out a first-grader’s homework. So I explained to her that asking for help was not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. I also explained that it was important to know good people who knew things that you didn’t. In other words, I taught her about team building and networking.
I remember that the assignment had something to do with geology. I had a friend who was majoring in rocks! (He hated it when I said that…) So I called him up. When he stopped laughing, I read him the assignment. He said, “You are reading it wrong. That makes no sense.” So I put my guest on the phone and she read it to him. Fifteen minutes later he was knocking on my door.
He sat down, read it, and announced that there was a typographical error. He corrected it and then she was able to complete the assignment. We thanked him. (He got a hug from her and a cookie from me.)
The next day I got a hug and a kiss when I picked her up at school. She was the only student in her class who had completed the assignment. She explained to her teacher what had happened. The teacher was impressed at the life lessons she had been taught.
Finding Something to Do
Of course, not all assignments are difficult. Sometimes we complete our To-Do list early. Then what? Many employers who hire me to find staff for them say that they do not want someone who sits around playing games on their phones when they have finished their work. They want people who take the initiative and find something to do .
In some ways, this may be the most important lesson children can learn. They have finished their school work. It’s not 5:00 yet. So what should they do? Two things: Either read the next chapter of their text book to prepare for the next day or, if that’s not possible, ask their parents what they can do to help. Set the table for dinner? Do some dusting? Wash the car? Clean the gutters? (OK, maybe not that one.) Or, ask their siblings or parents if they can help them complete their work.
And if they do that, they should get a figurative pat on the back. But constant praise may be a problem. In today’s workplace, where you can’t even pay someone an innocent compliment (“That’s a nice dress you are wearing,” is a definite no-no in these idiotic times of political correctness), they have to know that people just don’t say “Thank you” any more. Who knows? Someone may go running to HR to complain that a colleague said “Well done” to them. There is a process for everything. There shouldn’t be, but in many places (bad places) there is. And since it is the good boss that recognizes his or her (I can just see the Political Correctness Police coming after me!) employees. teach your children by example. Take this advice with a grain of salt. In fact, ignore it. Offer constant praise. It’s the right thing to do. After all, you are not their colleagues, working with moronic HR policies, you are their parents working at home with entirely different (no doubt, according to your children, moronic) policies! Praise them so they understand the importance of recognition and being acknowledged. One day, their employees may thank you!