Opinion with Matthew Munson: Learning about life at home and at school

Matthew and Bryan

Teaching children is hard, isn’t it? Teachers usually bear the brunt of the formal education – and, in fact, are still setting the work even now. During Lockdown One last year, I was exhausted by the time Bryan went back to school, and we were both glad to be able to split home and school – I utterly support schools and education, and so I was delighted that professionals would be leading on history and English and (gulp) maths. His social side is also so important; being with his friends is so important, as peers help him work out his place in a wider world than just me.

I also want Bryan to learn about morality and decency and politeness, and – of course – I’ve not been the only one involved in this during my little boy’s life. He spent two and a half years with brilliant foster carers, and they helped encourage and develop an already in-built sense of decency. I was glad about that, as it was something I could help build on and fan the flames of his conscience.

As he gets older (how is he ten in a fortnight’s time?), I am very aware that his social circles will become more varied and interesting – and he will come up against a variety of different moral situations and challenges. I want to continue working on a relationship with Bryan where he knows that he can come and talk things through with me – and the others he discusses things with will, I hope, be trustworthy and decent as well.

He likes to understand why people act the way they do, and is always watching. I have to catch myself if I’m feeling annoyed about something (yes, it sometimes happens), because I know he will follow my lead in some ways. I never shy away from standing up for myself and for him when necessary, but I want Bryan to see that there are ways of doing it that don’t involve bellowing and shouting – that’s not something I could ever imagine myself doing.

Children are sponges; they watch us to know how to deal with different situations, and I sometimes hear Bryan saying things that are copies of what I say. I am an influence on my son, and my word that is an honour. It’s intriguing to see him thinking about how he wants to act, and I always gently point out different people and their behaviours – and how each behaviour might make him feel if directed to him. Fortunately, he’s quite empathetic, so that teaches him a lot as well – and that’s good.

I am not a perfect human being; no-one is. I make mistakes as much as everyone else. But I need Bryan to see that he does not have to be perfect, merely willing to admit his mistakes when they happen – he is very competitive, but so am I, and I need to figure out how to deal with the two of us being so competitive!

Education is in the news at the moment all the time, and rightly so; parents are exhausted at having to manage work, their own time, their children’s’ learning, and life. Teachers are exhausted, medical staff are exhausted … well, I could go on.

I have found myself thinking so much over the past year; “What can I do to help?” But I realise that, at the very least, I am doing something; I am teaching my son how to discover his inner decency and kindness and love. If we could all find that about ourselves and each other, we would have a better world, I suspect.