Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Promoting Failure

I love the message of this video. It's all about well-known people who overcame the failures of their lives.

So, what does this mean for parents? I came to a realization a few years ago that my children were old enough that I not only didn't need to stop every tear, but that I shouldn't. When my children were babies, I considered it my job to prevent or soothe tears. I was lucky in that I didn't have any colicky children, so my experience won't relate to a parent who has been through that. My children cried when they needed something or were hurt and it wasn't all that difficult to have very few tears. As they grew, though, their tears came as a result of frustration over things they weren't able to do, or disappointment from life not going the way they wanted.

I had trained myself to respond to every tear, but one day I realized that I should change my behavior. There is something to be learned from frustration, guilt and sorrow. If I tried to protect my children from their consequences, I would deprive them of valuable growth opportunities. This doesn't mean that I completely ignore them. I believe it's important to acknowledge their feelings, but not my job to make them go away. It's easy to offer them something else they want as a bribe or distraction, but in that case a short-term solution causes a long-term problem.

What I want my children to hear from me is, "I'm sorry you are feeling . . . sad, frustrated, mad, etc. . . . Everybody feels that way sometimes. Don't let it stop you."

My youngest daughter really wants to learn to play the piano. I teach my children myself and we are rather hit and miss as far as lessons go. But, my five-year-old really wants to be taking lessons with the older ones. She goes to the piano and practices and practices, but she's a little young and learning the piano is a challenge. More than once (on the same song even), she has called me in to listen to her try and pass off "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star". She would do really went most of the way through, but then make a small mistake. Then, she would start to cry and run out of the room. Now, it's very tempting to overlook a small error and just give her a pass, but I won't do it. I will follow her, try to give her a hug, and just let her calm down. She doesn't have to come back to piano right then, but she always does come back eventually – sometimes days later. We went through this at least twice on the same song, but yesterday she finally passed it off perfectly (I was listening from the other room – thinking maybe just standing by her was making her nervous). She was so proud; and, much more willing to practice longer on the next piece. I'm proud of her!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Advocating for Our Children

I've been thinking about how to approach this post for days now. As with just about anything considered "sane", there is a sweet spot in the middle of this. First, let's delineate the extremes. At one end of the spectrum are parents who blame their children for everything, ignore their issues, don't get them help when it's needed and available, etc. At the other end are parents who fight so hard for their children to be the best at everything, or included in everything, or always in the right that they cannot see the reality of the child in front of them. I'm sure we all can tell stories about a parent who behave in one or other of those ways and if we are honest we can remember times when we personally behaved in that way. But, the goal is to stay squaring in the middle of those two extremes as much as possible. Let me give a few concrete examples of how I have tried to stay in the middle.

I have children with speech issues. Even my oldest, who is adopted, had us worried for a time that his speech wasn't developing as it should. Since I had been in speech therapy as a child, along with all five of my siblings, I was well aware of how it could help. We first had my oldest tested at about age three, I think. He was behind, but the therapist wasn't sure he needed therapy to catch up. She gave us a few instructions about how to help him ourselves and sent us home. We used a few of her techniques and then within a few months his speech blossomed (not necessarily because of our efforts, not implying a cause-effect relationship here). It was like he just started talking in sentences. No more worries. But then, with both of my daughters, I requested that the school district test them in pre-school, even before any teachers mentioned an issue. I heard my daughters speak with the same mistakes I had made before therapy and I knew that early intervention worked best. They both started speech therapy at three years old which has continued into elementary school and are speaking much better now!

On the other side, I have been fairly aggressive about requesting that my children be tested for the gifted program in school. I was always at the top of my class and I hope that my children will have that same experience. My son tested in while he was at the end of first grade. My oldest daughter's first grade teacher didn't recommend her for testing, even though I requested it. It's possible she had reservations, but she didn't discuss them with me, she just didn't do it and every time I asked she said she was "getting around to it". Her second grade teacher was willing to make the recommendation, but then the application sat at the school district office for months. I finally got annoying and called them repeatedly to make sure they got the testing done. I followed up with them and once they started moving, they kept me pretty well informed along the process.

Ultimately, however, I got a letter that she didn't get in. I wanted details about why and met with them in person. They were great about explaining it all to me – she had missed the cut-off by THREE percentage points. I could tell they were a little on the defensive, probably because they expected me to come in demanding that she be let in. That wasn't my attitude. It might have been if I had thought the process was unfair, but it wasn't. They actually did their best. Now, I know what my next steps need to be should I care to pursue the issue further. But, that decision is up to my daughter. I would love for her to have the experience of the gifted program curriculum, but I'm not going to push it for my personal reasons. At least I keep saying that I won't and I'm trying to keep my mouth shut to her, so that she can make her own decision about it. She knows what I know about the process, but I told her it was her choice to pursue or not pursue.

I think the underlying theme is really to see your children for who they are – the good and the bad. Be a strong advocate when they need help that only you can provide or find for them, and then back off so that our advocacy doesn't interfere with their own life development. Sounds simpler and easier said than done.

Monday, June 15, 2009

An Interesting Observation

Not sure this is all that helpful for parents, but I made an observation recently that I thought I would note. We were watching Spiderman this weekend and it struck me as the mother was outside a burning building screaming that her baby was inside. What was she doing outside when her baby was inside? Either that mother ran an errand or whatever and left her baby unattended inside or left a burning building alone knowing that she was leaving her baby inside. Neither option would be acceptable in today's culture. Was it ever?

I don't know that this kind of scenario has any actual basis in real life, but it is pretty common in the movies or on TV. Maybe nobody just took the time to think about how the mom ended up outside with a baby inside. Maybe they just thought of the most heart-wrenching scene possible.

Or, has it been that in the last few generations, the responsibilities of parents have widened to include constant supervision of their children? Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating leaving babies home alone. I'm just wondering if attitudes have changed overall.

Monday, June 8, 2009

An Allowance System that works

I thought I would follow-up my last post with one about the allowance system that we have implemented for our children. We held off for awhile on giving allowances because I couldn't come up with a system that I felt good about. I didn't want to just hand-out money to hand-out money, but I also didn't want a system where I paid a specific amount of money for a particular job around the house. I don't want my children to feel that I'm paying them to help around the house, but I didn't want the allowance to be given without any requirements. I finally hit on the idea we use.

I have a chart for each of my children with a list of household duties. Things like setting or clearing the table, emptying the dishwasher, putting their dirty clothes down the chute or putting away clean clothes, giving food and water to the pets or reading or practicing the piano. They get a sticker for each of the things that they do and when they have accumulated a specific number (right now our magic number is 14) they get their allowance. At first I gave them a week to accumulate the stickers and if they didn't get 14, they had to start over with a blank chart. I have since decided that they can just keep the chart up and turn it in for an allowance once it has 14 stickers on it. My oldest has asked if he can earn his allowance more than once in a week. For now, I tell him that he can, but he hasn't yet done enough work to do it. Oh, and when they try and negotiate a raise, the criteria is to earn their allowance within a week for three weeks in a row before we can discuss it.

The beauty of the allowance has been twofold. First is that I don't have to worry about them bugging me to buy them things if we go to the store. They are welcome to spend their money however they wish (that has taken some discipline to not interfere, but I'm doing better) and are expected to buy their own treats and toys from the store. I have to admit that I LOVE this part. It makes going to the store so much easier for me and it is also teaching them to pay attention to the prices of things. They are starting to be better shoppers.

The second benefit is that I get more help around the house Surprisingly to me, they aren't motivated enough by the money to help without being asked, but they are more willing. Maybe it was just the process of making of list of things they could do. Now I can ask them to do anything on the list and they will usually do it, eventually.

I think it's important for children to learn how to manage money before they are on their own. Maybe I'm a little biased because I have an MBA, but I really appreciate the money management skills I have acquired and am determined that my children will be savvy about earning, saving, and spending. I like this system because I do believe they are learning. We don't just give them money to squander, we cut back on what we spent when we gave the money. So far, our system seems to be working pretty well the way we want it to.

Eventually, we expect to expand the system to include regular long-term savings and charitable contributions. One step at a time. We have offered to match any money that they save over from previous weeks if they want to buy something more expensive. Our 10-year-old has taken advantage of that, but the younger girls haven't yet been that disciplined. I'm sure in time it will happen.