Monday, November 21, 2011

How About Better Parents?

I have been having Twitter conversations lately that revolve around focusing on what we can change (instead of the myriad of things we cannot); these conversations have covered education, parenting, work situations - pretty much every situation in life.

So imagine my delight when I ran across this New York Times article about focusing on what we can change in education: our parenting. A study conducted by the folks who administer the PISA exam (you know, the one the US is falling behind on) found that parents had a large impact on test scores, and that something as simple as getting kids up for school and asking how their day was can have a marked effect on their performance in school.

This is common sense to me, but I guess for some people they need a researcher to tell them so they will believe.

I would add the following to their suggestions of reading and otherwise engaging with your kids:

1. Discipline your angel. They are not perfect, they will make mistakes, but they need boundaries, the first and most basic of which is RESPECT.

2. Similarly, respect your child. The best way to teach it is to model it. You are not better than they are, just older and taller. You have the benefit of experience, so you should remember what oppression as a child felt like.

3. Give your kids chores as soon as they can walk, starting with picking up their toys and graduating to more substantial helping. This builds work ethic and responsibility, two things that play a huge role in persistence as they get older. Parents who do everything for their kids are handicapping them for life. Boys and girls alike should know how to cook, clean, shop and budget. Add to that list checking the oil, jumping a car's battery and changing a tire and your kids will have a more substantial skill set than 90% of kids born in 2000 - a beautiful gift.

4. Say no, but say yes, too. Listen to the request and think about your answer before giving it. Teach your kids to wait for an answer instead of pushing it. It is okay to think about what you want to answer first instead of blurting out a knee-jerk "NO!"

5. Make sure your kids understand that no matter what they do, you will love them, and that they understand it on a cellular level. Live this daily, demonstrate it daily. Even when you have a teen who is grinding down your last nerve, make sure they know they cannot push you away, no matter how obnoxious they are. On the other hand...

6...BACK OFF. Stop swooping in to fix everything, and stop glossing over mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn, and fixing them is how we become better thinkers and problem-solvers.  Don't bail your kids out all the time; sometimes they need to muddle through the consequences. Cause and effect: not turning homework in on time? Not a life-threatening issue. Not turning in a  timesheet on time, not getting paid and having your lights/water turned off? A big deal. Stop rescuing them when they are young so they learn to A) plan ahead and prioritize, or B) bail themselves out when they get in a fix.

7. Give your kids all the experiences you can find and afford, and stop giving them so much STUFF. The difference between low income and high income parents? Low income parents show love with STUFF, and high income show love with experiences (based on Ruby Payne's ground-breaking work on poverty). Which lasts longer, do you think?

Parenting is difficult, at times ridiculous, work, but it is work worth doing and, thus, worth doing well. Be kind to yourself as you make mistakes, but get in there and make them. Be thankful you have kids to parent and the stamina to do it!

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