How To Be a More Conscious Parent
Teenagers rebel because they look at the plans you have in place for them, and they see that that road doesn’t lead to the glory they are anticipating.
They’re right. Too many parents follow common wisdom on parenting and waste a lot of their children’s youth embedding rules that don’t matter much, following the crowd to events and activities that don’t add up to much, and treating their children as pets, accessories to their lives.
And then they’re shocked and heartbroken when they realize they have trained a dragon who just wants to burn down their city!!
Kids will look at your plan for them and they’ll either want to follow it to fulfillment, or they’ll reject it. Depending on how good it is and the results it’s got. So how can we set our kids up?
1. Ignore some common wisdom on parenting
Do you have a constant struggle with table manners? My parents were crazy about table manners. What if the Queen came to tea and saw you eating like that? Don’t bother too much about this. She isn’t coming. Often my 7-year-old eats with his fingers as well as his spoon. Who cares? He’ll pick it up eventually. It’s not rocket science. Not a battle worth investing much time and love into.
Do you feel pressure to take your kids out all the time to socialize with their classmates? If he’s not running with the crowd he’ll be the odd one out — maybe he’ll end up being bullied. And besides, what am I going to do with him at home? Plenty, if you think about it and train him up. Again, don’t worry about the expectation that kids need to be running around wild with each other all the time, eating dirt, and ‘boys being boys’. Kids bringing up kids is often the sign of lazy parenting.
Do you fight over bedtime every night? Then don’t worry about it. My son goes to bed when we do (around 9). The idea that parents need an hour together after his lights go out is just another parenting trope that means lots of effort and no gain. Ditch it.
Do you spend weeks over parties and Christmas and all the fairytale-glitter-la-la-land of childhood? It’s great to give your kids a happy time on these occasions, but to glorify gifts, to try to make them believe in the stuff that’s not real, to spend excessively on pointless things that will then waste everyone’s time, and to set up this idea that parties are fun, the best thing in life — all of it takes you away from what you ought to be doing as a parent; setting them up for a happy successful life.
A 15-year-old girl in my class wrote an essay about how ‘childhood’ is a socially constructed concept which adults use to trap children. Kids get smart and they see everything: don’t follow childhood tropes to nowhere; get conscious, plan your kid’s life from a young age.
2. Establish your routines
Every weekday, my son (whose 7) and I do exercise together straight after school. (PE with Joe style (but without Joe)) then we practice piano. Then, after dinner, we do some English, then Math(s). He plays a bit of computer after that for half an hour and then we read and go to bed. In the morning I wake up to write and he does too. I haven’t asked him to do this. His habits just tend to mirror mine.
3. Talk to them; listen to them
On the weekends, we go running. This has been a fairly tricky routine to embed though we did it every day through last summer holiday. When we were out running, I asked him every day (using the drink bottle as a microphone as we walked for a bit);
‘So, this is day four. How tired do you feel out of ten?’
‘I’m exhausted, 1000 out of ten,’ he sometimes said.
‘erm, 7?’ he said on other runs.
‘7, that’s better than 1000, so we must be getting better at this running thing. Are you enjoying it more?’
‘little bit more, hey look at that bird I think it’s got a message for that other bird.’
‘Really, what kind of message…’
After a while I stopped doing these chats as they brought the issue too much to consciousness, perhaps better to just let him run and talk about the messages the birds had for each other.
When we got back though I’d ask him how happy he was out of ten:
’10 out of 10 because I’ve finished the run and I don’t need to run again’ he’d generally say.
He’s not a fan of running. But we still go. To keep him involved we decided that he could say when we run and when we stop and he can decide when we turn back. Once he’s out he’ll generally go most of the course we originally did and only once have we turned back really early. I want him to feel listened to and I want him to own the run.
That’s the point. I want him to own running. To have it through his life as a great form of keeping his body in shape and his mind happy. I want to give him this for later.
4. Give them Power
He’s good at piano. Passed Grade 4 and onto Grade 5. But he made a real breakthrough in the last six months on account of this technique:
I gave him 3 cards:
- Green: I’m learning happily
- Orange: I’m starting to feel not good
- Red: Send the teacher off, the lesson ends.
Because piano’s tough to learn we used to have some emotional scenes where I tried to push him too far and he got upset. Now we have the card system so that whenever he’s not happy with the lesson he can end it.
He takes power in the lesson. He feels listened to and respected and he likes it. If he gives me a red card I generally try again with him a bit later after the emotions have cleared.
He’s taking responsibility for his own practice and he’s made a huge jump with how he practices. He’s able now to focus in on difficult passages and practice them repeatedly to boost his progress. He’s proud of himself and it’s a great bonding activity for us.
6. Stretch and Support Work
Grade 5 at age 7 is pretty advanced. In terms of schoolwork, it’s probably like doing Year 6 work in Year 3. Which is exactly what we do.
Admit the following truth: The education system restrains rather than promotes the growth of kids a lot of the time: with 30 kids, one teacher, and the need for one common journey, you can’t expect a school to push your child to their full potential.
School is great though — don’t be one of those parents who knows better than school or has problems with how school helps their child. School is a resource for you to use to its fullest. Embrace it, be grateful and participate fully and enthusiastically. But know that to stretch your child beyond average attainment you have to:
1. Take the responsibility; embed routines and attitudes
2. Hand over the responsibility to them as they get older and make them into independent learners.
I buy study books on English and Maths for my son which are made for Year 6 (Age 10/11 -he’s 7 remember) and we go through those together. Some bits are pretty challenging and take some explaining. We talk it through and its good for the self-talk too — you’re a super smart boy doing year 6 stuff already etc. He loves this. So we push on together, into long division and multiplication and exams he’ll sit when he’s 11.
My aim is for us to always be thinking a few years ahead like this, as well as doing well in the stuff that is happening now. At the end of Year 2, he did his SATS in English and Maths, and got 100% in both. So far so good.
We have easier books too — for Year 3, even Year 2. This is to give him easier sessions and to let him see how easy he finds this sort of stuff now. Also he can do these without any help (so I can get on with other things). This is more like support work. It gives him a variety and he can help choose with me what we’ll do today.
Just like a good teacher in a classroom will be offering stretch activities for the brightest kids and support activities for the less able, so you should have that range going on as a parent.
7. And books
He’s always loved reading and we’ve encouraged that. It’s probably the real foundation of his love of learning, and I’ve just picked up on it and run with it. Some of the books we’d recommend are:
- The Horrible History Series
- Subscription to National Geographic Kids
- My Hidden Chimp by Professor Steven Peters
We’re not bringing up kids, we’re training adults. If we want to minimize the dragon fire of the teenage years we should make plans while they are young and malleable.
We want to get under the skin and teach habits, attitudes, and learning skills. We want them to have choices at 18. They need to see their choices by 13 so they commit to following through on them. They need the vision and the independent learning skills to take over control of their pathways as they get older.
Don’t be afraid of being a pushy or controlling parent. This is your responsibility. Be afraid of the other extreme, the common one. Just letting them grow up. Remember what you owe them too. While they’re young they give us love like no one ever will again. They look up to us and take what we say for pure truth. They take what we do as the model of perfect behavior. They give us far more love than we give them (even though we’re mad about them — we’ve also got so many other things going on!) That’s a lot to live up to. We’re in their debt and we owe them every possible effort.
In parenting (and everything?) don’t follow the herd. They don’t think about what they’re doing: be a conscious parent, build your own systems and create a future your teenager is going to want to fulfill, not escape.
This post was previously published on A Parent Is Born.
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