Bragging: Every parent does it. It’s impossible not to. Whether on purpose, or inadvertently, it’s far too easy to tell the world how smart and intuitive your little one is. In fact, he’s probably advanced for his age. He knows a LOT more than most other kids. Everyone thinks we should test him for the gifted program when he’s in school….and he’s only 18 months old! He can say his ABCs and count to 20 and he is just so good with all the nursery rhymes!
I understand. I’ve been there. Actually, I’m there right now. My 3 year-old speaks so well that sometimes I have more thought-provoking conversations with him than with my husband. He’s a genius. Ask anyone we know, they’ll tell you.
Just as life is, raising children is but another competition between you and the other parents you encounter. I am sorry to tell you…but in the long run, it really doesn’t matter. At all. In the grand scheme of things, when your child is an adult, no one is going to give a crap that he was the first of all his cousins to learn his letters. (I know, I know, small victories, right?) We all think we have the smartest kids who ever walked the earth. And maybe you do, or maybe I do. It’s good to teach your kids things. It’s good to be educated. Actively engaging with them builds a solid foundation for learning later on. However, I think that sort of knowledge isn’t as important as everyone makes it out to be.
Everywhere I turn I am overwhelmed by the amount of competition between parents on trivial things their kids know. Most parents these days are very good at elementary/academic teaching. But there are many other things we should be teaching our kids that, to me, are far more important. I’m talking about emotional intelligence and character building traits. Psychological development that will raise a good person who can survive without you. Everyone is in a frenzy making sure their kids only watch educational TV shows (they don’t exist, by the way, TV is TV and works very poorly as an instrument of active learning for young children), practicing flash cards and trying to get them to count everything they see. There is so much pressure to teach your children as early as possible that a company has made a fortune convincing people their babies can read! (Another spoiler: They can’t. It’s memorization. Save your money. BAM! You’re welcome.) It’s a rat race to get your kids into the best preschool so they can learn what they need to know to get into the best kindergarten, which leads to of course to getting into the best college. Or not.
I put Danny into an awesome preschool. He attended for two years and we loved absolutely everything about it. During his last year there, I had mentioned to his teacher that we eventually planned on enrolling Ash. We told her we would likely start him when he was 3 and a half, about the age Danny was when he started. So keep in mind, this is the first of TWO years of preschool. (I didn’t even go to preschool…I turned out all right. That’s a joke. I am so not all right. Ask anyone.) She then told me that I should consider enrolling him in their “Tod-school” program, which she said is an important stepping stone in helping them prepare for the curriculum in their first year of preschool. I had to just laugh. Does anyone else think that sounds insane? Take a tod-school class to prepare your kid for his first year of preschool, to prepare him for his second year of preschool, to prepare him for kindergarten! WAT. I’m sure Ash would have loved it, but I really didn’t want to double the tuition payment I was already shelling out every month.
Here’s the thing. I read a book recently called “How Children Succeed” and I have to say it really resonated with me. Here’s a description from Google: Why do some children succeed while others fail? The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs. But in How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter more have to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control. (http://www.amazon.com/How-Children-Succeed-Curiosity-Character/dp/0544104404)
It got me thinking about what we value in our children. Everyone brags about how much their kid knows cognitively, but we should really be looking to foster some of the emotional intelligence characteristics that turn a child into a successful, functioning member of society who is legitimately a good person. For example, your kids may know everything there is to know about colors, shapes, subtraction, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, or NAFTA, but I feel like we should be working on more important things like empathy, perseverance and self-control. Here are some great examples:
Curiosity: This is an extremely important trait, one that I’ve written an entire post on. We need to encourage our kids to question the world around them, and not just take everything they’re given and accept it as fact. Yes, that means even questioning their parents. If you never allow your children to question you or the other authority figures in their life, how will you ever expect them to learn about the world around them?
Integrity: Are you modeling doing the right thing, even if it’s hard and you know you won’t get credit for it? Are you teaching your children to be a good person without the promise of some ultimate payout? We should be showing our children that we should always do what’s right, regardless of the circumstances.
What about tolerance? Kids Health says “Tolerance refers to an attitude of openness and respect for the differences that exist among people.” Are you modeling this behavior yourself? Have you expressed distaste for people who are different than you? This includes different genders, those with disabilities, people from different religious backgrounds (or people who aren’t religious), people of different races and income levels. Even making small comments here and there that seem harmless to you can really resonate with children.
Does your child understand they aren’t the center of the universe?
Do they know that not everyone is as fortunate?
Are they grateful for what they have?
These three are extremely important. Kids who are handed everything with no concept of where it comes from or how fortunate they are to have it grow up to be entitled….assholes. Sorry, but there it is. We all know people who have never had to work for anything, they are completely convinced that their merits stand on their own despite their poor work ethic and complete disregard for the world around them. Please note, this does not mean telling your kids to eat their dinner because there are starving kids in Africa…that didn’t work on us when we were kids and it won’t work on them. Your kids need to know where everything they have comes from. The house, the food, the electricity, the toys….they should understand how you get the money to pay for them. Not everyone has luxuries like…oh I don’t know…a HOME. Some discussions and charitable giving or volunteer work is a great way to give your child exposure to people from different backgrounds and show them that the world doesn’t revolve around them.
What about critical thinking? Are you teaching your kids what to think, or how to think? Are you teaching them to look for alternative ways to solve existing problems, or how to handle things when they haven’t necessarily been taught exactly what to do? Math and spelling are important, but matter very little when it comes to life in the real world as an adult. It is our responsibility to teach them how to survive out there, and if we’re skipping important social conventions in favor of US History, we aren’t doing our job to prepare them for life on their own. How many young people do you know who get out on their own and don’t know how to cook or clean for themselves, or even balance a budget?
A lot of parents operate under the mantra that a child’s only job is to go to school. Because of this, they rarely get serious responsibilities that will help their kids build character. There is a reason our parents and grandparents told us that working hard builds character. It isn’t just a saying. Your kid is going to become an adult sooner than you think, and when he does, he is going to be required to focus on a hell of a lot more than just getting an education. He will need to pay bills, maintain an apartment or house, balance a checking account AND sustain healthy adult relationships…to start. Not just romantic relationships, but also professional relationships, friendships, colleagues, roommates and how to interact with society as a whole. We need to give them the tools to navigate these relationships successfully. They need to be a productive, contributing member of society, and to do this they need many more skills than those required of students in high school and college.
Children in developing countries have a lot more responsibilities than those in the United States, and they still thrive. Doing household chores, grocery shopping, taking care of younger siblings – kids thrive when they are given responsibilities. It teaches them about accountability and gives them self-esteem; it shows them that they are capable human beings who can make a difference in their life and those around them with their hard work.
It may sound overwhelming to think about even more things you have to remember to make sure you are creating a functioning member of society in the future, but again, it is paramount. The easiest way to teach these things is by modeling them yourself. Are you kind to the checkout person at the grocery store? Yes? What about the person in the parking lot asking you for gas money? We really need to look at our interactions with other humans and see what kind of example it sets for our children. If you’re constantly shouting at other drivers while in the car, or gossiping with your friends, or scoffing at people asking you for money, your child will pick up on that as the norm, and will inherit the same traits.
And honestly, do you really want to be the parent who raises that entitled, pretentious asshole? Put them to work, foster their curiosity, teach them self-control by controlling your own emotions, and maybe they’ll turn out all right. Maybe.
“We like to think we’re so smart, that we have all the answers. And we want to pass that on to our children. But if you scratch beneath the surface, you won’t have to dig deep to find the kid you were, which is why it’s kind of crazy that we’re raising kids of our own. I guess that’s the real circle of life. Your parents faked their way through it. You fake your way through it. And you just hope you didn’t raise a serial killer.” –Phil Dunphy, Modern Family