Room to grow

One summer I worked with a 10 year-old who’d been attending a small private school where her mother worked and was headed for public middle school in the fall.  Her parents were concerned that she wasn’t prepared.

This 10 year-old has an older sister, so she had an idea of what would be expected of her in middle school.  The thing she was the most worried about was missing the bus.  She knew herself to be distractible in the mornings, and did not want to be late for school.  So we got to work on a system (involving markers, clipboards, and clocks) that would prevent that from happening.

Each time her dad picked her up from my office, he’d  mention that he thought it would be good for us to work on multiplication soon.  Each time, his daughter would roll her eyes.

Finally one week she said firmly “Dad.  I’m not worried about the multiplication.”

“I don’t think you understand,” he pleaded. “Your classmates are going to have their multiplication memorized.  You don’t know yours by heart yet, so if you get asked in class, I’m afraid you’ll be embarrassed.”

“But I don’t care if I can’t do them fast, Dad. I know how to do them.”

I was reminded of that exchange this morning when I passed a family en route to school in my neighborhood.  The approximately 7 year-old child was wearing shorts and long sleeves.  The adults were wearing jackets and hats and the like (as was I; it was 39 degrees).  I heard myself thinking “He must be freezing!”

Just because I would have been. This is a habit we often fall into when it comes to advising young people – assuming that their experience of something is as ours would be. We don’t want them to be uncomfortable, so we tell them what we think they should do to avoid discomfort.  But there’s empathy – being sensitive to what someone else might experience – and then there’s projection.

When we’re careful not to mix the two (or at least own up to and fix it when we do), we make it possible for kids to have their own experiences, and even to get stronger than we ever got.

My young middle school-bound friend was confident in a way that her dad knew he wouldn’t have been under matching circumstances.  She was socially comfortable enough to know that anyone who’d judge or tease her for taking a few seconds to find her way through 6 times 8 wasn’t someone she was going to want as her friend.  And that she would find the ones she did want.  Her dad had played a part in raising daughters with this kind of confidence, and once he realized that she was OK with her slow multiplication, he could let her boldly tread where he wouldn’t have dared.  He’d called her attention to the area of possible discomfort, so he knew she’d been fairly warned. From there she could choose how to manage it. As it turned out, she had a confidence and ease he hadn’t had at the age of 10.  Which of course was exactly what he always wanted.

Advertisements

2 Responses

  1. Wonderful! It is so easy to forget that our children (biological and beyond) are not us – especially when we see a bit of ourselves “in them.” Thank you!

  2. Must. Remember. This.

    ” When we’re careful not to mix the two (or at least own up to and fix it when we do), we make it possible for kids to have their own experiences, and even to get stronger than we ever got.”

Comments are closed.