…what you wish for

I got a delightfully practical and irreverent little book about landscaping and gardening for my birthday.  (Here’s a link in case you’re in need or want of such a book.) In the section about hardiness, and which plants will grow in which zones, I came across this note of caution and wisdom from the author:

“Zone envy is natural, but each of us has good things that no one else can have.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

This could be said of many things, including us people, with our various proclivities and struggles.  Those children, for example, who frustrate their caretakers with what seems like excessive sensitivity often say and do astonishingly insightful, compassionate things that less sensitive children don’t.

If you could change that thing about your child (or yourself) that you wish were different, you might also have to give up something you couldn’t bear to live without.

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Credibility

It’s tempting, when kids are struggling, to assume the role of cheerleader.  How could it not help to provide a steady stream of encouragement and enthusiasm at every turn?

Here’s how: it can damage your credibility, and the older they get, the more you’re going to need it.  Kids know the difference between plain cheerleading and authentic, valid feedback.  They know when you’re just cheering them on and when you’re offering feedback that can be substantiated.  For example, if every time kids stumble their way through a short book you say “Good job!  Really good job!  You’re getting so much better!” it can sound empty.  If instead you are careful to say things that are true and specific like “it seems as though the bigger words aren’t giving you as much trouble as before,” or “I liked the way you read the dog’s voice that time,” they’ll know that you’re actually paying attention and responding to what’s happening.  You’re not just waiting until the end of the book to exclaim with delight no matter how they’ve done.  This kind of language gives you credibility.  It may sound like a dull way to speak, as though it won’t buoy them up, but when you say things whose validity they can check against their own experience of how things are going, they know they can trust you.  They’ll know that when you do let out a spontaneous cheer, the day they sail fluently through a tough section of text, it’ll be real.

Waiting

I set up a table at the local farmers market today, to invite people to talk about building kids’ lives around who they already are, as an alternative to struggling in programs where they just don’t fit.  I talked to parents, grandparents, kids, former teachers, a physician, and a speech therapist.  I got the impression that people are interested in talking about issues of learning and pathfinding in new ways.

Just before I left, a small group of young adults who’d been working nearby came over to find out what I was up to.  I told them a little about how I work with kids – looking for ways to make it possible for their lives to start right away, not later, after they’ve finished getting ready for life.  Their participation in the conversation was intent and intense, which makes sense.  They’re the ones who are at the place in their lives where these questions and issues are at the forefront whether they want them there or not.

They’re busy figuring out what to do next:  Should they Just Get a Job?  Should they commit to another chunk of education (either because they want what it will offer or because it will mean they don’t have to decide what to do for another couple of years)?  Should they venture down some other less beaten path?

If you know a young person who’s facing this kind of inquiry, I invite you to remember what a gift it can be (particularly from parents, other relatives and trusted adults) to have the chance to talk through such large-looming options without the tangle of judgment and opinion that is so easy to include.  It’s not easy to do, but it’s worth the effort.

And further, it’s worth figuring out how to make sure that other youngers don’t have to wait until they’re out on their own to work through some of the questions of where they might fit, belong, thrive.

* I haven’t mentioned the Teenage Liberation Handbook lately – for anyone who’s interested in pathfinding, and looking for resources to support it at any age, it’s a great reference. And another for the older young folk among us – Jenny Blake’s Life After College blog (helpful with or without college – a reminder that it doesn’t all just fall into place for anyone upon diploma receipt; there’s always figuring and discerning to do).

Jackets

There’s a sign outside the neighborhood elementary school that clarifies the school’s policy on taking off jackets at recess.  (It’s been balmy the last few days.)  Children in grades K-2 are to keep their jackets on, children in grades 3-5 may take them off.

I’ve watched many battles over jacket-wearing, and I don’t quite understand it.  When kids get cold, they usually (in the absence of actual thermostatic dysfunction, which the reading I’ve done suggests is extremely rare) act quickly.  And they’re not usually quiet about it.  Getting their needs met is not something children tend to take lightly.

So it’s a little strange that we decide to try to regulate their temperatures for them.  To me it seems like a recipe for not learning how to regulate various things for yourself in much the same way as scheduling meals and eating regardless of hunger can teach kids to eat when they don’t need to and shouldn’t.  We tell them they’ll be cold, if they don’t wear a jacket, though we have no idea how they’ll actually feel because their hormonal makeup is entirely different from ours. (As each of ours is from everyone else’s.)  They don’t get the chance to find out whether they’re hot or cold, how many layers they need, whether they need a jacket or not.

If it’s too warm to be wearing a coat, left to their own devices, kids know.  And similarly, if they’re too cold, they can put coats on.  We say these things, like “wear a coat or you’ll be cold,” with good intentions, but they don’t always hold up under inspection.  When kids resist, it’s worth a look to find out what the source of their resistance may be…

Pace

A.J.’s teachers tell me he’s bright, but struggles with slow processing speed.  Things take him a very long time to do.  I noticed early in my work with him that he didn’t actually seem to be processing anything slowly.  He was just doing things slowly.  He could produce a response to a question fairly quickly, but he would think about his answer for quite awhile before offering it.  I pointed out a few times that if he worked more efficiently (in his case, that would mean choosing to write down the first answer he came up with, which was always plenty sufficient for the task at hand) he would have more time to spend on the books and music he likes. It didn’t change the pace of his work, and I finally got to thinking.  What if there’s something in this pace of his, a pace we’re trying to teach out of him, that’s serving a purpose, or making room for something?  What is there to discover if we step back and watch what they’re doing before we start trying to mess with it?

Jenifer Fox’s Book on Strengths…

I’m going to get a reputation for the unwise practice of recommending books before I’ve finished reading them, but I can’t help myself.  I have read several pages from the beginning, several from the middle, and a few from the end of Your Child’s Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them, and there is so much in it that can be so useful in so many ways for so many people I cannot wait to start talking about it.  You can read a few pages on Google books…

I’ll post more soon when I come up with the words…

On sensitivity

I know several parents who find their children more sensitive to a myriad of things (making mistakes, loud noises, groups of people) than they expect or think is normal. What parents often find helpful when they find themselves noticing profound differences between the way their children function and they way they themselves function is to read up on personality type systems, like Myers-Briggs. Whether or not they agree with the notion that each of us has a type-able personality, parents often find that looking at their children’s behavior through this kind of lens helps them more effectively manage the differences in their family. Continue reading