Month

August 2016

Book Review: “Play” by Stuart Brown

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Yay! It’s my first book review! Confession: I have no idea what I’m doing. This will be fun!

In case you don’t want to read my whole review, here is the bottom line takeaway:

“Play” is different for everyone, but it basically boils down to doing what feels authentic to you. It’s doing what you love. “When an activity speaks to one’s deepest truth, it is a catalyst, enlivening everything else.” The act of play “is a profound biological process. It has evolved over eons in many animal specials to promote survival. It shapes the brain and makes animals smarter and more adaptable. In higher animals, it fosters empathy and makes possible complex social groups. For us, play lies at the core of creativity and innovation.”  “Ultimately, this book is about understanding the role of play and using it to find and express our own core truths.”

In other words, it’s a book about authenticity. Like, actual scientific proof that we are our best selves when we are being authentic. That the act of being authentic is actually good for our brains. Which is cool, since that’s kind of my jam.

Okay. On to the nitty gritty details.

Why did I choose this book?

School is starting up again, and I’ve been reading research on the importance of recess in developing well-rounded children because it offers opportunity for unstructured play time. This gives kids a chance to explore and to learn to self-regulate their behavior. For the past several years, education has been in a trend of cutting recess in favor of more time on content. We are now starting to figure out that this isn’t a good trade, for many reasons. I picked this book to help add to my collection of literature supporting the benefits of play in whole child development.

And this book does have some awesome info on the benefit of play in kids. It even talks about the benefits of different kinds of play. But it doesn’t stop with kids. It talks a lot about how adults can benefit (or suffer) from play (or lack thereof).

What was my biggest “aha” moment from this book?

I think the biggest surprise for me was in learning the science that shows how play (or lack of) affects the brain AND learning what that means for us as humans. For example, I had no idea how important play was for our social-emotional development as humans. I knew it helped with creativity and problem-solving. But play actually allows us to develop the skills necessary to connect with others, read social signals, and collaborate.

What was the best part of this book?

I would say it was probably expanding my definition of play and realizing how easy and beneficial it could be for me to work on developing a play attitude in my own life.

How was the reading experience?

Honestly, I’m not sure if pregnancy exhaustion played a role, but this book was a little tedious at times for me to get through. However, I had highlights and notes in every chapter so it’s not like it was dull. Bonus: it’s not too long of a book so even if it wasn’t the fastest read for me it was still manageable.

Would I recommend this book?

Yes. I think any book that offers this kind of insight into how our brains work AND encourages authentic living is a great thing for people to read.

Favorite Quotes

(Why Play)

“Play is how we are made, how we develop and adjust to change. It can foster innovation and lead to multibillion-dollar fortunes. But in the end the most significant aspect of play is that it allows us to express our joy and connect most deeply with the best in ourselves, and in others…. Play is the purest expression of love.”

(Why Play is Important for Kids)

“Once kids enter school, the importance of free play doesn’t end. All of the patterns that induce states of play are present and remain important for growth, flexibility, and learning. Unfortunately, we often forget this or choose not to focus on play’s necessity under intense pressure to succeed. No Child Left Behind is a perfect example. While it is an admirable (and even necessary) goal to make sure that all children attain a certain minimal level of education, the result has often been a system in which students are provided a rote, skills-and-drills approach to education and “nonessential” subjects like art and music are cut. In many school districts, even recess and education have been severely reduced or even eliminated.

The neuroscience of play has shown this is the wrong approach, especially considering that students today will face work that requires much more initiative and creativity than the rote work this educational approach was designed to prepare them for. In a sense, they are being prepared for twentieth-century work, assembly-line work, in which workers don’t have to be creative or smart–they just have to be able to put their assigned bold in the assigned hole.

In fact, Jaak Panksepp suggests that depriving young animals of play might delay or disrupt brain maturation. In particular, his research shows that play reduces the impulsivity normally seen in rats with damage to their brains’ frontal lobes–a type of damage thought to model attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because it affects executive functions such as self-control…. Without play, Panksepp suggests, optimal learning, normal social functioning, self-control, and other executive functions may not mature properly.”

(Play and Learning)

“Play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it.”

(Play and Authenticity)

“…the self that emerges through play is the core, authentic self.”

(Play in Life)

“I think it is important for kids to keep a sense of perspective. It is important to recognize that taking care of responsibilities, getting good grades in school, and all the other teen duties are important, but they are not the be-all and end-all of life. These things are all, paradoxically, important but not important…. A playful attitude about life–not really taking everything like popularity or competitive academics or adult criticism so deeply seriously–is key, while at the same time tending to the necessities of growing up, staying within the boundaries of the law, taking no inordinate risks, avoiding addictions, and so on.”

(Play and Mastery)

“People always say that you can reach the top by ‘keeping your nose to the grindstone’, but as sports performance specialist Chuck Hogan observes, this is not true. People reach the highest level of a discipline because they are driven by love, by fun, by play. ‘The greatest performers performs as they do, and do so with such grace, because they love what they are doing,’ Hogan observes. ‘It is not work. It’s play.'”

(A Life of Play Doesn’t Mean No Discomfort)

“Making all of life an act of play occurs when we recognize and accept that there may be some discomfort in play, and that every experience has both pleasure and pain. That is not to say that bliss is suffering. My take is that following your bliss may be difficult, demanding, uncomfortable, tedious at times, but not really suffering. In the end, the good feelings we are left with are far greater than any difficulty we encounter as we played.”

 

The Struggle to Succeed

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Two days ago I wrote a post about The True Measure of Success, in which I reminded myself to keep my parenting battles in perspective by using my daughter’s happiness as a measure of how well something is working or isn’t working.

That post got me thinking.

What if it isn’t that simple?

I still believe that happiness and joy and love of learning should be the true measure of success. But sometimes it isn’t as simple as happiness in the moment. Without the opportunity to struggle, to learn perseverance, to test their own limits and build their own confidence, children won’t have all the tools they need to pursue true happiness throughout their lives.

If that is the case, me stepping in when I see my daughter struggling isn’t necessarily what’s best for her.

(When I say it out loud like that, I think “DUH”. Of course I can’t step in every time she is struggling with something. She would never learn.)

But even as obvious as that seems, it’s easier said than done, you know? As a parent, we want our kids to be happy. One of the hardest parts of our job is letting our kids struggle and even fail. We have to let them fall down, let them get frustrated, let them make mistakes. It’s how they learn that they can succeed.

What I wasn’t prepared for is the fact that as they grow, so do their struggles. I’m just getting to the point where I can let my toddler take a tumble or struggle to figure out a new toy without stepping in every time. But now the oldest is in first grade. She is learning how to struggle with dynamic friendships. With responsibilities like homework. With reading and math. With rules in class that she doesn’t want to follow.

And she’s doing it on her own. I can’t be there to help or advise or comfort. The best I can do is hold her tight when she gets home, weary from her own battles of figuring out how this big world works and what her place in it all is.

And as she does so, I’m figuring out what my place in supporting her is. How much do I let her struggle and how much do I help?

I’m going back to the homework debate as an example, because it’s something so many of us parents are reading about and wondering about and struggling with right now, due in part to all the hype on social media and the beginning of a new school year. In my previous post I came to the conclusion that perhaps questioning the homework policy for me as a parent wasn’t necessary because my child wasn’t struggling with it (yet).

But what am I teaching my daughter if I support her doing homework until it becomes a struggle for her?  I don’t want to teach her that the response to difficult situations is to remove the challenge. If it is something I believe in, shouldn’t I stand up for it no matter what, regardless of how well she is handling it?

Because there will probably come a time when it does become a struggle. Then what?

Really, it all boils down to an impossible question: how do we know when to let them struggle and when do we stand up for them? How much homework-induced discomfort will teach them perseverance and grit and responsibility? How much of it will damage their love of school, their self-esteem, and their love of learning?

How do we know where the line between benefit and harm is when it comes to struggling? 

It truly is an impossible question because I think it is different for every child. And not just that, I think it changes at different times in a child’s life.

BUT. WHAT IF….

What if the most important question here isn’t how much struggle is the right amount? Maybe we would be better off asking which struggles are worth the struggle instead.

Because here is the real secret: NOT ALL STRUGGLES ARE CREATED EQUAL.

If children are going to struggle, it should be for a purpose, not simply for the sake of struggling.

Sure, she could struggle with the boredom of another math worksheet. Or instead she could struggle to learn to ride her bike. She could struggle with the discomfort of having to do her chores or clean her room. She could challenge herself to read a book that she chooses. Or challenge herself in a swimming or gymnastics class. Or setting the table.

Or perhaps she is challenged all day at school and she just needs a break.

Which one of these things would be best for her whole-self development?

Honestly, it’s probably different every night.

Which is why, as her parent, I’m hesitant to say that struggling with homework is a good thing. Or an evil thing. Some nights it may be exactly the kind of challenge she needs. But what do I do on the other nights? Because I don’t need to let her struggle at homework just for the sake of struggling, especially if her time could be better spent elsewhere. 

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether homework is good or bad. Maybe what matters is that it might not always be the best use of our time in the evenings or the best way to teach responsibility or perseverance.

Surely teaching our children when to stick with the struggle is just as important as teaching them how.

Ironically, it appears I am learning the same thing.

 

 

 

 

The True Measure of Success

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My six year old started 1st grade at a new school this year. In Kindergarten, I knew her teacher. She is one of the most amazing people on the planet, and it made it so much easier to send my first baby off to school because I knew this teacher would fight for what was best for kids. Always. And I knew that we agreed on what that was. I trusted her.

This year we are at a new school with a new teacher. I’ve heard wonderful things about the teacher, the principal and the school. However, I also heard a few things that raised some questions for me as a parent before school even started.

First, the new elementary school only schedules two recesses for 1st graders. Several other elementary schools in the same district have three. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve read a lot of articles lately about the importance of recess, specifically unstructured play in child development. More importantly, I know my own child. I know how much she needs those brief periods of movement and freedom and independence throughout the day. Just like many of the children in the studies I read, her brain functions better when she has that time. So I couldn’t help but wonder why other schools in the same district offered more of that opportunity for children than our new school did.

I asked some questions to try to understand the decision and came to the conclusion that it was best to wait and see how things went.

The second thing I heard was about how much homework would be sent home in 1st grade.

If you’ve been on social media lately you’ve probably seen some hype about homework. As more and more research surfaces proving that there is no academic benefit to homework at the elementary level, more and more parents are speaking up against it.

And I’m right there with them. I’m all for challenging children, but only to the point where it is beneficial. She is six years old and is already in school for the majority of her day. The time at home in the evening is not an extension of school, it is a balance to it. She needs time to recharge her batteries, to play (especially if independent play time is being cut from the school day), to spend time with her family and unwind. That time at home is precious and it’s worth fighting to protect.

But again, I wanted to be reasonable and see how things went before I jumped to conclusions.

School started. On the second day, she brought home math homework.

Sigh.

I know I said I was doing my best to be reasonable. But the truth is that I was already on the defense. I felt like I was just waiting for the evidence I would need to build my case.

I didn’t love that homework was starting so early. However, it was a simple worksheet that she flew through in less than ten minutes. Maybe if that’s all homework was going to be it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe accomplishing something without having to devote a lot of at-home time to it would build her confidence and sense of responsibility and give her a chance to show me how well she was doing. Also, the note that came home about the homework policy talked about one of the goals of homework in 1st grade being to involve parents in the student’s learning. Can I understand that goal? Sure. I appreciate the impulse to include me as a parent in what she is learning.

The homework continued the next week, but each night it was simple. Less than ten minutes. I was still feeling skeptical. Was this really worth sending home? But at the same time, we spend that long talking about school anyway. Is a few minutes of simple homework really hurting anything?

I’m a chronic over-thinker, so I was still feeling conflicted about the homework and recess issues. One evening I was explaining my inner battle to a friend over text message. To be honest, I was probably on the verge of a full-blown rant, when her response stopped me in my tracks.

“Is your daughter unhappy?”

Uh… I don’t think so. She’s not coming home miserable. She hasn’t complained about her homework. In fact, she seems pretty proud once it’s done.

Sigh. There’s nothing like being slapped mid-rant with a really reasonable point.

My first priority as a parent is to help her thrive. In 1st grade, that means making sure that she is enjoying school so that she can develop a lifelong love of learning. Period.

The research isn’t the measure of what’s working and what isn’t. My child is.

If she is happy, what am I fighting for?

I still think recess is more important than we are treating it and that homework should be used consciously and sparingly in elementary school. But ultimately, the goal of any of those battles is to protect her joy. If evidence of unhappiness starts to appear, then perhaps it will be time to pick up my mama warrior armor and defend her right to love learning.

Until then, I’m taking the opportunity to breathe and remind myself not to get so caught up in the battle that I forget what I’m fighting for.

The Scariest Thing About Blogging

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(It’s been a week since my post about hugs was published on Scary Mommy. As of a few days ago, it had almost 30,000 hits on Facebook alone, and the number was still climbing. The day after it was published, when it started to pick up steam, I wrote a post about my initial reaction to the attention it was getting. You can read that post here.)

I write this blog because it’s the place where I capture what I see. I don’t write it to pretend like I am an expert. I don’t write it because I feel like my perspective is more valid than anyone else’s. I write it because it helps me engage with my own life experiences on a deeper level. It helps me reflect and appreciate. Some people take photos because it helps them see the beauty in the world. Some people create art. Some people write songs. I write this blog because, when I do, I slow down and I pay attention.

I write this blog for me, about things that matter to me. An added perk of doing so in a public space is that sometimes my posts start conversations. I think it’s great for people to talk about teaching kids about feelings, teaching kids about personal space, teaching kids to be authentic. I love being a part of these conversations.

But participating in big conversations like that via a digital platform is scary. Once you put something on the Internet, it is out there. Think of a blog post like a photograph of yourself. But rather than a photograph of your outside, it is a photograph of what’s going on inside your brain at that moment.

It’s no secret that our appearance changes. We age, we make babies, we go on health kicks. No one expects you to always look the same. Photos become outdated.

However, once you put a snapshot of your brain on the Internet, it feels permanent. Almost like people attach that snapshot of your way of thinking to their understanding of who you are as a person.

That is terrifying for a few reasons.

First, writing is hard. It’s hard enough to speak in a clear, articulate way. But to do so in a limited space is even more complex. I try to keep my blog posts short enough that they are readable. Fitting my entire perspective of a complicated issue into one clearly written blog post is almost impossible. I have to simplify. And that sometimes means leaving out pieces. In other words, it’s almost always an incomplete picture.

Second, feedback changes a writer’s perspective. As soon as people start commenting, I start reading my work through different eyes. And I almost always see things I could have done differently or better. As the conversation continues, my way of thinking about the topic expands. That’s the beautiful thing about conversations. They open you up to new ways of thinking.

However, no one can see that my perspective is growing. All they see is the single snapshot of my thinking at one moment in time.

Third, what all of this boils down to, is a fear of being judged. As a reader, you can probably relate to this. I wonder sometimes how many people read my posts and then worry that I am judging them if their perspective or parenting approach is different than mine.

I promise you. I’m not. The joy for me in sharing my parenting experience in a public blog is in the collective experience of a variety of perspectives. There is no joy or personal gain for me in judging someone else’s way of doing things.

In fact, you’d be surprised to know that I’m probably too busy worrying that you’re judging me based on something I wrote. (Especially if I feel like it is an incomplete or outdated snapshot of me.) It’s hard to resist the urge to keep “editing” myself or trying to clarify “what I meant to say”. This week I’ve seriously contemplated making a t-shirt that says “Hugs are not bad!! I only meant that they are a great opportunity for a learning conversation! They are a safe playground for kids to learn and make mistakes and talk about issues in a safe place before they grow up and go out into big scary spaces!”

Okay. So that probably would be a terrible t-shirt.

My point is, I want to be a part of conversations that matter. I want to offer my perspective in case it will expand someone’s thinking. And I want to hear other perspectives and let them grow my own way of thinking.

And to do so, I have to put myself in the middle of a conversation that I have no control over. I have to do a lot of letting go of ideas and opinions and fears. Sometimes, that’s really hard to do.

But that’s okay. Because in the bigger picture, my opinion in these conversations is irrelevant. What matters is the conversation as a whole. And the fact that we, as a parenting generation, are taking the time to have it.

The Right Way to Say No

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My six year old loves helping out with her little sister. One of her favorite things to do is to try to pick her up–either to carry her or to set her up on a chair or something of the sort.

It’s no secret that I err on the side of the overprotective mother. I watch other parents while their kids carry each other around and rough house–things that kids do–and I would love to take a metaphorical chill pill when it came to my own children. But every time I see the oldest pick up the little, I only see her pulling on her arms wrong or setting her up on a chair she shouldn’t be on because she will definitely fall right off or some other form of danger.

Most of the time, my reaction is, “No. Don’t pick her up. Leave her alone.” “No, she can’t be up on that chair.” “No, you can’t pull on her like that.” No, no, no.

My husband also errs on the side of caution, and is probably more cautious than I am. Since we both have this parental trait, I try really hard to be aware of when we are being over-involved so we can work on it. One day I overheard him intervene when the oldest was “helping” with the toddler, but it was for something I probably wouldn’t have worried about. I was making a mental note to bring it up in conversation later, when the revelation hit me.

It’s so hard to see our own behavior sometimes, but it’s often easy to see it in other people. Watching him in that moment was like someone held up a mirror. Suddenly I saw my own behavior from a different perspective.

Deep down in my gut, I knew that it didn’t feel good to tell her “no” all the time when she just wanted to help. But it also didn’t feel good to ignore a situation that my gut told me was dangerous. I felt torn between stepping in and not stepping in.

As it turns out, whether or not to intervene was the wrong question. I was so busy asking myself IF I should say no, that it never occurred to me to question HOW I should say no.

What if, instead of simply telling her no, I showed her a better way?

“No, you can’t pick your sister up by pulling on her arms like that. If you’re going to pick her up, you need to put your hands here.”

“No, she can’t sit in that chair because she might fall down. She can sit in this chair instead if you want to help her over here.”

Or even better,

“She can’t sit in that chair alone. If you put her in that chair, you have to stand beside her to make sure she doesn’t fall out.”

Suddenly, “no” becomes an opportunity for her to learn something. It’s obvious she wants to help. So why wouldn’t I teach her the right way to help rather than just shoeing her away every time she tries?

After all, at some point in her life, I will want her to learn how to take care of little people. Why wouldn’t I teach her now, when she is trying to learn? Wouldn’t it be better to show her she is capable and that I believe in her ability than to make her stop trying? It seems so obvious, and yet, in the middle of the crazy days of parenting, slowing down long enough to take advantage of these moments can feel so hard.

The same lesson carries over to so many situations. This may come as a surprise, but the toddler doesn’t even need the big sister to put her at risk for injury. She is quite good at creating the opportunity for herself. Most of the time, my reaction is to pull her out of the situation immediately.

But when it comes to “risk”, not all situations are created equal. Obviously, if she is in danger of seriousFullSizeRender (5) injury, I will step in. But what if the risk is only a scraped knee or a bump?

Example: we still have her baby walker toy out in the living room corner for moments when I need to contain her for a few minutes. Recently, she has decided that her favorite thing to do is to climb up on top of it and then climb from that over the arm of the couch. It’s probably not the best habit, but what is it really hurting? She’s getting some great gross motor skill practice and all she is risking is a tumble off the couch.

So I let her climb (even though it still raises my blood pressure to watch). Because I’m letting her learn.

The truth is, there isn’t a “right” way to say no. The right thing for me as a parent was to revisit why I say no. And when. And how.

And when I did, I realized that “no” isn’t a discipline tool. It’s a learning tool. So often when kids are doing something dangerous or naughty, it’s because they are trying to learn something. And it’s probably something I want them to learn–strength, balance, compassion.

I can either use “no” to stop them from doing something or to help them to do something.

For me, it’s not a hard choice.


Also, here is an awesome article about the importance of risk in play.

 

The Tooth Fairy

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Yesterday I picked up the girl from school and she had lost her first tooth. It’s been loose for a while. She would wiggle it but not pull on it. It made her nervous. I don’t blame her. I was never a fan of things like that.

So right away I asked her how it happened.

“I pulled it!” she said.

“Seriously? That’s awesome! Good for you!”

“Yep,” she replied. “Caleb (the boy who sits next to her in class) pulled his out to show me it didn’t hurt, so I just copied him!”

LOL. If that’s not a good first tooth story I don’t know what is.

Fast forward to bedtime. She was exhausted. Surviving the second day of school, the excitement of losing a tooth, and an impromptu trip to the water park after school to squeeze in one last visit for the season left her pretty much drained. Which is when handling feelings becomes difficult.

She didn’t want the tooth fairy to take her tooth. She wanted to keep it. She was scared the tooth fairy wouldn’t come. What if the tooth fairy is mean? Tears and sadness and getting up for drinks and bathroom breaks. But after a lot of reassurance (and patience), eventually she fell sound asleep.

The tooth fairy brought a two dollar bill rolled up and tied with a gold piece of ribbon. And a lot of glitter. And left the tooth. She was thrilled.

“I can’t believe I lost a tooth!” (Said no less than twenty times before school this morning.)

I love her enthusiasm. Her joy. Her innocent wonder. Her bravery.

I love getting to see these moments in her life. Moments that are so big right now but someday will feel small. Moments that are magic, all thanks to a little ribbon and glitter and a little girl believing in fairies.

I love being her mom.

The Best of the Internet

I keep finding awesome stuff on the Internet that I want to share/hoard. So I’m just putting it here for fun. You’re welcome.

Back to School:

The Best Schools In The World Do This. Why Don’t We?

After Years of Cuts to Playtime, Parents and Educators Are Bringing Recess Back

Research Find the Effects of Homework on Elementary Students, Results are Surprising

This is Why Findland Has the Best Schools

How Improv Can Open Up the Mind to Learning in the Classroom and Beyond

This is Just Cool:

How Trees Talk to Each Other

What You Read Matters More Than You Might Think

This Is How Our Bodies Betray Us In a Lie

Stuff I Feel Like Saying Out Loud To No One In Particular

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Today was an interesting day inside my brain.

Here is a random collection of stuff I feel like saying out loud to no one in particular:

  • My third post to be accepted by Scary Mommy was published today. It was definitely the most controversial of the three, so I knew it would get some interesting feedback. And it did. At last count, it had nearly 10k “likes” on Facebook and over 2k shares. Which is pretty bonkers to think that that many people are reading something I wrote.
  • Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve picked up on the hype about getting your work “out there”. The more views the better. And I can understand this to a point. It’s really cool to see other people relate to what I write and it’s so humbling to have people take the time to read. But there’s also a part of me that doesn’t totally understand. My post on Scary Mommy today has gotten the most traffic of anything I’ve written. And while it is a cool experience to have, I’m kind of like… “Now what?”
  • It’s a really interesting experience to have a bunch of people comment on a post I wrote. A huge number of responses were so incredibly encouraging… people who had kids who needed to have their personal space respected and yet struggled with feeling “rude” if they asked for it. People who were grateful to be having the conversation about personal space and respect and physical affection and consent because they agreed that it is an important conversation. And then there were people who called me ridiculous for suggesting their kid couldn’t hug someone…
  • … which, for the record, is a little out of context. In fact, a lot of the negative comments seemed like they somehow twisted my words or went a few steps beyond when it came to interpreting. And that is fine. I would NOT be putting my opinion out there for people to weigh in on if I felt like I needed to control their opinions. That would be exhausting. I totally get that people will interpret what they read through their own experiences and respond accordingly. It was just surprising to see how differently people interpreted the same piece of writing.
  • … And even though I understand that it’s common for people to interpret a written blog post differently than what my intention might have been, it’s really hard to resist the urge to “defend” or “clarify” what I meant. But getting in to debates about interpretations seems like a silly use of time.
  • … Also, I’m totally fine with people disagreeing with my opinion, for the record. I’m perfectly comfortable with everyone having their own opinion. I’m not out to change people’s beliefs. I’m just sharing mine, and trying to do so in a way that starts a productive conversation about a topic that I think is important. It’s never my intention to offend someone else, or imply that my opinion is the only valid opinion. Which brings me to my next point…
  • …No where in this blog or in any of my writing do I mean to imply that I am the “expert”. To be clear, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. I do my best to be thoughtful about my parenting. So if I’m doing things a certain way or if I have a certain belief, I can explain to you why I’m doing it that way because I have thought about it a lot. Sometimes, this comes across as confidence, possibly even overconfidence. I am definitely trying to do the best I can. But that doesn’t mean that I think my way is the best way for anyone else, or that I think my way is better than someone else’s way.
  • Lastly, while I felt like I was ready to embrace the controversy that comes with having a post with a bigger audience, this is really not my comfort zone. At all. Even though I believe in what I wrote and I think it is an important conversation, a part of me wants to crawl in a hole and only write happy foofy feel-good posts from here on out. There’s enough drama in the world and on the Internet already. Is this really something I want to be in on? I’d rather spread happiness and rainbows and glitter, you know? But then I read the quote, “If you don’t have enemies, you’re doing something wrong.” And I thought that maybe it’s ok to sometimes be in the thick of it. I guess that means I’m in on a conversation that matters.

How I Made My Daughter Hate Reading

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I made my child hate reading.

No, seriously. This summer we practiced reading, just like we were supposed to in order to keep up her learning from Kindergarten. By the end of the summer, her stance was firmly, “I don’t like reading.”

I don’t I blame her, to be honest with you. Learning to read is hard. It’s frustrating. As an adult, I understand the benefits of perseverance. I know that the outcome of the struggle is the enjoyable part. But she is six. She likes doing things that she is good at that are fun. If it is anything that runs the risk of struggle or failure, she is not interested. She will give up before she even tries.

This is a hard situation to parent in. I might be a weirdo, but I would rather see her try at something than be good at it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to see the things that come naturally to her. But my proudest moments are when she struggles and tries and finally succeeds.

So, naturally, when she started to get frustrated with reading and stopped trying, I pushed back and encouraged her to try harder.

Any parent of a strong-willed child can predict what happened next. (Hint: Me telling her to try harder did not make her want to try harder. Shocking, I know.)

Needless to say, I was at a loss for what to do. (And also possibly having a miniature pity party over my failure as a parent.) How will she ever learn perseverance if she gives up before she even tries? How will she develop grit if I let her run every time things get hard? As a parent, isn’t it my job to present her with opportunities to struggle so that she can learn how to handle struggling? Isn’t it my job to push her to grow?

So I decided to pick the brain of one of my wisest friends who is both a parent and a teacher. After explaining the situation, she offered thoughtful feedback: that I should wait to see how school went and focus instead on building my daughter’s confidence when it comes to reading.

Yet, I still didn’t feel satisfied. If I backed off, wasn’t I teaching her that it was okay to quit trying? I wanted to know how to push my daughter to do hard things in a way that she would respond to rather than rebel against. I wanted her to learn perseverance and grit and determination. I just didn’t know how to teach them to her.

It took a while before it occurred to me: maybe I couldn’t.

All summer, we have been working on learning to ride a bike with no training wheels. Up until the reading motivation dilemma, this was the hardest thing I have ever encountered as a parent. Yes, I am serious. On the bike, she is scared for me to let go of her (and honestly I’m scared to let go). Then she is so focused on me not letting go that she won’t pedal or steer (two pretty critical pieces of riding a bike). So we go around and around and never seem to make any progress. She can tell when I get frustrated and then she wants to quit.

After one particularly frustrating lesson, I had the realization that maybe I wasn’t the best person to teach her this skill. Her step dad is infinitely more patient and encouraging than I am. Maybe he would help her build her confidence. Maybe he would be able to let go when the time came.

I’m not sure if it’s that I tend to err on the side of being a control freak, or if it was the time I spent as a single parent that made me feel like I was responsible for teaching her because if I didn’t do it no one else would. But somehow, it felt shocking to me to admit that someone else could teach her something better than I could. I mean, I’m her mom, you know? This is my responsibility.

But now I wasn’t so sure.

What I was sure of was this: me pushing her wasn’t working. It didn’t feel right to stop pushing because I didn’t want her to quit trying. But the more I pushed, the more she wanted to quit trying. I was stuck.

Thankfully, not for long.

As it turns out, my friend’s advice was exactly what I had needed to hear, even if I didn’t hear it at first. “It’s different at home than at school. You are mom. It will be different with teacher,” she said.

She spelled it out for me and I still didn’t get it because I was so focused on figuring out how to do it myself. It hadn’t occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the right person to deliver this lesson.

Or, more importantly, maybe I wasn’t the only person necessary for delivering this lesson.

The truth is, learning perseverance is a complicated lesson that requires challenge, motivation, encouragement, and celebration. I had been trying to play every role for her. No wonder it wasn’t working.

My friend helped me to understand that I don’t need to play every role. There will always be opportunities in her life to face things that feel difficult and frustrating. There will always be people and situations that challenge her. School is a great place for her to be challenged.

And it’s also a great place for her to find motivation. Her teacher will push her. Competition with peers will push her. Her own drive for independence and learning will push her. I don’t need to provide her motivation.

I just need to encourage her to find it.

That’s really the key, isn’t it? Perhaps the the most important role for me to play as a parent is simply that of cheerleader. I had gotten so caught up in figuring out how to push her that it didn’t occur to me she might need something else from me instead.

The other key piece of advice my wise friend offered was this: observe her and learn what is working and what isn’t. It wasn’t hard to do. When I pushed her, she deflated. When I encouraged and celebrated her, she blossomed. It doesn’t get more obvious than that.

Life is full of chances to do hard things. We could all benefit from having someone in our corner.

From now on, I will be in hers.


Update:

After writing this, I found this awesome post by another mom/teacher who has a similar experience. Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“And sometimes we have to let others, like tour guides, do the teaching. I struggle to give feedback on thesis statements on my daughters’ work, something I do every week in my college classroom. When my kids bring me an essay to proofread, they may well up in tears if I mention a missing comma. Uncle Peter, though, taught them how to ride bikes in less than five minutes on a family vacation. My husband had failed at the task for more than a year. As their mom, I have to wait for the questions rather than begin with answers. It’s difficult to teach my kids because even constructive critique threatens our bond. At home, I lack the luxury of professional distance.”

As their mom, I have to wait for the questions rather than begin with answers. Even constructive critique threatens our bond. I love this so much.

Click here to read the full post.

I Bribe My Kids With Technology and I’m Not Sorry

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Screen time. One of the big debates of our parenting generation. How much is too much? Should kids even have it at all? How do we set reasonable limits?

As a general rule, my impression is that screen time is frowned upon. Every time I hand over the iPad to get a few minutes to myself or to avoid a temper tantrum in the grocery store, I feel a little twinge of guilt in the pit of my stomach. I can only assume this comes from an unspoken judgement in our society that I am taking the “easy” way out and letting technology parent my kids instead of teaching them to behave appropriately without it.

I’ve given this some thought and I’ve come to the following conclusion:

That is crap.

Let’s use my toddler as an example. Anyone who has every had a toddler knows they are completely unreasonable. Literally. They cannot comprehend logical reasoning.

So when she decides to scream bloody hell all through the grocery store, or chooses to launch every piece of food within a four foot radius of her high chair in a restaurant, my choices are somewhat limited. I can let her scream through the store in hopes that she will figure out that it won’t accomplish anything. I can correct her behavior and, if need be, take her out of the restaurant (and miss my entire meal and abandon my other children in the process). Or I can distract her.

That’s really the key to toddler-whispering, isn’t it? Distraction. I have to give her something that is more interesting than her temper tantrum. Sure, books work for a little while, and toys work sometimes, too. You know what else works? My cell phone.

The best way I know how to teach her to act appropriately in a restaurant or a store or any other public place is to make sure she actually behaves appropriately. I look around at children climbing under tables and over the backs of booths, or running through the grocery store knocking things off the shelves, and I can’t believe that letting them misbehave is a better option than bribing them to be good. Should technology be the only tool I use to teach my children appropriate behavior? Of course not. But if giving my child an iPad means she sits politely at the table for a little while when she needs to, then that’s what I’m doing.

Also, I’m not sure if you have noticed, but parenting is hard. Obviously there are going to be many occasions in which I have to bunker down and ride out the storm when it comes to my children’s discipline. But there’s something to be said for picking your battles. Is this the mountain I want to die on, right here in the Cheesecake Factory? No. No it is not.

I don’t know if screen time is terrible or not. At home we try our best to technology with play and creativity and learning. But I’m human we don’t always succeed. There are days where the only thing that gets us to five o’clock is My Little Pony on Netflix.

And to be completely honest, I’m not sure that it’s even possible to find the perfect balance in parenting these days. Screen time may not be good for kids, but neither is anything else. Diapers have terrible chemicals in them and they are ruining the environment. Johnson and Johnson products cause cancer. Frozen chicken nuggets are toxic, laundry soap is dangerous, and so are all cleaning supplies. Even giving them baths every day isn’t good for them. And if you’re not watching your kids 24/7 then you’re being neglectful (but if you are you’re “helicopter parenting”). It seems like our only choices sometimes are choosing the lesser evil.

In other words, being a parent is hard. In some ways, I think it’s harder than ever before. It’s as if the more we know about the world today, the less we know about how to best raise our little humans in it.

So what are our options? For me, I’m just doing the best I can. Even if that means sometimes using technology to make parenting a little easier.