Teach Your Children Well

Observing a child’s development is one of parenthood’s most rewarding benefits.  When children enter the world, possibility reigns.

Like certain physical traits (think eye or hair color), the personality traits a child initially exhibits may well change as they mature.  Exposing kids to different types of experiences can help them better understand who they are.

My son is entering 2nd grade, and his interests are quite varied.  He loves being outdoors: riding bikes, playing basketball or soccer, swimming in the pool, and body surfing at the beach.  He loves the iPad too: Boom Beach and Minecraft are his current favorites.  He also loves playing with toys: legos, nerf guns, toy soldiers, and whatever else he can find.

He is incredibly imaginative.  This accounts for why I’ll periodically relent to his wishes of playing “just a few more minutes” on the iPad.  It amazes me what he comes up with.  He designs homes, castles, and landscapes that effuse creativity.

There are times where I’ll wander into his play space and inevitably find rows of “good guys” and “bad guys” strategically lined up in a prelude to all out warfare.  Somehow the bad guys always get the short end of the stick during the battles that follow.  I think when kids are free to imagine, everyone wins.

While (Their) Blood’s Still Young

As I consider my son’s development, I know who he is now will ultimately lay the foundation for who he will be later.  Not all of his current interests will “stick” as he grows older.  Some will, others won’t, and he’ll discover new interests that will shape and mold him along the way.  I want to encourage, keep options open and available.

He won’t always be a second grader.  I believe it’s so important to enjoy each phase of childhood in all its wondrous brevity.  Never hurried, never slowed.  The rhythm of these fleeting moments abiding for all they are intended to be.

I think of each interest, each curiosity as a flame.  Flames can be fanned, and flames can be snuffed out.  Existing flames should never be artificially extinguished.  Unless of course, your son enjoys flammable chemistry experiments.  Then, by all means, use the extinguisher.  He needs to decide, on his own, if and when it’s time to move on from something.

If we, as parents, vanquish flames meant to burn longer, we’ve done harm.  

Perhaps it won’t make much of a difference; or, perhaps we won’t get to know a side of our children that we could have otherwise.  What a pity that would be.

We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out. – Winston Churchill

This is why what we say is really important.  If we embarrass our kids for doing something they enjoy, they’ll retreat to privacy.  Or, they may give up altogether.

Praising results rather than effort can have a similarly undesirable effect.  The problem with results-based praise is that a child (no matter what we as parents convince ourselves of) will never be the best at something all the time.

Unless they hit the genetic jackpot and pair it with a great work ethic (see Lebron James), it just doesn’t happen.  So, when a child no longer experiences the same level of success and has grown accustomed to results-based praise, what happens then?

That’s why praising things like teamwork and determination go a lot further than celebrating how many goals Lily scores alone.  Lily can control how she treats her teammates as well as her unwillingness to give up; she cannot control the skill level of the other team’s goalie.

And, no, everyone does not get a trophy.

Praising effort isn’t limited to participation in sports either.  Effort-based recognition should be applied to any endeavor a child pursues whether that’s playing an instrument, writing code, or girl scout involvement.

Celebrate your child’s uniqueness, celebrate individuality.  Because, more than any accomplishment it’s who they are that makes them special.

Follow Tim on Twitter @Tim_G_Holland

Recommended Reading:

Never Say No by Mark and Jan Foreman – The parents of Switchfoot’s Jon and Tim Foreman offer practical parenting guidance they utilized while raising their kids

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