Kids and Learning

Parents get fierce about the way they parent, the decisions they make for their kids, and their (misguided) belief that their way is the ONE RIGHT WAY.  A (misguided) belief, it seems, that many will defend with their last breath.

I don't have a lot of patience for that.  I prefer to avoid the vitriol.

Why?  Because there is no one right way.  For anything.  Spend some time with kids and they will teach you all of the thousands of different ways there are to learn, grow, love, believe and share.  That is, they will if you let them.

But whether or not I'm a good parent, remains to be seen, doesn't it?

Most of the time, I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job at this.  Toddlers and preschoolers are passionate about everything.  Everything.  Bugs, dinosaurs, crumbs, socks, gravel - you name it, it's exciting.  And what they seem to want from me is to share their joy, calm their fears, and offer a gentle voice and gentle hands when they feel anxious or uncertain.

But, then, isn't that what most adults want from each other, too?

I've been reading some of BrenĂ© Brown's work on authenticity, and some of Ken Robinson's work on creativity.  My time at the track allows minimal interruptions while all this data trickles, webs and synthesizes in my (very) porous brain.  I think about entitlement, grieving, divergent thinking, standardized testing, experiential learning, the profound difference between shame and guilt, consumerism, and the ways all of these topics apply to the various parenting camps, and how they affect the way we live in the world.

I wonder about the strength of a parent's influence over their children's development.  How will the choices I make for my kids affect the adults they become?  I weigh criticism that I am pushing my children to achieve, against my deep aversion to achievement-oriented education.  We have never pushed our kids to achieve anything.  But we have always provided them opportunities to explore their interests exhaustively.

Why do some parents maintain this myth that all children learn the same things, the same way, by the same age?

My only goal as a parent is to help my children become joyful, healthy adults.  That means we don't hit them, we don't tell them that they are bad.  We use extinction, exclusion and natural consequences to discourage undesirable behaviours, we feed them healthy food, and we answer several thousand "why" questions every week.  We let them see how their actions and behaviours make us feel.  We help them find words to talk through scary, worrisome things.

The reality is that as long we show our kids that we love them, both with our words and with our actions, they will be okay.  It builds in them an implicit understanding of their own deep worthiness.  It provides them with a safe jumping-off place to explore and discover themselves and the whole wide world.  It helps them understand how important mistakes are, and the value of forgiveness.

You don't have to be an attachment parent, a free-range parent, a tiger mom, a Montessori parent, a Holt parent, part of an organized religion, or an avowed spiritualist.  You don't have to defend the way you teach your kids, discipline them, or educate them.

You just have to love them.  Really.

Mulling over the simplicity of this statement took up a lot of lap time, today.  What do you think about it?

(Originally posted at on January 29, 2011.)


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