I have been thinking a lot about this recently, what it takes to be a good parent. I see many parenting styles in my line of work and I am not sure there is any ‘right’ style. But I do think being a good explainer and a slow-walker are crucial to children growing up to be well-adjusted individuals who respect and appreciate others.
An excerpt from “From Cornflakes to Eternity“:
Ian interrupted her.
“We have a guardian?”
“Yes. She’s so pretty, and kind, and she dresses really fancy. She explains stuff in a way no one has ever explained stuff. So you can understand. She walks slow too, so you don’t have to hurry.”
“Oh. She sounds really nice. I hate it when big people walk fast and drag you along.”
“I know, me too.”
Let’s start with the good explainer. What is a good explainer? I believe this is an adult who realizes the fact that children have limited banks of experiences to fall back on, and in attempting to explain something to a child, they use the child’s point of reference. They don’t talk down to the child. The adult doesn’t become aggravated, impatient or frustrated in trying to explain things to a child. I don’t know how many times I have heard a parent say, “Oh, I’ll explain it to you later – you’re too young to understand.” I can’t think of any more deflating to say to a child than that. Here’s a thought, when the child is older, he is no longer interested in what the adult has to say, because he has been dismissed so many times through his childhood. That’s a bad thing, because we can assume at that point the child is a teenager, and certainly it is imperative to keep the lines of communication open. If those lines are shut down, all hell will break loose.
On the Story Warren website I found a great post on introducing new words to young children while explaining things and thereby giving the children tools to better communicate.
I was trying to think of an example of ‘good explaining’ and I came across this website, with a post by Rhys Baker on how to explain DNA to kids. In this article, they used Legos (4 colors-80 blocks) to show how many different variations of those colors can be made to build a tower. This was done to demonstrate how DNA holds the instructions for life and how many variations of code can be created. They used Legos, because most children can relate to Legos. Brilliant idea!
On to the ‘slow-walker’. Every time I type this, I think of zombie movies. You know, there are the zombies that move slowly – not really a threat unless you are surprised or surrounded, those are the slow-walkers. But that’s not what I am talking about here. I am referring to how parents would serve their children well if they were slow-walkers.
I don’t know if you remember being a little kid, and the adults in your life would take your hand and walk really fast, and you would be almost running and skipping to keep up. And if you didn’t keep up, they would grip your hand even tighter and kind of drag you along. I remember that. In fact, I am sure I have done it to my own children. My oldest son, who is now 18, walked slowly as a little kid and it used to drive me nuts. I asked my sons today, as I was writing this post, if they remembered that and my youngest wholeheartedly replied, “Yes.” EEK! He said I would tell my oldest he waddled. Not a very therapeutic or encouraging thing to say to a child. I distinctly recall, the faster I tried to make him walk, the slower he would go. It turns out, with everything my oldest does, he goes at his own pace, and pushing (or pulling) him doesn’t help speed him up, in fact he seems to go even slower. I’m pretty sure there is a lesson to be learned here.
I think there may be a more figurative aspect to being a ‘slow-walking’ parent. It seems that we are pushing our children too hard to participate in things they are either not ready to do or do not want to do at all. There are those parents that want their children to be involved in sports, either because they were in those particular sports as children or because they weren’t but wanted to be. There are other parents that over-book their kids because they want them to excel in everything, be well-rounded, so it looks good on their college applications or so their child is cultured, well-read, versatile, marketable or any combination of catch-phrases that are in vogue presently.
I read the Hurried Child by Dr. David Elkind years ago and I distinctly remember the statement that the reason many parents tend to overschedule is an effort to alleviate some of their guilt in not spending time with their children. Perhaps we should let our children grow up at the pace that is right for them, and not constantly push them or pull them to go at the pace we think, or we are told they should be travelling.
On that street, everything was so perfect. Too perfect. There were never any children littering the driveways with their yelling and their playing. All the kids in the neighborhood didn’t have time to play on the driveways or do any really fun kid stuff. They were too busy being shuttled from one activity to another by their nannies or the hired help. Their schedules were filled with ballet, piano and musical instrument classes, school sports activities , and tutoring sessions.
The kids were kept busy enough so they wouldn’t litter the streets, and so they wouldn’t pester their parents. Their schedules were heavily coordinated and structured such that their parents were excused from feeling guilty about not spending time with them. And all of this over-booking was touted as a way for the children in this neighborhood to be better. Better than all the normal children. Better than the children that did get time just to be kids. Better than the children allowed to play in the driveways, filling the streets with musical sounds of laughter and squeals of enjoyment. None of the parents on this end of town, in this neighborhood, wanted stupid, uncultured children. Stupid children didn’t match their European cars and their designer labels and their big houses.
Another excerpt from “From Cornflakes to Eternity“. I know it seems like more shameless self-promotion (which it sort of is in a way), but it does illustrate my point.
Being a parent is a tough, tough job and in the beginning it is more physically taxing and as the children grow, it becomes more emotionally draining. There is no right or wrong way to parent, but I do think taking the time to explain things to our children and allowing them to go at their own pace are two super important things we need to keep in our parenting armament (oh, and bribery too – if all else fails – just kidding – well, maybe not completely).